MADISON - No gimmicks, no frills and no tricks. Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst isn’t interested in style points as much as he’s interested in tapping into the formula that has taken his new program to unparalleled heights the past 20 years.
There’s no question it’s still a work in progress, especially with the conference opener a week away, but No.22 Wisconsin going back to its roots paid off with a potent ground attack that paid big dividends.
Finishing with a season-high 326 yards on the ground and averaging 6.0 yards per carry, Wisconsin rushed for three touchdowns, more than enough with its defense pitching another shutout in a 28-0 victory over Hawaii at Camp Randall Stadium.
“The first half was fun,” said fullback Derek Watt. “We set the tone for the game.”
Considering the performance comes two days after junior tailback Corey Clement announced he would undergo sports hernia surgery and miss the next 4-to-6, the performance brings home that the unit has started to turn a corner.
Getting his first career start, Taiwan Deal ran for a career-high 147 yards on 26 carries and two first-half touchdowns. After getting only six carries in the season opener, Deal saw an increase to 14 two weeks ago and 16 last week.
“As my workload increases, my confidence just keeps going up,” said Deal. “Throughout practice, my confidence is just set at a high level. I feel great during practice week and come out on Saturday and try to hold that same confidence.”
The improvement was never more evident than the first time the Badgers touched the football.
Questioned for its slow starts the first three games of the season, having three drives that averaged 7.7 plays, 54 yards and only three points, Chryst loaded up with fullbacks and tight ends and pounded the rock in the shadow of his own goal line.
The result was as impressive a drive that Wisconsin’s offense has registered this season: 16 plays - 13 coming on the ground - that chewed up 8 minutes, 9 seconds of clock. No run went more than 11 yards, but the physicality of Deal, who capped the drive with a two-yard touchdown, was evident.
On the first four plays, UW loaded up with fullbacks Austin Ramesh and Watt in front of Deal, named the “31” formation, resulting in 29 yards on the ground.
“All week through practice coach wanted us to keep our edge,” said Deal, who had nine carries for 56 yards on the drive. "He wanted us to hit Hawaii in the mouth. I felt establishing the run was something big today.”
The two fullback formation was hardly an abnormality. Wisconsin went to it 11 times in the first half and 18 times in the second half, unofficially generating 196 yards, two short-yardage touchdowns by Deal and a 9-yard run by Dare Ogunbowale (15 carries, 85 yards).
“That’s our identity and I’m glad we got a couple of those long drives,” said junior center Dan Voltz. “We probably ran the ball two-thirds of the time, which is what we liked to do. Control the clock, wear down those guys and that first drive was a statement drive for us. It’s what we wanted to do coming out and we executed.”
It was a needed boost after Wisconsin’s middle three drive of the first half generated only 82 yards on 15 plays, as Hawaii’s secondary caused problems in what has been clicking passing game. After throwing for 200 yards in three straight games, Wisconsin finished with 186 through the air on 25 attempts, a moot point considering the success the offense was finally having on the ground.
“I think we’ve got some really good players at fullback in Derek and Ramesh, so I think between the two of them they can give us a lot in the run game,” said quarterback Joel Stave.
Hawaii (2-2) was able to gash Wisconsin’s secondary for 240 yards but couldn’t hit the Badgers on the scoreboard. The Badgers held the Warriors to 15 rushing yards and their third straight opponent outside the end zone.
“It just shows how hard that we’ve worked and how much we love to play the game and run around out there,” said senior Michael Caputo. “Like I said to the guys before, 24 hour rile – just got to come back and we’ve got to focus on Iowa and just keep doing the same thing every week in preparation.”
Hawaii – now outscored 66-0 by Ohio State and Wisconsin this season – got as close at Wisconsin’s 11-yard line early in the third quarter. Instead of cutting into UW’s 14-point lead, the Warriors were whistled for a false start, a 15-yard personal foul penalty, saw quarterback Max Wittek sacked by senior outside linebacker Joe Schobert and threw in a holding penalty for good measure.
The end result was a missed 49-yard field goal on fourth-and-25 and no further threats.