As Good As Advertised

On Wisconsin's second drive, senior quarterback Russell Wilson led tight end Jake Byrne too far. Soon after, he overthrew Jacob Pedersen for what would have been a sure touchdown pass. Other than that, he was nearly perfect, as Wilson's arm and legs carried Wisconsin to a season-opening victory.

MADISON - While many of the 77,085 packed inside a steamy Camp Randall Stadium Thursday night spent much of the game applauding Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson in his much-anticipated debut, the person least in tune with the hoopla may have been Wilson himself.

"I try not to pay attention to that kind of stuff, to be honest with you," said Wilson of the chanting and cheering. "Pretty awesome, pretty special, especially for the first game. The fans here are really, truly great. It's been a blessing to play here."

Wilson validated the hype in Thursday's 51-17 win over UNLV, throwing for two touchdowns and electrifying the crowd with a long rushing score while leading the No.11 Badgers to scoring drives on each of the eight possessions he was under center.

"It was emotional a little bit, but at the same time, I've been ready for it," Wilson said of his first game with the team. "I've been excited about it. I've been preparing my mind and my experience. I thank the Lord for blessing me to be able to come here and play with these guys. It's a special moment."

Ever since Wilson committed to Wisconsin (1-0) in late June, the hype surrounding the North Carolina State-castoff has been steadily building in Madison. The quarterback position was initially a question mark following the struggles of expected starter Jon Budmayr in spring camp, but the expectations for the team have grown since Wilson arrived.

After overthrowing a couple of receivers early, Wilson settled down to complete 10 of 13 passes for 225 yards, while rushing twice for 62 yards. His 317 yards of total offense was the highest total for a Wisconsin QB in his starting debut since stats started being kept in 1951.

The running ability of Wilson, whose combined 93 passing and rushing touchdowns with the Wolfpack rank second in Atlantic Coast Conference history, was on full display against the Rebels. He scampered 46 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter, cutting outside and bolting down the right sideline for the score.

"I've been in this profession now awhile, and you can see guys that naturally have a little bit of something to them, some moxie, some savvy, some God-given ability," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "Russell is a guy who has been very impressive how he handles everything. You've heard me say it a million times, but I think as people see that … for instance, when NFL scouts come in, when visitors are practicing, they're just amazed at the way he works. Tonight, you saw why."

After three rushes by junior running back Montee Ball on the team's opening drive, Wilson hit sophomore wide receiver Jared Abbrederis for 23 yards on a play-action rollout for his first completion.

Wilson completed his first touchdown pass - a 4-yard strike to Ball - three plays later. He added an 8-yard touchdown pass to sophomore tight end Jacob Pedersen in the second quarter.

"(Wilson) came in a little bit earlier (to Madison), so we were able to get some summer workouts in, run some routes," Abbrederis said. "Just being able to practice every day, that was a blessing… so that we could get that timing down. Obviously, his caliber of quarterback helps out a lot."

N.C. State released Wilson in late April because coach Tom O'Brien wasn't satisfied with his quarterback's offseason commitment to the team.

Instead of participating in his offseason workouts, Wilson opted to play minor league baseball, playing 61 games as an infielder for the Class A Asheville (N.C.) Tourists, an affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.

Wilson, who was eligible to play right away because he had already attained an undergraduate degree, chose Wisconsin over defending national-champion Auburn in late June and has not looked back since.

"It's really, truly been a blessing," Wilson said of coming to Wisconsin. "I think it's even getting better. Coach Bielema and coach Chryst, I've really gotten their number really well. It's been a good relationship there, and we've worked hard every single day. In terms of the players, there's a lot of great leadership on this team. That's what excites me and we've just got to keep working."


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