PJ Hill scored three touchdowns on the ground and eclipsed the 100 yard rushing mark for the second time in as many weeks. And, in as many starts. What is left? Certainly not the Badger running game on Saturday.
Of the 22 carries Hill had, only six of them were behind All-American Joe Thomas and Andy Kemp on the left side of the line. That would seem to go against the Badger-quo.
"They (WIU) just offered that side for running the ball today,", junior right guard Kraig Urbik said. "It kind of makes me feel good that we were running to my way."
Hill became the first freshman to go back-to-back for 100 yards rushing since Anthony Davis turned the trick in 2001. The bruising runner now has 231 yards on 44 carries and four touchdowns in his first two outings as a Badger. He spoke of how the Leathernecks' defensive formation was dictating which direction Wisconsin was running the ball.
"We were running to the right because of their tendencies," said the outspoken freshman back. "We had to switch it up because we did not think we were just going to run to one side."
Wisconsin ended the game with 119 yards on 39 carries. Of course, the rushing statistic takes a hit when the quarterback is sacked. However, when you run the ball that many times you are going to see a noticeable difference in time of possession.
Thanks to Hill and the offensive line, the Badgers were able to control the line of scrimmage for the entire first half.
One the first three scoring drives, Wisconsin grinded the ball behind the right side of Urbik and sophomore Eric Vanden Heuvel to the tune of five yards per carry (26 rushes, 110 yards). The first scoring drive covered 12 plays and 69 yards, and erased 7:20 from the clock once place kicker Taylor Mehlhaff booted a 28 yarder through the uprights to tie the game. Wisconsin hard-nosed football took over the rest of the half.
After the Leathernecks stalled in their second possession, the Cardinal and White attack kept trucking behind Urbik, Vanden Heuvel, and Hill.
The Badgers took 7:20 off the clock on a 14 play, 83 yard drive capped off by the first of Hill's three TD bursts - a 1-yard blast - gave the Badgers the lead for good, making the score 10-3. On the drive, the Badgers rushed the ball nine times (seven to the right, one to the left, one to the center) and threw five times. Again, the defense held the Western Illinois offense to force a punt.
The New York native scored his second rushing touchdown of the day, a two yard scamper to the right side, that brushed of the dust clouds on a 14 play, 82 yard drive that totaled 7:21 in time. Urbik led the way again. Coach Bielema was excited when talking about the play of his front five on offense.
"We are pretty balanced on both sides of the line," Bielema stated. "Until we find a full compliment and balance, it is going to be one way or the other (referring to which way the ball will be run). Paul (offensive coordinator Chryst) calls things based on the hash-mark position. Western usually plays three down-lineman and all of our preparation was against that."
For a young running back rotation, and a semi-young offensive line core, having a running back achieve consecutive 100-yard rushing performances is a certain positive. The team knows there is room to improve, but, for Hill, it is hard to top a 100-yard, hat trick TD day.
"The last time I got that (speaking of three touchdowns rushing) I was in high school," said Hill. "It feels good to do that, but winning feels better. I feel like I we are not all right on our game yet."
Well, today, being right was just what the Camp Randall faithful ordered.
"I hope we can continue with this rushing attack," Badger fullback Bill Rentmeester exclaims. "Because I can tell you it feels pretty good. But you can always improve."