For players and coaches alike, Wisconsin's 2003 meeting with UNLV does not conjure pleasant memories.
"We lost a pretty embarrassing game against a team we felt we were a lot better than," left tackle Joe Thomas said. "The first thing we think about is payback."
UNLV safety Jamaal Brimmer's two interceptions and a fumble returned for a touchdown, receiver Earvin Johnson's two touchdown receptions and tailback Dominique Dorsey's 100 rushing yards do not haunt the Badgers. Rather, the poor play that helped lead to a 23-5 defeat is what Wisconsin finds revolting.
"We have a lot to prove to this team because they think they can hang with us and they think they can play," tight end Owen Daniels said. "We just want to show them that that wasn't us last year."
"We've been looking forward to this game, I think," right tackle Morgan Davis said.
Wisconsin's dreadful day began early: on the second play of Wisconsin's second possession, and his second carry of the game, star tailback Anthony Davis injured his ankle while scampering for 10 yards. The injury would plague Davis the rest of the season. The Badgers' offense, which had produced 1,029 yards and 72 points in its first two games of the season, turned suddenly and miserably anemic.
"Turnovers, turnovers. Lots of turnovers," Daniels responded when asked what he remembered from last season's matchup. "We did a great job of moving the ball down the field and we just shot ourselves in the foot when we got down in the red zone."
"I remember that we played very poorly on offense," offensive coordinator Brian White said. "We turned the ball over a bunch and consequently we didn't give our football team an opportunity to win."
Turnovers, five of them to be precise, were key in the Rebels' convincing win. The Badgers fumbled away two consecutive first-quarter possessions, drastically impacting their chances of winning. On the first, tailback Dwayne Smith took a screen pass 37 yards down the right sideline but ran into right guard Jonathan Clinkscale and fell to the turf at the UNLV six. On the next play, he fumbled. After a UNLV punt, Smith fumbled again. This time, Brimmer scooped up the loose ball and ran 55 yards for a touchdown, giving the Rebels a 10-0 lead.
Wisconsin also suffered from quarterback Jim Sorgi's two interceptions, the eight sacks the offense allowed, and Brandon Williams' third-quarter fumble that marked the second time in the game the Badgers turned it over on consecutive possessions.
Wisconsin's offense did move the ball but could not sustain drives or convert in the clutch: the Badgers drove inside the 35 seven times, but only came away with one field goal. Smith ran for 92 yards on just 18 carries, but could not overcome the two fumbles. Six players caught 13 passes for 239 yards, but should have caught quite a few more.
"We had guys running clear, we didn't throw the ball well to them," head coach Barry Alvarez said.
Defensively, Wisconsin allowed just 187 yards, but turnovers allowed UNLV touchdown drives of just 14 and 24 yards, respectively, and a 17-yard drive that set up a field goal.
"I'm ready for Las Vegas now," linebacker Dontez Sanders said. "Last year, we all know what happened.
"This (Central Florida) game is done with. Now we have to focus on UNLV, go out there and just play."
Sanders said that the Badgers' lingering disgust with last season's performance had not precluded its preparation for the Golden Knights, who Wisconsin beat 34-6 in this year's season opener, Saturday.
"Our goal this year is 1-0 every day," he said. "That's in practices, in games. Now, this game is done with. Next week we have to be 1-0 again."
"They're smart enough to know this is a good football team coming in here," Alvarez said when asked if he worried his team could get too caught up in looking for revenge. "They played better than us last year. That's why they won. They executed, they took advantage of plays, they made plays, and we didn't."
"We have kind of a bad taste in our mouth but we just have to play the players that are going to be out there this year and not worry about last year," cornerback Scott Starks said.
UNLV's personnel is similar to last year. Fourteen starters return, including Brimmer, Johnson, quarterback Kurt Nantkes and star linebackers Adam Seward and Ryan Claridge. Dorsey was a reserve last season, but started against the Badgers in place of injured tailback Larry Croom.
"Everybody's ready for it," Davis said. "The offense has to come out and make it our game. We have to correct the mistakes that we had last year so that we can come out on top."
Badgers have eye on payback
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