Within minutes of the kickoff, Washington State had scored with a quick 80-yard touchdown drive to take the early lead. In their first game, the Badgers needed to score to tie the score in their own stadium.
Donovan's first opportunity began with a noteworthy drive by going 4-for-5 for 48 yards and a touchdown. His passes were spread all over the field and mostly accurate, with the only fault being an overthrown pass to wideout Luke Swan. His next two plays were just remarkable. On a third and three inside the redzone, Donovan hit receiver Xavier Harris for big a 14-yard gain. The drive was capped off by a throw to Luke Swan in the corner over two defenders for a five-yard touchdown.
The drive was big for Donovan because the coaches showed enough confidence in him to throw early and often. It worked because at 7-7, Donovan made the most of his early opportunities.
"You know, it all depends on what the defense brings us and there's some situations early where we were going to get some one-on-ones," Donovan said.
The Cougars came back again with an 80-yard drive to retake the seven-point lead. Yet again, the Wisconsin coaches let Donovan move the team through the air.
On Wisconsin's second drive, the nerves seemed to get to Donovan, as he began with shakier precision than his first drive. However, the fifth-year senior didn't stay shaky for long.
After underthrowing an open Travis Beckum for what would have been a first down, offensive coordinator Paul Chryst called the perfect play that connected Donovan with Paul Hubbard for a 22-yard first down. The play was the first of what was going to be many big plays for Donovan.
After a shaky start to the second quarter, a quarter where Donovan needed to take the lead after his two botched scrambles and a fumble that he recovered, the fifth-year senior started finding his rhythm.
In what was his best pass of the half, Donovan threw a bomb to Swan towards the sideline for 43 yards. The ball was perfectly thrown so that only Swan could catch it, and Donovan made it look easy. Donovan's arm strength has been questioned in the past, and today he showed those concerns were premature.
"There's no doubt in my mind that I can't make the deep throw," Donovan said. "It's just when the opportunity arises you have to take advantage of it and let the receiver make the play."
The rest of the drive was mix of great and bad plays. On the very next play, Donovan overthrew Beckum by at least ten yards without being rushed. The ball shouldn't have been thrown that badly. Yet, He didn't let one bad play hurt his confidence. He came right back with a 30-yard completion to Swan. Swan was in the middle of the field and had four defenders surrounding him, yet Donovan delivered a strike.
"They tried to make a statement and stop the run early, but we wanted to take advantage of it and go over the top," Donovan said. On the next play, Donovan was sacked for a minor one-yard loss. Tight end Garrett Graham, the training camp surprise, was open by five yards in the middle of field and Donovan hit him for an eleven-yard touchdown. The play gave the Badgers their first lead of the game at 21-14.
The next offensive series for the Badgers was not as good for Donovan or the running game. Donovan went 2-for-4 and had a scramble that started out as an option but never developed. He had a remarkable play when the Cougars had a powerful blitz up the middle and Donovan was able to quickly dump it off to Beckum for a six-yard gain. This type of play is what the team needs from Donovan because the offense is counting on him to make some plays when things break down.
Again, Donovan's mistake consistently was overthrowing and he did that on the next play. On Washington State's 38-yard line, Donovan threw wide to Beckum on the outside in what would have been a sure touchdown. The play, Donovan admitted, was his worst of the day by far.
"Obviously, you gotta step up and make that throw," Donovan said. "With that kinda stuff its good that's its week one." The final drive of the half for Wisconsin began with only 45 seconds remaining, but Donovan made it count. He threw two long passes that were dead-on to his receivers. An open Beckum caught a pass for 15 yards, but the next play was Donovan's best of the day.
With a streaking Swan one pace ahead of his defender by inches, Donovan threw the perfect ball to an outstretched Swan to make it 28-14. For the first time today, Donovan threw a ball that will put him on the highlight reels. Swan caught the ball, without breaking stride, dived to catch the ball in the end zone. Donovan had little room and time to work with, but it ended up being an incredible pass. Until that point, no one had seen anything like that from Donovan.
"That was a situation of film work taking advantage of something that we knew coming in we could take advantage of," Donovan said. "If they were gonna play down on us we were going to over the top and keep it away from the safety. It was a good catch by Luke and a good way to get into the endzone."
This type of big play potential can compliment Wisconsin's strong running game. Donovan showed last year he can lead a team with short accurate passing with some scrambles, but the concern coming into this game was whether teams would just load up near the line of scrimmage and not respect Donovan's arm strength. More importantly, he utilized the speed that Wisconsin has at wide receiver.
For the first half, did played well, except for a few blemishes in his first game as UW's starter. He went 12-for-20 for 224 yards and had three touchdowns. These statistics are more than what the team expected out of Donovan. The quarterback position at Wisconsin was supposed to provide consistent short passes along with some bootlegs and scrambles. Donovan provided a little scrambling ability, with five rushes for nine yards, and instead made numerous big plays in the passing game.
The first drive of the second half began with much more running plays than the first half. Donovan threw a nice completion to Beckum on the outside for 10 yards. On the next play, he avoided a pass rush and threw to Beckum again for a one-yard completion. On another play he was able to scramble for eight yards. The drive ended with a punt by DeBauche because Beckum wasn't able to reach a first down after bobbling a well-thrown ball. This drive didn't really prove much for Donovan as the team was well-equipped coming out of halftime knowing that passing game had proved itself.
On Washington State's next drive, the Cougars were able to claw back witin seven. At this point Wisconsin didn't need to have needed to panic, but the Cougars had created a scare.
Donovan began the next drive with more consistency, even though statistically it didn't show on the charts. On several plays, he had a defender in his face and made the most of his limited opportunities. Donovan lofted a nice throw to Swan over a defender flying in his face. The play showed Donovan's resourcefulness when everything else had broken down.
"We knew we had to keep the chains moving," Donovan said. "There was guys popping open and we took advantage of it."
But, just as in the first half, Donovan threw a ball that missed its mark. In a pass that easily could have picked off in the endzone, Donovan missed Swan badly. Donovan later redeemed himself by firing a bullet to Swan. The play set up a touchdown run by Hill to give Wisconsin a 35-21 lead.
On the remaining drives Donovan threw only once because of the big lead Wisconsin had. Overall, he didn't have many opportunities in the fourth quarterback and the running backs took over. He joined the rushing attack by running for a touchdown to give Wisconsin a 42-21 lead.
Donovan's totals were more than impressive because they showed he could do more than what the critics thought he could. He was 19-for-29 for 284 yards and had three touchdowns. Last year, he played well when filling in and he did so today. Without those few overthrows and a few minor glitches, he could have had a perfect day.
In fact, the totals weren't that much different than his best game last year against Iowa. What is different is how well he threw the deep pass, in particular to Swan, on many occasions. He had nine big-time completions of at least 15 yards. With this type of offense Wisconsin can most assuredly compete for a National Championship.
Donovan's performance must have silenced the critics that believed Wisconsin had a fatal flaw at quarterback. It showed head coach Bret Bielema made the right choice to choose Donovan as the starting quarterback. Donovan threw quickly and accurately to his receivers. More importantly, it showed that Wisconsin's offense wouldn't just be Hill runs to the left, right and middle. The only critic that matters anyways is his head coach.
"He didn't throw any interceptions," said Bielema. "He managed the game, and he handled the clock at the end of the game."
Just as Bielema concisely stated, Tyler did what he needed to do, not make big mistakes,control the game and go 1-0 for the week. The big passing plays today were only a benefit that Wisconsin needs to win a championship and a benefit that Tyler Donovan can bring to the table.