John Stocco was indecisive, the receivers were a step off and the Badger defense couldn't stop San Diego State quarterback Darren Mougley.
In what was a struggle for the Badgers, Wisconsin failed to execute through three quarters until workhorse P.J. Hill rumbled for a 53-yard touchdown and Stocco added a late touchdown pass to Paul Hubbard as the Badgers shutout the Aztecs 14-0.
In what was a troubling offensive performance, Hill shone the brightest for the Badgers, carrying the ball 26 times for 184 yards and scoring a touchdown for a third consecutive game. Hill also showed his toughness in the second half, receiving a vicious hit from a San Diego State defender. Hill, who was on the ground for several minutes, walked off the field, returned three plays later and rushed for 18 more yards the rest of the game. It was that type of physical play that has the coaches thrilled that he will only get better in the years to come.
"[P.J.'s] a guy that has a lot of resiliency," head coach Bret Bielema said. "During the course of the game, he has a lot of energy and excitement. The best news is he's only a freshman. He's going to get better everyday, not just every week."
Wisconsin's first score of the game was a specially designed play just for Hill. Hill took the toss and bolted down the right side for the touchdown, showing some athleticism and speed Badger fans haven't seen yet from the young freshman.
"That was the first time in particular that run play [for P.J.] was called," Bielema said. "He was able to get out there and run, but down there before half, he had a misread that could have gotten us into the end zone. I don't look at it as a negative to have a freshman [running back], I look at it is an opportunity. We have got a lot of time to work with him and make him better."
Before that play though, Wisconsin's offensive exhibition was below average at best.
Besides the UW drum major whiffing on his baton catch, San Diego State's mascot blowing a conch shell in Bucky Badger's face or the dual F-18 flyover before the game, there was no excitement to be found on, or over, the field.
Wisconsin did have their opportunities however, but couldn't convert on fourth down. Once inside SDSU's red zone, Wisconsin was stopped on a short fourth down rush play and another fourth down at midfield was denied when quarterback John Stocco's QB sneak went nowhere. On the day, the Badgers were a paltry 7-17 on third down and 0-for-3 on fourth down. Despite the unsuccessfulness of Wisconsin's fourth down conversions, Bielema felt that it was best course of action at those specific points in the game.
"The first [fourth down], we were driving the ball, we had run the ball successfully down the field on third down and I made the decision to go for it," Bielema said. "It would have been a chip-shot field goal but I wanted to set an attitude with our offense. We felt good about the call, weren't able to execute and that's one thing that will be a huge point of emphasis because we are going to need that in Big Ten play. That's my mentality that we need to score a touchdown right there."
"I wouldn't take any of the [fourth down] calls back," he added. "We won the game."
After Hill scored Wisconsin's first points of the game, the Badgers desperately needed some insurance to put the game out or reach. The insurance came in the form of senior Dywon Rowan and junior Paul Hubbard. Rowan had a career game for the Badgers, rushing for 79 yards on six carries, including a 48-yard run that set up the Badgers second and final score.
On third-and-goal, Stocco connected with Hubbard on a 6-yard touchdown pass that sealed the Wisconsin win. It was a great feeling for Hubbard to catch his first collegiate touchdown at a critical juncture of the game.
"It was a big relief [scoring that touchdown]," Hubbard said. "It felt like there was a lot of stress lifted of my shoulders and the team's shoulders going up 14-0. It felt pretty good getting my first touchdown and helping the team out."
One of the biggest bright spots for Wisconsin this week was the vast improvement of the Badgers' offensive line. The offensive line, who allowed three sacks last week, allowed zero today and cleared the way for over 287 rushing yards on the day.
"The biggest emphasis for me, as a head coach, was the protection of our quarterback," Bielema said. "It was emphatic from the week before that he wasn't going to survive a Big Ten schedule taking that many hits. Everyone was aware of it. We protected him today and I liked the results."
"The protection was outstanding today," Stocco said. "The offensive line did a great job, not only in protecting, but being physical on runs. We had a lot of success running the football and the o-line and tight ends were excellent today."
With Wisconsin wrapping up the main portion of their non-conference schedule, Wisconsin final non-conference game is Nov. 18 against Buffalo, the Badgers sit at 3-0 and have shown improvement in each game they've played. Regardless, Wisconsin arguably faces its toughest task of the 2006 season next weekend at Michigan. The Wolverines are fresh off one of the biggest upsets in college football this season, crushing the Irish in South Bend. If the Badgers want to pull off another big upset and step back onto the national scene, they're going to have to make some major improvements in the next six days.
"Nothing is going to change [for Michigan]," Bielema said. "The same preparation we've had [for our last three games] that got us in this position, we're not going to falter from that as coaches. We're going to sit back and enjoy today. The motto we had this week was the Big Ten season starts today. So we've already snapped into that mentality.
"Obviously, we have a lot of things to correct, from an offensive, defensive and special teams standpoint, and that's what our goal will be this week. One of our goals was to get through the non-conference schedule, to this point, undefeated and make a big game out of Michigan."