Last season the UW offense did not score its 16th touchdown until the eighth game of the season; it took six games to surpass 121 points; and through three non-conference games the Badgers had produced 938 yards.
Having opened this season with a 56-42 win over Bowling Green and a 65-0 stomping of Temple, Wisconsin (2-0) heads into Saturday's night game at North Carolina (0-1) ranked No. 2 in the nation in scoring offense (60.5 points per game) and No. 11 in total offense (498 yards per game).
Certainly, UW's opponents to-date merit some thanks. The Falcons and Owls are two of the worst teams in the nation defensively, and they presented little resistance for the Badgers.
Wisconsin, though, deserves credit for the exceptional level of efficiency it displayed in its first two games.
"Obviously you're happy and you've got to take care of the task at hand and we've done that," co-offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. "But we certainly need to get better… The building blocks are where we're doing well. But we've go to get a lot better to be a good, consistent offense."
Beginning this week with the Tar Heels, opposing defenses are going to pose a much sterner test than what the Badgers have faced so far.
"The competition is going to get better," quarterback John Stocco said. "We just need to keep getting better as a football team and get better every week."
The Tar Heels have had their own struggles defensively in recent seasons, and they gave up 475 yards in a 27-21 loss at No. 16 Georgia Tech last week. But UNC has better athletes and more depth defensively than what UW saw in its first two games.
And even in the 65-0 win over Temple the Badgers found aspects of their play to correct.
"I think sometimes we were on an edge," Stocco said. "I think we had some mental errors and things like that. Our competition is going to get better so those are things that we need to cut down on and just continue to improve upon."
Through two games, though, UW was marvelously effective.
The Badgers trailed Bowling Green 13-0 early, but scored touchdowns on 8 of 9 drives (excluding a one-play possession just before halftime) to win by a pair of scores. The Badgers scored on their first nine possessions against Temple, with a field goal followed by eight straight touchdown drives.
"Guys are playing with great effort," Chryst said. "I think their preparation has been really good. I think that's given them a chance. What you want is to go out and just play…
"I think they are confident with what they're seeing, what they're doing. And so they're able to go out and execute. That's been one thing I think overall that's been probably the best thing we're doing. And no question we need to keep going on that. And we're not where we want to be. But you can build on it."
Again, Bowling Green and Temple were not exactly intimidating opponents defensively. But neither were the Badgers' first two non-conference foes last season.
UW opened 2004 with a 34-6 win over Central Florida and an 18-3 triumph over UNLV. UCF finished last season No. 100 out of 117 Division I-A teams in scoring defense and No. 83 in total defense. UNLV was No. 98 and No. 60, respectively.
Through two games last year UW was averaging 26 points and 338 total yards per game and had scored five offensive touchdowns. By the time 2004 was complete, UW's offensive production was its lowest in 12 years.
The early signs are far more encouraging this year:
- Quarterback John Stocco has an astronomical 193.3 pass efficiency rating. He is 20 of 29 for 296 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
- UW is No. 4 in the nation in rushing offense, averaging 325.5 yards per game.
- The Badgers have yet to allow a sack and have turned the ball over just twice.
UW is also healthy, with every starter on offense intact thus far. Former tailback Anthony Davis's injury woes impaired the offense last year. When the running game stalled, the offense in general typically followed.
Last week Temple loaded up against the run and had some success slowing down tailback Brian Calhoun in the early going. However, Stocco and UW's receivers, particularly tight end Owen Daniels (who caught three touchdown passes) took advantage of the Owls' woefully overmatched pass defense.
"However we've got to win games, that's what we're going to do," Stocco said.
The caveat that the Badgers were playing Temple remains, but Stocco has done everything that UW has required
"I think John's a good quarterback and has handled the games well and the situations well," Chryst said. "I think everyone's pleased with where he's at and hope for a continued improvement."
Notable: Wisconsin is one of six Big Ten teams ranked in the top 21 in the nation in both scoring and total offense. The others are Michigan State (No. 2 total, No. 13 scoring), Minnesota (6/8), Northwestern (7/19), Purdue (16/7) and Illinois (21/21)… the only team in the nation averaging more points per game than UW is Southern California. The Trojans scored 63 points in their only game of the season against Hawaii — UW's final regular-season opponent.