MADISON - It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the University of Wisconsin is back on the winning track.
After an auspicious start, Wisconsin and McEvoy found its groove over the middle two quarters to distance itself from Western Illinois, 37-3, in front of 77,125 fans in the home opener Saturday.
The victory breaks Wisconsin’s three game losing streak dating back to the November 2013 and gives the Badgers (1-1) some good vibes heading into their first bye week of the season, especially when it comes to figuring out situation under center.
After struggling in his first career start, junior Tanner McEvoy finished 23-for-28 for 283 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, completing 17 straight passes at one point. He was also added 55 rushing yards and a touchdown, helping lead the offense to four straight touchdown drives. After going 8-for-24 for 50 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions in the opener, the results were a welcomed change.
Stymied by Western Illinois (1-1) loading the box on defense, junior tailback Melvin Gordon found no rhythm running but became a threat in the passing game, recording career highs in receptions (four), yards (22) and his first receiving touchdown.
After giving up 140 yards in the fourth quarter against LSU, Wisconsin held Western Illinois to only 162 yards of total offense (54 rushing, 108 passing) and out of the end zone.
The victory gives Wisconsin its 19th-consecutive win in a home opener and its 29 consecutive home win over a nonconference opponent.
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No.18 Wisconsin 37, Western Illinois 3
Kyle Hammonds minus-1-yard return
Key Play: The opening kickoff went off Hammonds' chest when he was five yards deep in the end zone and bounced to the 1-yard line. Instead of picking up the ball up and running, Hammonds stepped out of the end zone, picked up the ball in the field of play and took a knee in the end zone. After originally being ruled a touchback, the play was challenged and overturned.
3 plays, 54 yards, 1:11 TOP, 2:16 left
Tanner McEvoy 9-yard run (Rafael Gaglianone kick)
Key Play: After failing . A drive after McEvoy went 7-for-9 for 81 yards and couldn’t cash in points, McEvoy came out throwing on first down and hit Sam Arenson, who made a leaping grab and bullied his way to the Western Illinois 17-yard line.
9-3 Wisconsin11 plays, 67 yards, 2:11 TOP, 0:00 left
FG Nathan Knuffman 29
Key Play: After converting a third-and-1 with an 8-yard run, Norvell completed a 19-yard pass to J'Vaughn Williams to get WIU to the UW 30.
16-3 Wisconsin10 plays, 75 yards, 5:42 TOP, 9:18 left
Austin Ramesh 3-yard pass from McEvoy (Gaglianone kick)
Key Play: Bottled up for most of the game, Gordon finally broke loose at a key time, breaking outside the tackles for a 21-yard run on fourth-and-short to get the Badgers deep in WIU territory.
23-3 Wisconsin3 plays, 57 yards, :57 TOP, 6:19 left
Melvin Gordon 8-yard pass from McEvoy (Gaglianone kick)
Key Play: Quickly moving down the field thanks to Alex Erickson's catches, Gordon wouldn't be denied any longer, breaking a handful of tackles and keeping his feet churning after contact to brake the goal line.
9 plays, 64 yards, 4:41 TOP, 7:47 left
Alex Erickson 10-yard pass from McEvoy (Gaglianone kick)
Key Play: On third-and-13 from the WIU 30, Wisconsin got a break with a 10-yard defensive holding penalty, giving the Badgers a much more manageable distance they were able to convert on.
4 plays, 34 yards, 2:12 TOP, 3:42 left
Corey Clement 6-yard pass from Bart Houston (Gaglianone kick)
Key Play: Jesse Hayes almost got the trifecta, registering the quarterback sack and forced fumble, but settled with defensive end James Adeyanju recovering the loose ball at the Western Illinois 34.
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