Second-Half Success

While the first half drew ugly reminders of 2012, the second half showed what the big-play potential No.23 Wisconsin possesses on offense. Combined with a stifling defensive performance, the Badgers had no problem dismissing UMass, 45-0, in Saturday's season opener at Camp Randall.

MADISON - The groans could be heard late in the first half after Wisconsin left more points off the scoreboard, another drive into Massachusetts territory that stalled without bolstering up its lead.

So when offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig got on the headset and called "Cloud Z Stare," a play-action pass designed to deliver a big hit to start the second half, quarterback Joel Stave was ready at his second chance to boost the offense.

"That's a play we work on in practice," said Stave. "I am just checking the safeties. If they are low, I can throw over the top to Jared. They both bit on the fake and we were able to do that.

"We didn't play as well as we liked to the first half, so to start out like that was great for us."

That one play – a 65-yard touchdown pass to senior Jared Abbrederis - jumpstarted Stave and Wisconsin's offense, as the Badgers strong second started the Gary Andersen era on the right foot with a 45-0 victory over Massachusetts at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday.

After a sluggish first half, Wisconsin (1-0) scored touchdowns on its four second half drives, making head coach Gary Andersen a winner in his Wisconsin debut and opening the season with a shutout for the first time since 1994 (56-0 over Eastern Michigan).

"You kind of say you're not going to be emotional when you talk about it," said Andersen. "But when you get into that moment, when you're walking down that tunnel … there's not one time I walked up and hadn't really thought about how one day it's going to be the first game.

"Today was the first game. It was special to me and will be forever."

Stave's deep connection was the first of two in the third quarter that made the offense thrive, as Abbrederis 57-yard touchdown sandwiched James White's 51-yard touchdown run that blew the game open.

After the Badgers six first half drives yielded 252 yards and 17 points on 36 plays, Wisconsin's three third-quarter drives went for 173 yards and 21 points on just nine plays, taking just 3:46 off the clock.

"You hope you can do that each game," said Abbrederis, as Wisconsin scored on four plays over 50 yards. "It's good to get something going in the second half right away."

More importantly, players agreed it was finally nice to get back on the field, especially considering the amount of changes in the program since the Badgers last played a home game nine months ago. Cosmetically the stadium has a massive new video scoreboard, multimillion dollar athletic performance center on the north end of the stadium and little nuisances to enhance the game day experience.

The personnel on the sidelines is vastly different, a new head coach and seven new assistants, who have brought in a new defensive scheme, a different offensive philosophy and a new attitude to a program littered with upperclassmen and returning starters.

It's one of the reasons why Wisconsin was touting the phrase "New Season, New Era, Same Tradition" leading up to kickoff. And for the first drive they were right, marching 70 yards in five plays and only 2:31 to score.

But the problems offensively that arose after looked a lot like the same issues that plagued Wisconsin last season, causing more than a fair share of groans among the 76,306 in attendance.

The offense started two drives in UMass territory and came away with zero points, blame that Joel Stave put squarely on himself. After opening the scoring with his four-yard touchdown run, Stave overthrew his intended receiver that resulted in an easy interception, squandering Brendan Kelly's forced fumble one play earlier.

Having a chance to tack on points in the final 127 seconds at the UMass 45, the offense went three-and-out after Stave failed to recognize an open wide receiver.

"(First half) could have been better," said Stave, who rebounded from his first half (4-for-11 for 36 yards and an interception) to throw for 197 yards on 9-for-17 passing. "We moved the ball. We just need to make sure we score when we get in the red zone. I thought we had done some good things, but the passing game had to be better … There are a couple throws I like to have back."

Wisconsin defense had no such problems. Although staying pretty vanilla with its blitz packages and coverages, Wisconsin limited UMass (0-1) to 212 yards, 3.6 yards per play and registered two turnovers, one of which was true freshman Sojourn Shelton's first career interception.

"We put a couple things out there on the defensive side," said senior Brendan Kelly. "We put some blitzed out there. We definitely keep stuff in our back pocket. We always have blitzes. Coach Aranda seems to have a blitz for every formation you can think of. We called a couple different blitzes, so we had a couple good looks today."

But while the defense didn't show much, the offense showed in the second half that it has the makeup to be an impact offense, something that was missing for large portions of the 2012 season.

"Big plays are big," said Andersen. "Long drives that are grinding long drives are kind of an identity who we want to be at times and kind of wear people down, have statement drives that allows you to be able to run time off the clock, do all the things you want to go. Those big plays are big for us (to get a big hit)."

Those big plays not only got the ball rolling, but finally was able to write the first chapter for Wisconsin's new era of football.

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