Stocco, the University of Wisconsin football team's junior second-year starting quarterback, attempted just 10 passes while Brian Calhoun and Booker Stanley were busy shredding Bowling Green's defense on the ground in a 56-42 victory. But Stocco completed eight of his throws for 116 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
"I thought he made some outstanding decisions and was accurate throwing the ball," UW co-offensive coordinator Brian White said.
Calhoun ran for 258 yards and Stanley added 103 behind a collection of offensive linemen, tight ends and fullbacks that punished the Falcons. That made Stocco's day a whole lot easier.
What made it more difficult was the helmet-to-helmet hit he absorbed from Falcon freshman cornerback Antonio Smith, when Stocco slowed up at the end of a 13-yard scramble. The blow appeared to daze Stocco, and he stayed out of the game for the next three plays. In his absence, Tyler Donovan handed off three times to Calhoun, for pickups of 16, 4, and 20 yards.
"He gave me a little kiss…. I'm all right though," Stocco said.
UW head coach Barry Alvarez said that hits like the one Smith laid on Stocco, which did not draw a flag Saturday, were a point of emphasis before the season.
"That was a prime example of an illegal play. For a player to get hit with a helmet unprotected like that, that's a penalty," Alvarez said. "John needs to learn how to go down. He needs to slide, not take a hit. He was a little foggy."
Stocco, though, returned for the first play of the second quarter and promptly threw a 21-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Jonathan Orr to draw UW within 13-7. Smith was in coverage on the play.
"John's a tough guy," Alvarez said. "I don't think… anybody's every questioned John Stocco's toughness and his competitiveness."
Late in the third quarter, on the second play of UW's eighth and final touchdown drive, Stocco completed a screen pass to senior receiver Brandon Williams, with Smith isolated in coverage. Joe Thomas, UW's 6-foot-8, 305-pound left tackle, sprinted out to the flat and crushed the unsuspecting Smith with a jarring pancake block, springing Williams for a 7-yard gain.
After attempting just two passes in the third quarter, the other a 7-yard toss to Orr, Stocco threw only once in the fourth quarter — a screen pass to tight end Owen Daniels that lost two yards.
At halftime, Stocco was 5 of 7 for 104 yards. His only mistake all game, other than not sliding on his first-quarter scramble, was the second-quarter interception he threw to BG's Terrill Mayberry as he tried to find Daniels running down the seam.
Stocco completed two passes for 22 yards on UW's opening drive, but holding and false start penalties made it third-and-three at the Badger 37. Stocco then initially completed a pass to Orr at the 43 but a replay review correctly ruled that Orr had trapped it.
Though UW won the game on the ground, its three longest plays were through the air. In addition to Orr's touchdown catch, there was a 22-yard second-quarter pass to Williams, and a 39-yard completion to Calhoun. On that second-quarter play, Stocco recognized a blitz and threw off his back foot to Calhoun, who snagged the ball along the right sideline and sprinted down to the BG five-yard-line.
"(Stocco) recognized the blitz, knew that no one could cover, that (Calhoun) was unaccounted for and just let the ball go, and did a nice job with it," Alvarez said.
Calhoun scored his second of five rushing touchdowns on the next play, giving UW a 28-20 lead.
"We've been working on that play pretty much all camp and all spring," Calhoun said of his 39-yard reception. "They brought a blitz on that side so they had nobody accounting for me. Stocco saw me open, just threw it out there…. It was just a big play. It really kind of got things going for our offense."