First day success: Badgers win opener

Stocco overcomes early struggles, pulls out win in first career start

MADISON—Wisconsin sophomore quarterback John Stocco overcame first-game jitters in Saturday's game against Central Florida to throw for two touchdowns and rush for another as the Badgers ran past the Golden Knights 34-6 in the season opener for both teams.

"I think I played all right but there was a lot of throws I missed that I shouldn't have missed," Stocco said. "Maybe a couple missed reads here and there, but the good news is they're all correctable, so we got that to build on."

In his first career start, Stocco looked a little off the mark during the team's early possessions, missing his receivers by fairly large margins and dropping two snaps. The sophomore settled into the game late in the second quarter and found Jonathan Orr in the right corner of Camp Randall's south end zone to give the Badgers a 17-3 lead with 1:35 remaining in the first half. The score was Stocco's first career touchdown pass and Orr's first touchdown since the 2002 season.

John Stocco gets off a
pass before being hit.
(AJ Maclean/Badger Nation)
"Running down the tunnel, before the game started, that's always a rush," Stocco said of the only trace of pre-game butterflies he felt. "It doesn't matter how old you are, anytime you run down the tunnel you get jitters…Before the game I was just trying to visualize making big plays and fortunately we made a couple."

"I thought he managed the game well and got stronger as it went on," head coach Barry Alvarez said of Stocco, who was 8 of 18 with 164 yards passing. "I think that he did play much better as the game went on and that's what's going to happen. I was pleased and John will continue to improve."

Wisconsin continued to expand the point margin in the first half after Orr's touchdown reception. Senior free safety Jim Leonhard returned a punt 38 yards to UCF's 36-yard line with 24 seconds remaining in the second quarter. Stocco connected on a 30-yard pass to junior wide receiver Brandon Williams, setting up first and goal from the UCF six. Junior tight end Owen Daniels then drew a pass interference call to move the Badgers even closer, but a false start by senior left guard Dan Buenning pushed the drive back and an illegal shift on the ensuing play forced Wisconsin to kick. Senior Mike Allen's 29-yard field goal gave UW a 20-3 lead heading into halftime.

Allen was 2-for-3 on field goals for the day, missing a 39-yarder earlier in the second quarter after a high snap. Freshman Taylor Mehlhaff handled kickoff duties and did a tremendous job, forcing the Golden Knights into three touchbacks. After a season of inadequate kickoffs, Alvarez was pleased with the freshman's performance.

"When he didn't get it to the end zone, they were nice and high so the coverage could be down there," Alvarez said.

Stocco ended the Badgers' first drive of the second half with a two-yard sneak into the end zone. Wisconsin failed to complete a pass on that drive, but sophomore tailback Booker Stanley, junior fullback Matt Bernstein and freshman wide receiver Marcus Randle El proved too much for the Golden Knights to stop and combined for 49 yards of Wisconsin's 230 total rushing yards.

Stocco's second touchdown pass came early in the fourth quarter, when he connected with Daniels for a 52-yard catch down the Badger sideline. Daniels emerged wide open in the defensive backfield and Stocco lofted his throw, which the junior caught at UCF's 29-yard line. Daniels ran a few steps, then hurdled a defender at the 15-yard line before crashing into the end zone. The reception was the longest of the game and the longest of both Daniels' and Stocco's careers.

"That's a play we thought would be big against them," Stocco said. "We had a play-fake that threw the corner off and Owen was wide open. I just had to lay it up to him and he made an amazing move."

Central Florida was held to just 53 rushing yards, as the Wisconsin front four and linebackers were able to keep Golden Knight tailback Alex Haynes in check, not allowing a run of more than eight yards from UCF's primary weapon. Golden Knight junior kicker Matt Prater accounted for all of his team's points on field goals of 51 and 33 yards.

UCF quarterback Steve Moffett was 13 of 24 for 177 passing yards. The sophomore was able to have some success against a Badger secondary that left holes in coverage easy to exploit. Fortunately for UW, Moffett gave up two turnovers, the second of which led to Stocco's touchdown to Orr late in the second quarter.

Senior defensive tackle Anttaj Hawthorne recorded his first career interception in the second quarter, picking off an errant screen pass from Moffett to stammer 15 yards down the field to the UCF 39. The ensuing drive, though, ended with Allen's missed field goal.

Redshirt freshman Jamal Cooper came around the right side of the pocket and forced Moffett to fumble on Central Florida's next possession. Badger linebacker Dontez Sanders recovered the fumble and ran 50 yards for a touchdown, but upon review of the play, the officials said Sanders had set his knee down when he reached to recover the ball.

Senior tailback Anthony Davis, who rushed for 78 yards in the first half, ran 21 yards down the UCF sideline after the Badgers recovered the fumble. On the tail end of the play, Davis suffered an injury to his eye. Davis was slow to get up, but jogged back over to the Wisconsin sideline. He did not return to the game and sophomore Stanley took the bulk of the remaining carries for UW, gaining 47 yards on 12 carries.

Davis set the tone early for the Wisconsin attack, and moved into second place all-time on UW's career rushing list on just his second carry of the game. He accounted for all of the Badgers' yards on their first drive, running the ball six times for 40 yards, in addition to a key 12-yard pass on fourth-and-eight to keep the chains moving. The senior went untouched on the left side for the Badgers' first touchdown of the season at the 9:27 mark in the first quarter.

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