Suddenly, he's Mr. Touchdown

Brandon Williams scored three touchdowns early in UW's victory over Indiana, ending a personal drought. He also continues to make his mark on the Badgers' career record books.

MADISON — Once upon time, Brandon Williams was struggling to find the end zone. Sure, he was rapidly moving up the University of Wisconsin football team's career record book for receptions, receiving yards, and kick return yards. As a sophomore two years ago, though, Williams scored just one touchdown. And last season, he was completely shut out of the end zone in 12 games.

Saturday, Williams had a hat trick two plays into the second quarter, matching his previous season best for touchdowns in a single game.

"He's a special player," quarterback John Stocco said. "He's a game breaker and he makes a ton of big plays for us."

Williams now has four touchdowns this year, topping the season best he set as a true freshman in 2002.

His first score of 2005, however, came on a punt return in week two versus Temple.

So on UW's second possession Saturday, Williams ended a two-year drought without a touchdown reception, snagging a 17-yard scoring toss from Stocco.

It was a gritty touchdown. Williams beat Tracy Porter on a slant, then took a solid hit at the goal line but absorbed it and slid off onto the turf in the end zone.

Wisconsin 7. Indiana 0.

Did Williams remember his last touchdown reception, prior to Saturday?

"Against Penn State," he said, before his voice trailed off a bit with the word, "2003."

To be precise, Williams last caught a touchdown pass Oct. 4, 2003, in a 30-23 win at Penn State.

"Junior year, that was a rough year," Williams explained. "A lot of nagging injuries, new quarterback. It just wasn't all clicking on all cylinders. We was winning a lot of games on defense and (tailback) Anthony Davis. I mean, hey, this year is different. That's what's good about a new year."

Yes, this year has been different for Williams and Saturday, he was just getting started. Williams caught two key passes on the Badgers' next drive, covering 13 yards to convert a third-and-six and then picking up 19 to the IU 21, setting up a 38-yard Taylor Mehlhaff field goal to give Wisconsin a 10-7 edge.

UW's defense forced a three-and-out on IU's next possession and Williams set up as the single safety, waiting for a right punt return. He took Tyson Beattie's punt at the UW 37 and took off to his right, picking up a series of excellent blocks that cleared an enormous running lane.

This 63-yard touchdown return was rather reminiscent of the 66-yarder he had against Temple three weeks earlier. Except this time, there would not be a penalty-drawing swan dive into the end zone.

"You know I really had flashbacks because the punt return was in the exact same spot and instead of diving I just kind of like put the ball (down)," Williams said with a broad smile. "I was like, yeah, I ain't going to do it this week."

Wisconsin 17. Indiana 7.

Jack Ikegwuonu then intercepted a pass, giving the Badgers possession at the IU 27.

The fourth play of the Badgers' ensuing drive was a bit a of déjà vu. Williams beats his man on a slant, this time for a 13-yard score.

Wisconsin 24, Indiana 7. All of the Badgers' points coming as a direct result of Williams' performance.

"Brandon really competed, as usual," head coach Barry Alvarez said. "He's a guy that wants the ball in his hands and that punt return was awesome."

Just 15 minutes, 55 seconds into Saturday's game, Williams had as many touchdowns as he had previously scored in an entire college season.

Williams has long been a playmaker for the Badgers, but he has stepped up his game to another level this season. He is now ranked No. 6 in the nation in punt returning (19.5 yards per attempt), No. 3 in kickoff returns (35.3) and No. 9 in all-purpose yards (162.8 per game).

At halftime Saturday, Williams had six receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns, one kick return for 21 yards and three punt returns for 79 yards and a touchdown. That is a total of 10 touches for 213 yards in one half of football.

Already Wisconsin's all-time leader in kick return yards, Williams pushed his career total up to 2,015 yards. His big day gives him 2,107 career receiving yards, moving him past Al Toon for second on the Badgers' all-time list. Toon was in attendance Saturday, being honored for the 1982 "bounce pass", when he threw a touchdown to Jeff Nault, one of the top plays in Camp Randall history being honored throughout the season.

Saturday, Williams became just the fourth player in UW history to garner 2,000 receiving yards, joining Lee Evans (3,468), Toon (2,103) and Chris Chambers (2,004).

"It's great company," Williams said. "Lee Evans, Chris Chambers, Al Toon. Those guys have moved on and done great things and to be in the upper echelon of Wisconsin history is just a great thing for me. I never imagined doing any of the things that I've accomplished. It's great."

Williams now has 162 career receptions, just 13 behind Evans' career record 175.

Saturday, the number that really mattered was the three touchdowns. Not a bad day's work, especially when they all come in just more than a quarter of play.

"I should have had four or five, but we ain't going to talk about that," Williams said. "We just ain't going to talk about what could have happened, we're going to talk about what did happen."

Though he declined to elaborate, Williams is likely referring to the one-on-one coverage he faced throughout the first half. Indiana chose to load up the box and blitz relentlessly, successfully slowing down tailback Brian Calhoun (who still managed to top 100 yards rushing), but leaving UW's receivers in an ideal situation to thrive.

"Well, all receivers think they're open on every play," Stocco said. "That's kind of a receiver complex."

There was no denying Williams' playmaking opportunities Saturday.

"We anticipated that Brandon would have some opportunities in this game and he needed to take advantage of them and he did," co-offensive coordinator Brian White said. "He's been playing at a high level and been a tremendous spark in every football game we've played."

Said Alvarez: "The way we were struggling running the ball, what they were doing defensively…. They were on islands and we had to answer by throwing the football. He stepped up."

After six catches, 113 yards and two scores, however, the single coverage ceased in the second half.

"In the second half I got double teamed the first, like, three series," Williams said. "I don't like to see that either."

Williams would add to just one of his tallies in the second half, returning a punt seven yards early in the third quarter.

With about four minutes left in the period, Porter intercepted a Stocco pass that was intended for Williams. The cornerback collided with the receiver on the play, and Williams bruised his left knee. He did not return to the game, but said afterwards he expected to be fine after perhaps missing a couple days of practice this week.

Notable: Only two other players in Big Ten history have 2,000 career kick return yards: Michigan State's Derrick Mason (2,575) and Indiana's Derin Graham (2,088)… Williams is the fourth player in UW history with two punt returns for a touchdown in a single season, joining Earl Girard (1947), Nick Davis ('98) and Jim Leonhard (2003)… Williams now has 254 punt return yards this season. UW's single-season record is 470, set by Leonhard in 2003... Williams is averaging 19.5 yards per punt return; the single-season school record is 16.9, set by Ira Matthews in 1978.

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