After all, Wisconsin nearly became the first team in FBS history to have three running backs gain 1,000 yards in a season last year and continued that success in the 2011 opener against UNLV, rushing for 241 yards and five touchdowns. The plan seemed to be working, seeing as Wisconsin longest first-quarter run was five yards and 10 rushed in the opening quarter yielded just three yards.
But while the Beavers plan worked against the Badgers' traditional run game, Oregon State had no answer for Russell Wilson, who is far from a traditional Wisconsin quarterback.
Even with the running backs earning just 35 yards on its first 16 carries, Wilson had no problems picking apart Oregon State's youthful secondary, throwing for 124 yards and three touchdowns to lead No.8 Wisconsin to a 35-0 victory Saturday.
It was Wisconsin's first shutout since beating Purdue, 37-0, in October 2009, and yielded a somewhat stunning turnaround against a Pac 12 opponent for those still unaware of the weapons the Wisconsin offense possesses.
"We gave up some free yardage last week but we did a really did a good job over the course of the week," Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said. "What was great about today was the way we practiced reinforced today. We're not a team that plays games to fix things. It's about the way we practice."
Even with all the hysteria Wilson brought to Madison in June, one of the biggest supposed knocks on the senior transfer quarterback was his accuracy. In three seasons at N.C. State, Wilson never completed more than 59.3 percent of his passes and threw 25 combine interceptions the last two seasons.
The sample size is small but in Wilson's new surrounding, the Wisconsin quarterback has completed 27 of 34 passes for 444 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in two games.
"It's one game and we've got to keep working, but I'm feeling good out there," said Wilson, whose performance Saturday pushed him over 10,000 yards of total offense for his career, joining Boise State's Kellen Moore and Houston's Case Kennum as the only active players to reach that mark.
"There's a lot of great chemistry out there in the huddle, and that's what I notice. The huddle is really sharp, really clean and we're playing with a lot of confidence."
A year after Wisconsin (2-0) averaged 245.7 rushing yards and one game after allowing his running backs to carry the passing game, recording 148 of UW's 258 passing yards, Wilson took advantage of his star wide receiver and star-in-waiting tight end. Senior Nick Toon tied his career high with seven catches (five of which came in the first half), going for 69 yards and one score, while sophomore Jacob Pedersen set career highs in catches (8), yards (80) and touchdowns (2).
"We've got a lot of weapons on offense, especially in the passing game in wide receivers, tight ends and running backs," said Toon, who moved in ninth in career receptions and 10th in career receiving yards. "When you can have success doing all that stuff, you are pretty dangerous."
Over the last two games, what has become the real danger for opponents is Wilson in the passing game, which was on display again right from the start. After Oregon State punter Johnny Hekker somehow executed a punt that went minus-4 yards, giving Wisconsin a first down at the 14, Wilson only need three plays to find Pedersen open on an inside slant for the opening 17-yard score.
Converting on third down turned out to be a theme for the Badgers' offense. Wisconsin converted 8 of 10 of its first-half first downs, three of which resulted in points in the red zone. Using a seven-play drive to get to the Oregon State 10, Toon elevated to catch Wilson's fade pass in the end zone for his first score of the season and a 14-0 Wisconsin lead.
"The key is just being successful, taking what the defense gives us and making plays," said Wilson of the third downs. "On third down, you've got to be great to be a great football team."
On Wisconsin's next series, Wilson connected with Pedersen on third-and-3 for a 6-yard score, capping a 12-play, 72-yard drive that allowed Wilson to finish the first half 12 of 14 for 124 yards and three touchdowns.
"He's done it and the score at the end of the half was huge with him throwing the football," Bielema said. "Every series, he's got ideas. He'll listens to (offensive coordinator) Paul (Chryst) first, then he'll get a feel for what's good out there. When you've got someone that's really telling you what they truly see, that could be something special."
But as the game wore on, Montee Ball and James White finally started to wear down the Beavers' front seven. Starting with back-to-back runs of 21 and 13 yards on UW's final touchdown drive of the first half, Ball got key blocks from Pedersen and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis to help him spring loose for a 19-yard touchdown and a 28-0 lead on UW's first second-half drive.
Ball finished with 118 yards on 18 carries (6.6 yards per carry) while White finished with 53 yards on 17 carries.
"We saw at the beginning of the game the safeties were flying down the field so we made a few adjustments, came out with a few more plays (and) put it up in the air," said Ball, who moved into sole possession of seventh place on UW's all-time touchdown list after his 1-yard plunge that capped the scoring early in the fourth.
"We have a good offensive coordinator. He saw a few things, made some changes and we got the ball in the air to spread the defense out, and it worked."
While Wilson and the Badgers were lighting up the scoreboard, Wisconsin's defense was bouncing back. After an uninspiring performance last week against the Rebels, giving up 146 rushing yards in the process, the defense recorded most lost running yardage (minus-26) than actual net running yards (23) and recorded 10 pass breakups.
"(Stopping the run) is always our number one goal as a defense," said sophomore Chris Borland, who led the team in tackles (9) for the second straight game. "I think a lot of defenses are like that. When you take away a team's run, it makes them one dimensional and really opens up what you can do."
The keys coming into the week, according to Bielema, were simple, and things his group accomplished. From week one to week two, he wanted his team to be the most improved team in the country, limit the penalties and be cleaner in all areas of the game.
Most importantly, Wisconsin wanted to extend the momentum it created nine days ago in the season opener. After the Badgers' opened last season with a 20-point victory at UNLV, Wisconsin was flat in the home opener against a porous San Jose State squad, grinding its way to an uninspiring 27-14 victory.
This time, even after a longer layoff, there was no sign of Wisconsin's first-team offense hitting a wall.
"Very important (for us)," Toon said. "You want to have success every week and we were able to do that last week and this week. Hopefully we'll continue to do some of the things that allowed us to have success to this point and carry that into next week."
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