Wisconsin's offense sans Anthony Davis Saturday made some plays early but missed the ignition Davis provides and struggled to put points on the board.
The Badgers, though, may have found the answer in the form of true freshman tailback Jamil Walker.
First, though, there were struggles.
Wisconsin opened well enough, with quarterback John Stocco completing third down passes to Brandon Williams and Jonathan Orr on the game's opening possession. UNLV then yielded consecutive first downs via penalty, the second when tight end Owen Daniels was interfered with as he ran through the seam.
With first-and-goal at the nine, however, tailback Booker Stanley lost four yards. Stocco threw underneath to Williams on third down but Rebel linebacker Adam Seward took Williams down at the five. Mike Allen then missed a 23-yard field goal, keeping the scoreboard blank.
The Badgers moved the ball well on their second drive but again could not find the end zone. On the second play of the drive, Stanley recorded his longest run of the day, a 16-yard burst to the UNLV 35. Three plays later, Stocco again converted a third down, this time finding Daniels for 18 yards to the 14.
A defensive holding call made it first-and-goal at the 7. UNLV, though, loaded up nine players in the box and teed off against the run once Wisconsin got close. Fullback Matt Bernstein was stopped a few feet behind the line of scrimmage on first down (officially no gain) and Stocco took it four yards on a keeper to the 3. Stanley then looked like he had a touchdown all lined up, but Rebel defensive end Leon Moore pulled him down at the 1. The Badgers brought in the jumbo and went for it on fourth down, but Stanley was knocked down short of the goal line as he attempted to leap over a pair of blockers.
"I thought we threw and caught it pretty well in the first half. We just didn't finish," head coach Barry Alvarez said. "When you get inside the 10-yard line it is hard to throw it down there. You've got to run it. You've got to be able to establish runs. I thought we had the touchdown blocked. We guessed on some runs and didn't read what we saw.
"You have to read where you run. And you have to do it with some authority—you can't guess in there. I'm not putting it on the back or the line. Obviously it is something we have to correct."
Wisconsin again reached UNLV territory on its third drive, buoyed by Daniels' 22-yard reception. Allen, though, missed a 49-yard field goal.
"I felt good the whole game," said Stocco. The Badger signal caller completed 7 of 10 passes in the first quarter for 80 yards and finished 14-for-24 for 131. "We were moving the ball, we just couldn't punch it in."
The Badgers led 9-0 at halftime: Wisconsin's special teams accounting for every point.
Stanley struggled running the ball all game long. Aside from his 16-yard jaunt, he ran eight times in the first quarter for just eight yards. He ran once in the second quarter and lost three yards, picked up 19 yards on six carries in the third quarter and nine yards on six carries in the fourth, for a grand total of 49 yards on 22 carries.
The Badgers, however, found a spark at tailback in true freshman Jamil Walker, whose first carry went for 23 yards early in the second quarter. His next run was good for seven and though he came just shy of a first down on his following two tries, the Badgers found the burst they were missing without Davis in the lineup.
"I think Jamil gives us an answer back there where we have some speed, where you can do some things with the running back and get some speed that we miss with Anthony," Alvarez said.
Wisconsin began its first three drives of the second half in UNLV territory but could not do anything with the great field position, punting three times after back-to-back-to-back three-and-outs that accumulated just 19 yards total offense. Scott Starks, though, downed the third punt at the one, leading to the second safety of the game and an 11-0 lead.
On the second play of the Badgers' next possession, Stocco lofted a pass down field that UNLV safety Joe Miklos intercepted. UNLV scored its only points—a 34-yard field goal—on the ensuing drive.
"I didn't complete throws that shouldn't be missed," Stocco said. "I had that interception wasn't a good choice. So there's always things to improve on."
"John's interception was a poor decision, but he really managed the game against a very difficult defense, a scheme that creates a lot of confusion," White said.
"Obviously we didn't have a great day on offense," Alvarez said. "We didn't finish early in the game, which would have given us a cushion. We really struggled beginning of the second half, with good field position not being able to establish anything until we answered after their field goal."
The offense did answer following the field goal: driving 91 yards in just over seven minutes to pull ahead 18-3.
Stocco completed a six-yard pass to Stanley on a third-and-three to get the drive rolling. Walker picked up 23 yards to the Wisconsin 45 and two plays later Marcus Randle El darted to the UNLV 46. Stanley and the Badger offensive line then surged forward for the first down on third-and-one.
Four plays later, the same combination converted a fourth-and-one, with Stanley picking up three yards to the 30.
Two plays later, Stanley, who led all players with five receptions Saturday, caught a screen pass and sprinted 19 yards down the left sideline to give the Badgers first-and-goal at the 10.
Wisconsin finally found the end zone, turning to the passing game as receiver Darrin Charles caught a fade pass from Stocco for the game's first and only offensive touchdown.
"Obviously we need to take advantage of some of the scoring opportunities we had in the first half but I really think the character of our football team was revealed: we didn't panic, we didn't lose our poise," offensive coordinator Brian White said. "We told them all week that they were going to need persistence, patience and poise."
Aside from the 91-yard drive (officially 86 due to penalty on the preceding punt return), the silver lining Saturday was the play of Jamil Walker, who finished with 88 yards on 16 carries, running almost entirely outside the tackles.
"He's only going to get better," White said. "He's a home run threat that we are going to keep on using. When we get Anthony back we'll have some legitimate depth at that tailback position.
"We wanted to keep him on perimeter. He is going to have to be an inside runner but that will develop. That will develop this week. He is two weeks into his college career and he didn't get to play last week because of an illness."
No Davis: some worries, something to build from
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