MADISON - So what exactly did we learn?
For starters, the buzz of the home opener around town is still palpable, the students still show up incredibly late to kickoff and the press box still shakes for ‘Jump Around.’ Oh, and the University of Wisconsin still dominates overmatched nonconference opponents at home.
Other than that, the Badgers’ 58-0 whitewashing of Miami University went exactly as expected. The Badgers’ slow start turned into a scoreboard lighting display. Wisconsin’s defense feasted on a young offense by capitalizing on mistakes and limiting scoring chances. Even Wisconsin’s special teams were crisp with sophomore Rafael Gaglianone connecting on three field goals, helping UW push its streak of home wins against nonconference teams to 33.
But if the 76,535 fans in attendance were clamoring for style points, or a challenge, the only thing Miami University was going to deliver was an easy victory to head coach Paul Chryst in his Wisconsin coaching debut.
“It feels good to get the win,” said Chryst. “I told that kids that after the game, you always want to be appreciative of that. A lot of work goes into it. That was fun to see.”
After facing the Alabama powerhouse in week one, Wisconsin (1-1) faced the Redhawks doghouse in week two, a program that had won only three games since November 2012 and lost 17 consecutive games away from home.
That’s going to be the “but” with Wisconsin for the considerable future. After playing the now-No.2 ranked team in the country, Wisconsin transitions from three nonconference teams that went a combined 9-28 last season to a Big Ten schedule that currently doesn’t include a ranked opponent.
And yet, despite having such a clear advantage on the field, some of the same problems from a week ago were still prevalent. Wisconsin’s first five drives yielded no punch from the running game, although the Badgers’ 30 yards on 13 carries in the first quarter nearly surpassed their total of 40 against the Crimson Tide.
With Corey Clement inactive to rest his ailing left groin, the Badgers’ final rushing total of 188 yards was masked with a breakout third quarter of 98 rushing yards, including the first three 10+ yard carries of the season. UW finally broke the seal on the end zone with three rushing touchdowns – a 35-yard Dare Ogunbowale run late in the third quarter and a pair of 1-yard runs for redshirt freshman Taiwan Deal.
“A little tough sledding at first but sort of opened up as the game went on,” said center Dan Voltz. “That’s what we want to do, just pound the rock. That’s what we like to do and it’s fun when we start opening up holes.”
Wisconsin’s offense started slow, managing only two field goals on its first two trips to the red zone, but started kicking things into high gear late in first quarter once Miami couldn’t stop its mistakes. In a span of five drives, Wisconsin started four in Miami territory, the latter two ending in passing touchdowns to Rob Wheelwright and Austin Traylor (the first of his career).
Wheelwright added a second touchdown at the end of the second quarter to go along with his team-high 79 receiving yards.
“I think (Wheelwright) is a really good player,” said quarterback Joel Stave, who finished 19-for-30 for 236 yards, three touchdowns and one interception before letting Bart Houston take over late in the third quarter. “He’s been a guy I’ve always thought is pretty naturally gifted. It’s just a matter of him staying healthy. This year being able to see him stay healthy has really shown how good of player he can be.”
Wisconsin’s defense created three turnovers and special teams notched another one, a huge boost after being shutout in that department in the opener. Junior safety Leo Musso had a pair, including one at UW’s own 3-yard line that stuffed out the Redhawks best scoring opportunity. Even so, there was more that could have been had.
“I thought actually we missed on a couple more,” said Chryst. “When they have a chance to give you something you’ve got to be able to seize that opportunity … It’s got to be a point of emphasis forcing the takeaways.”
Wisconsin held Miami to 157 yards and didn’t allow the Redhawks onto its side of the field until its fifth drive with roughly 10 minutes left in the second quarter. They didn’t return until the final minutes of the third when the score had ballooned to 51-0.
The Badgers held the Redhawks to minus-3 rushing yards, the least they’ve allowed since Oct. 2007 (-17 vs. Northern Illinois), and allowed only one play to go over 20 yards.
“The big plays are the things we really try to focus in on to eliminate, big runs and big passes,” said safety Michael Caputo. “They are going to get some, but you got to eliminate the big ones, the momentum swings, all that stuff. Third downs we’ve got to get off the field. That was our mentality.”
While many of the things learned by onlookers were expected, the play of Tanner McEvoy might have been the biggest surprise. Limited to a handful of offensive plays last week, McEvoy started on both sides of the football and made a noticeable impact.
McEvoy stepped in front of an out route for a 41-yard return down to the Miami 4. Unofficially playing snaps in the low 70s, McEvoy became the first Wisconsin player to register an interception and a reception in the same game since Brandon Williams did so against Michigan State in November 2003.
“I am just trying to be an impact player on the team (and) help these guys win,” said McEvoy. “That’s been my goal since I got here. Whatever role they give me that’s what I’m going with.”
Around the post-game interview room, the word “confidence” was audible more than a handful of times, not surprising since this home opener was little more than a confidence builder. Even so, Wisconsin took care of business, even if the challenge given to them was fairly feeble.
“All in all, certainly pleased and appreciate the effort that went into this victory,” Chryst said, "and looking forward to growing and learning from the tape and moving on next week.”