In typical fashion, Wisconsin free safety Jim Leonhard was in the right place at the right time Saturday and knew exactly what to do about it: Make a big play.
With just more than two minutes left in the second quarter, Leonhard picked up a blocked field goal off the turf and sprinted 86 yards for touchdown that gave the Badgers a 9-0 lead on their way to an 18-3 victory.
"Just an awareness Jimmy had to pick it up. You could tell (UNLV) didn't know what was going on," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "It was nice that Jimmy had the ball in his hands rather than J.J. [306-pound defensive tackle Jason Jefferson] or anybody else."
In typical fashion, Leonhard the punt returner made all the right decisions Saturday, settling for the fair catch when he had to, boldly charging punts most players would shy away from and making plays whenever he had the opportunity.
His best return, a 31-yard jaunt, established a new school career record for punt return yardage. Leonhard has 1,020, besting Nick Davis' total of 1,007.
In typical fashion, Leonhard praised his teammates for the accolade.
"It feels great, I'm real happy about it because I can share this with everyone that's been on the punt return team since I've been here," Leonhard said. "There's 10 guys out there blocking for you, so you've got to take a little pride in your job back there returning the ball. You've got 10 guys doing all they can to help you."
Leonhard broke his own record for season punt return yards last year with 470. He had 434 in 2002.
Badgers beat the blitz
UNLV's defensive front raised havoc in Wisconsin's backfield last season with eight sacks. That was not the case this year. The Badgers allowed just one sack when linebacker Reggie Butler came free off the edge.
"They hit us one time and they baited us on that when we were in empty," head coach Barry Alvarez said. "For the front that they showed us we had to call a particular protection and didn't account for somebody coming from outside. That was the only mistake we made on the blitz all day. I thought we did have excellent protection."
Wisconsin employed an empty backfield last week when its two running backs shifted to split end positions, with three receivers in the slots between them. Saturday, the Badgers took the ‘empty' set one step further, with tight end Owen Daniels in a slot and two receivers on either side of the formation.
The Badgers had some success with the formation right from the start of the game: receiver Jonathan Orr caught a 13-yard pass on Wisconsin's third play and Owen Daniels drew a pass interference call while running down the seam for a first-and-goal at the UNLV nine.
"They hadn't seen that before," Alvarez said. "We thought we could get some plays out of it and we did have some people running open, completed some passes. That's something we have to build off of."
Once a quarterback…
When Wisconsin lined up for a punt late in the fourth quarter, UNLV was a man short, leaving gunner Scott Starks wide open. Starks got his teammates' attention and coerced a quick snap. Daniels, a former quarterback who lines up in the backfield on the punt team, slid in front of punter Kenneth DeBauche, intercepted the snap and threw the ball to Starks. The Rebels, however, had called time out just before the snap and the play was whistled dead.
"There was no one on Sparky out there," Daniels said. "I saw we had a punter behind us to throw the ball so I hopped in front of it to try to get it out to him."
"That was strange. It wasn't a fake punt," Alvarez said. "I don't know why the hell that ball was snapped where it was. Fortunately they had the whistle blown.
"The guy was uncovered in front of me. I just wanted Kenny to throw him the ball. I was waving just like Sparky was. They misaligned. I think somebody left the game, no one came into the game and they did not have him covered up. Somebody finally spotted it and called time out.
"But that's good that people think that we have a fake punt in."
UW Notes: Leonhard stellar in win
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