For good reason, following Wisconsin's 48-31 victory over Akron last week, the feeling surrounding the Badgers was that the team's offense could take on the world. The defense, which had been shredded by Akron quarterback Charlie Frye, needed plenty of work.
Only fitting, then, that in Wisconsin's second home, non-conference loss in its last 21 such games, an extremely unexpected reversal of fortune took place. The Badgers offense played miserably Saturday, turning the ball over five times and only gaining 291 yards. The defense, on the other hand, kept Wisconsin in the game early, avoiding what could have been an outright blowout. Wisconsin yielded just 11 first downs and 187 yards total offense, yet lost, 23-5. The Rebels engineered three scoring drives, two for touchdowns, Saturday, all with short fields before them. UNLV tallied 17, 14 and 24 yards on those possessions.
Wisconsin's star tailback, Anthony Davis, left the game after injuring his ankle on a 10-yard carry in the first quarter and did not return. Davis left the stadium to receive x-rays, results of which were unknown following the game.
"Last I head it was an ankle," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. "I don't know how severe. I just don't know."
Without Davis, the Badgers offense, so potent in the first two games, was beyond ineffective Saturday. When the team did not turn the ball over, they were struggling to get their feet moving, picking up only four yards per play. UNLV had 12 tackles for loss, including eight sacks.
"Anthony obviously is a large part of our offense but here are no excuses in this game," said Alvarez, who added, in reference to UNLV's Larry Croom: "Their top tailback was out also."
Wisconsin quarterback Jim Sorgi, unexceptional but very effective in two victories, struggled through the course of the game Saturday. He struggled to make reads against UNLV's defense and often overthrew his targets. Sorgi completed just 11 of 25 passes and threw two interceptions.
"I'm upset with my performance today," Sorgi said. "I didn't play horribly but I could have played better. I could have played a lot better and put this team in a better position."
The 11 completions did go for 222 yards, but the Badgers could not sustain drives Saturday, largely due to a blitz-happy UNLV pass rush that raised havoc in Wisconsin's backfield.
"They were bringing a lot of different stuff," Badger guard Dan Buenning said. "They had a good package against us and they knew what they wanted to do and they did it well."
The Badgers also self destructed with penalties, most notably when a fourth quarter false start turned a second-and-goal at the three into a second-and-goal at the eight. Sorgi was sacked on the next play, putting the Badgers in a hole. They would turn the ball over on downs.
Wisconsin's defense hung in Saturday despite the hole the offense and special teams put it in. As a result of a long punt return and two turnovers, UNLV's average starting position on its three scoring drives was Wisconsin's 21.
"It is frustrating," linebacker Jeff Mack said. "But I'm sure it is frustrating too when the tables are turned like last week. When they kept scoring and Akron's offense kept scoring. Look, it is a team thing. Everybody is going to have a bad day some times. Our offense is too potent and too powerful for that to happen again."