Special teams, defense lead Badgers to victory

Leonhard returns blocked field goal for touchdown

MADISON—With the offense struggling to convert scoring opportunities, the Wisconsin Badgers needed help from elsewhere to knock off the Rebels of UNLV (0-2 overall). The offense received just that. The UW special teams put nine points on the scoreboard and the defense put together another suffocating effort, as the Badgers (2-0) emerged with an 18-3 win Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.

Seemingly poised to grab an early advantage, the Badgers took the opening kickoff and marched 60 yards down the field, only to have the drive end when place kicker Mike Allen missed a 23-yard field goal.

The defense immediately went to work shutting down the Rebel offense, getting the ball back to the Badgers after a three-and-out.

"Defensively, I don't know how much more you can ask from a defense," Wisconsin head coach Barry Alvarez said. "They prepared well, flew around to the ball, anticipated well. I'm very satisfied with how they played."

Wisconsin put together another impressive drive, but stalled at the UNLV one-yard-line when running back Booker Stanley was stopped on a fourth-and-goal try.

"We kept moving the ball down field, but couldn't punch it in," said Badger quarterback John Stocco, who finished the game 14 of 24 for 131 yards, a touchdown and one interception. "Sometimes that happens. We scored enough points to win, that's all that matters."

Sophomore Shane Steichen replaced injured starter Kurt Nantkes on UNLV's second possession, and was greeted by the UW defense with another three-and-out, setting up a punting situation. Ryan Heise sailed the snap over the head of punter Gary Cook and out of the endzone for a safety, putting the Badgers up 2-0.

The Badgers' offensive woes continued into the second quarter, as Allen misfired on another field goal, this time a 49-yard attempt. Once again though, the special teams rose to the occasion. After UNLV engineered its first sustained drive of the game, the defense finally slowed the Rebel charge at the Wisconsin 13-yard-line, bringing on kicker Sergio Aguayo. Aguayo's 30-yard try was low and blocked by the outstretched arm of linebacker Reggie Cribbs. The ball rolled to Jim Leonhard, who scooped it up and raced 86 yards for the game's first touchdown.

"I've never even dreamed of blocking a field goal," Cribbs said. "I've dreamed of getting interceptions, getting fumbles, but I've never dreamed of blocking a field goal. I just jumped and the ball hit my hand. I was elated."

Instead of trailing 3-2, UW quickly found itself leading by the somewhat unusual score of 9-0 after Allen added the extra point.

"We really couldn't get anything going on offense and they drove the ball down the field," said Leonhard, who also recorded 58 yards on three punt returns to move past Nick Davis for first on the UW all-time punt-return yardage list with 1,020 yards. "We really needed a big play and we got it. That's what we were looking for."

Both offenses continued to struggle in the third quarter, trading punts. Wisconsin Kenneth DeBauche starred in that role, pinning UNLV inside the 20 three times and twice inside the five in the early going of the third quarter. For the day, he averaged 42.4 yards on five punts.

"I thought he was exceptional," Alvarez said of DeBauche. "He pinned them down there a number of times. He's a good coffin corner kicker. Kenny's a weapon."

DeBauche's placement paid huge dividends after Wisconsin's third stalled drive of the third quarter. He uncorked a 48-yard punt that was downed at the one-yard-line by Scott Starks.

On the very next play, Badger linebacker Mark Zalewski sacked Steichen in the endzone for the second safety of the game, putting UW up 11-0.

"I like the intensity our guys are playing with," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "They come one, come all. I really like the way they're flying around to the football. I think they're looking for big plays."

The last time a Badger team registered two safeties in a game was Oct. 20, 1951, against Purdue.

UNLV cashed in on the game's only turnover to get on the board for the first time late in the third quarter. After Joe Miklos intercepted Stocco at the UNLV 35, Steichen drove his team inside the Wisconsin 20, setting up Aguayo's 34-yard field goal. That would prove to be all the offense UNLV could muster.

"When our defense is playing well and we hold on to the football, it's going to be tough to beat us," Stocco said.

Wisconsin scored its only offensive touchdown on its first drive of the fourth quarter, when Stocco connected with wide receiver Darrin Charles on a lob into the endzone. It marked UW's first offensive touchdown against UNLV in more than 10 quarters, dating back to the 2002 meeting.

"It felt really good," Charles said. "It was nice for somebody to go up and make a play. It just so happened to be me. We needed one the entire game."

The Badgers salted the rest of the game away on the ground. Without the injured tailback Anthony Davis, speedy freshman tailback Jamil Walker stepped into the spotlight and racked up 88 yards on 16 carries. Stanley led the Badgers in receiving with five catches for 36 yards and added 49 yards on 22 carries.

"I'm thankful for every win that we get," Alvarez said. "That was a hard-fought game today. I feel fortunate that we walked out of there with a win."

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