Stocco rises to the challenge

Badger quarterback provides sterling performance on the biggest stage of his young career

COLUMBUS—With Ohio State loading up to stop the run Saturday, sophomore John Stocco did not come into Columbus aiming to heave passes all over Ohio Stadium. Rather, Wisconsin picked its spots, and its first-year starting quarterback delivered emphatically.

The Buckeyes blitzed, but Stocco was not rattled. His receivers were well covered, but he gave them the opportunity to make plays. As he has done throughout his ever-growing tenure as Wisconsin's quarterback, Stocco made good decisions and limited mistakes—the Badgers had zero giveaways Saturday. In a 24-13 win over Ohio State, however, Stocco made play after sparkling play, finishing 15-for-24 for 160 yards passing.

"I thought John Stocco played his best game," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said.

"No. 1, he took care of the football, didn't have any turnovers, he hung in there and he made some tough throws with people in his face," Alvarez explained. "Even some of the incompletions, somebody came free and he got rid of the ball and didn't take a sack. He was put in a position by their defense that he had to make some plays for us to move the chains and I can't say that he's done that every week. He did it against what I think is a very good football team and a good defense."

Stocco's breakout performance came in Wisconsin's biggest game of the season to date and in the most hostile environment he will likely face all year.

"I was not concerned about the atmosphere one bit with John Stocco," offensive coordinator Brian White said. "He's a very level-headed, poised, unflappable guy."

With 6:32 left in the second quarter the Badgers trailed 10-7, having just seen their offense come to life in the form of a 31-yard Anthony Davis touchdown run.

After a two-yard Davis run, Stocco went to work. He found tight end Jason Pociask on a play-action pass for 19 yards, then hit tight end Owen Daniels for a 31-yard gain. Two plays later, from the Buckeye 24, Stocco threw a pass toward Darrin Charles in the end zone. Two Ohio State defensive backs were in the vicinity, but Stocco threw it where only Charles could get it and drew a pass interference call, setting up first-and-goal at the 9. After a one-yard Davis run and an incomplete pass intended for Charles, Stocco went back to him, this time on a third-and-eight fade route, and Charles made an exceptional catch, giving Wisconsin the lead for good, 14-10.

"I just know Darrin's going to make the play," Stocco said. "We worked on that in practice. Just throw it up there and let him go get it."

"He stepped up in the pocket, moved to the left, to the right and threw the ball, got it out of his hands, did what he had to do," receiver Brandon Williams said. "He grew up today."

At halftime Stocco had completed 9 of 13 passes for 103 yards and the touchdown. He did not need to pass often to be effective but the Badgers needed him to make plays and he continued to deliver throughout the game.

Stocco found Daniels for 23 yards on the opening drive of the second half and fours plays later delivered a strike to Charles on the left sideline. The play, good for 12 yards, set up Mike Allen's 26-yard field goal to widen the lead to 17-13.

With a chance to put the game away in the fourth quarter, facing a third-and-three at the Ohio State 10 following a turnover, Stocco delivered a touchdown pass to a lunging Jonathan Orr in the back corner of the end zone to make it 24-13.

"Both of those [touchdowns], the way they were aligned I knew where I was going with the football," Stocco said. Both Orr and Charles were his primary reads on the respective touchdown throws. "The one to J.O., they were blitzing. I knew they had man [coverage] out there so I just threw it up for him and went and let him go get it."

"The last touchdown pass that he threw, a linebacker came free right up the middle and he was going to get smacked and he was able to get it out there," Alvarez said.

The game was vindication for Stocco, who did not let criticism regarding his production earlier this season bother him.

"We've always had a lot of confidence in John and contrary to chat rooms, Internet articles by people that don't know our business, he's really played good, solid football for us," White said. "He's done what we asked him to do and today was another example."

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