Wisconsin converting in the clutch

Late-game offensive turnarounds, third-down dominance have sparked Badgers' 3-0 start

Wisconsin wrapped up its non-conference tour Saturday with its second consecutive near disaster offensively. When the game was on the line, though, the offense responded in impressive fashion. It is a scenario that cannot continue for long if the Badgers hope to make a run at the Big Ten title. The team's mettle, however, cannot be questioned.

Against UNLV the Badgers gained just 156 yards in their first nine offensive possessions. They had accumulated just 22 yards in four second-half possessions before taking over at their nine-yard line with 4:34 left in the third quarter. Sixteen plays and 91 yards later, Wisconsin had gobbled seven minutes and 15 seconds off the game clock and effectively sealed a victory when quarterback John Stocco found Darrin Charles for a five-yard touchdown, providing the eventual margin of victory, 18-3.

Trailing 7-0 with 4:04 left in the third quarter Saturday against Arizona, the Badgers had managed a paltry 131 yards and nine first downs. A 10-play, 56-yard touchdown drive and a 16-play, 72-yard field goal drive later, Wisconsin had pulled out a 9-7 victory to improve to 3-0.

"We talked about it last week. There is just tremendous character on our football team," offensive coordinator Brian White said. "We made plays down the stretch in the fourth quarter."

Against Arizona conversions were the key. The Badgers were 6-for-15 on third downs Saturday and 3-for-4 on fourth down.

Facing fourth-and-three at the Arizona 27 late in the third quarter, Wisconsin lined up with two backs and three tight ends. Stocco faked a handoff to tailback Booker Stanley and ran untouched around left end. The naked bootleg picked up eight yards before Stocco was forced out of bounds.

"It was a great call," Stocco said. "Before the ball is snapped I'm looking off the edge to see if there is anybody blitzing or anything like that. I didn't see anybody. We knew they had been coming down hard all game. We knew it should have been a good play and it worked out for us."

Three plays later Stanley sprinted into the end zone from seven yards out to pull the Badgers within 7-6 after a missed extra point.

The game-winning drive that followed relied on a number of clutch plays. With third-and-10 at the Wildcat 49 Stocco delivered a pass to Charles short of the first down marker. Charles strained and stretched for the mark, actually fumbling the ball out of bounds, and picked up the first down at the 39.

Four plays later, tight end Owen Daniels made a terrific catch to narrowly pick up a fourth-and-five.

The play kept a drive alive that resulted in Mike Allen's game-winning 23-yard field goal.

"There is character involved. That is what you always look for: guys that will compete and guys that will fight and not give up," head coach Barry Alvarez said. "We've had that happen before, down on the road and guys fight like crazy, find a way to win. That's important."

Conversely, Arizona was able to move the ball in spurts but could not sustain drives because of their inability to convert on third down. The Wildcats converted just 2 of 11 third-down attempts, one week after UNLV registered a 1-for-13 against the Badgers.

Mike Bell's 34-yard run Saturday is the longest the Badgers have allowed this season and Mike Jefferson's 44-yard touchdown reception from Kris Heavner is the longest passing play Wisconsin has allowed.

The Badgers entered Saturday's game allowing just two yards per carry. At halftime, however, Bell had 48 yards on just five carries, including the 34-yard run and an 11-yard carry.

Arizona, however, could only manage seven points all game.

"We stopped them when we needed to," defensive end Erasmus James said. "You go 100 percent every time and you stop them when you need to that's all that counts."

Arizona drove into Wisconsin territory on its second drive of the game, but James sacked Heavner and forced a fumble on a third-and-three. Two third down passes later in the half were on target but broken up by Badger defenders.

The Wildcats were 0-for-5 on third down in the second half. Wisconsin's third-down dominance on each side of the ball led to a seven-minute edge in time of possession.

"There was a different way that we attacked third down this week. We knew that this was going to be a close ball game," defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. "We knew that they were going to have certain tendencies that we like to take advantage of with the third-down situation. We put the nickel in the there, gave us an opportunity to get some different looks. I think that's something that's really going to benefit us in our games in the future."

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