Wisconsin victorious in home opener

Although far from dominating, the Badgers move to 2-0 thanks in large part to three touchdowns from P.J. Hill and a solid defensive effort.

It doesn't matter if they're playing a Division I or I-AA team, the Wisconsin football team approaches each game the same.

Go 1-0 for the week and stay healthy.

The Badgers accomplished those goals with P.J. Hill running for three scores and the Badgers overcoming a sluggish performance to beat Western Illinois 34-10 on an overcast Saturday afternoon in Madison.

Much like the week before, Wisconsin's defense was put firmly on their heels on their first possession after Badger return man Taylor Rowan fumbled the opening kickoff to give the Leathernecks a first down on the Badgers' 36 yard line.

While their first play from scrimmage went 11 yards, Western Illinois was stymied by a combination of a holding penalty and superb rush defense by Wisconsin's front four. Western Illinois was able to savage a 42-yard field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.

Then, freshman P.J. Hill took over.

Hill scored on a pair of 1-yard touchdowns in the second quarter and added a third touchdown in the fourth to break the game wide open for Wisconsin. Throughout the day, Western Illinois had no answer for Hill, who rushed 22 times for 102 yards, and punished any defender that stood between him and the end zone. It was that mentality that led head coach Bret Bielema to keep giving Hill the ball.

"I like P.J.'s mentality," Bielema said. "I like the way he handles the game. To me as a head coach, when I look out onto the field and I see a running back pulling his jersey and telling me to give him the ball, whether we do or not, that's a mentality we can win with."

For Hill, he's pleased he has found a new way to let Coach Bielema know that he wants to run the football.

"[Pulling on my jersey] is my signal to give me the ball again," Hill said with a laugh. "Coach Bielema saw that and liked my attitude so he gave it to me again. I guess if I want the ball, I'll have to start letting coach know."

While Hill's name will appear in the box score, it was quarterback John Stocco and the rest of the Wisconsin offense that manufactured a pair of nearly identical drives during the second quarter that set up Hill's scoring runs and put the game away. The Badgers first touchdown drive went 83 yards in 14 plays in seven minutes and two seconds with Hill scoring the eventual winning touchdown on a 1-yard blast up the middle.

After the Badger defense held and forced Western Illinois to punt, Wisconsin manufactured another long scoring drive of 14 plays for 81 yards that took seven minutes and 20 seconds. The end result was the same as the previous drive, a touchdown plunge by Hill that energized the Wisconsin sideline and deflated the Western Illinois one.

"Anytime you can take the ball the length of the field, it really gives you confidence," quarterback John Stocco said. "You get in those long drives, it is really satisfying. You are grinding it out, taking a lot of time off the clock and wearing [the defense down].

"Guys were making great plays out there. P.J. was running hard, the receivers were making great catches and the line was doing there job. It makes all that more satisfying."

While those two drives cemented Wisconsin's dominance over Western Illinois' defense, it was Wisconsin's defense that pounded on WIU quarterback Steve LaFalce and the rest of the Leatherneck offense. The Badger defense, although allowing 246 yards of total offense, forced three interceptions, three tackles for losses and stopped Western Illinois on a fourth and goal inside the Wisconsin five.

"I like how the defense responded," Bielema said. "Last week we talked about the first time they took the field. This week in the first quarter, after what they did after that turnover, you can't put a price tag on that."

With Western Illinois behind them, Wisconsin's next opponent will be San Diego State, which boasts a decent offensive attack that will challenge the Badgers defensively. Even though there's more work to be done before the conference opener at Michigan, Bielema was pleased with the win and ready to move on.

"We're 1-0 this week in terms of the preparation and now we have a chance to go 1-0 next week and nothing is going to take us off that task," Bielema said. "Today was my first win at Camp Randall. I'm very excited to be the head coach here because of what the university brings and what Camp Randall means to college football. But I don't want this to be our best performance of the year."

Regardless, the story of the game was the emergence of P.J. Hill, who has run for 232 yards and four scores in Wisconsin's first two games. With another gritty performance today, it seems Wisconsin has found a suitable replacement at running back for Brian Calhoun.

"Coaches keep telling us to pound the ball and wear the defenses down," Hill said. "This is a running school and we're going to stick with the running game. … I am not here to break records. I just want to go out there and play my game and whatever happens, happens."

The way Hill was running today, not even all the high school bands in attendance put together for Band Day could slow him down.

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