Squandering the momentum UW generated in the opening quarter, the Badgers managed only 97 yards of offense, committed two turnovers inside the 10-yard line and let Akron score 10 unanswered points. Needless to say, the point of emphasize heading into the Marshall contest was to parlay the first-half momentum into the second 15 minutes.
In retrospect, it's a good thing the Badgers didn't harness that first-quarter momentum or Wisconsin would still be trying to score a touchdown.
Evidentially the Badgers spent too much time preaching about the second quarter to worry about the first.
Wisconsin was able to survive on Saturday, rattling off scores on five-consecutive possessions in winning 51-14, but it was no thanks to a sleep-walked first 20 minutes that saw the Badgers get out gained 131 to 10, out scored 14 to zero and were flat-out how played on both sides of the football.
"Starting out the way we did, obviously we could control some of those things early on some of the miscues, penalties all of the things that contributed to us having the start that we did," said head coach Bret Bielema. "I know we had penalties that hurt us. I don't know if I can get into specific of any individual players or group that did it, but obviously we didn't start off on the right foot."
The mistakes that the Badgers (2-0) got away with against Akron (i.e. miscommunications, failure to read keys, missed assignment) were exploiting by Marshall. Marshall quarterback Mark Cann and wide-receiver speedster continuously attack rookie corner Mario Goins and were rewarded for doing so, as the duo connected for five passes for 86 yards in the first half alone.
"We learned a lot from week one to week two but we still have a lot to learn," cornerback Niles Brinkley said. "The important thing is that we look at what we did wrong and fix it for next week."
Allan Evridge started red hot in the opener (completing five of his first six passes before tapering off) but was ice cold against the Herd, misfiring on his first four passes while his counterpart, Cann, went 6-for-10 for 79 yards in the first.
But while Evridge was able to bail out by sheer dominance of his running game against the Zips, the Herd stymied the UW running backs, limited Hill and Company to only 68 rushing yards on 19 carries, forcing Evridge to go to the air. Obviously, the result was a success for Evridge as the game wore on, throwing for over 300 yards and one touchdown.
"The beginning of the day was very frustrating but you have to stay confident, forget about the last play and keep going," Evridge said. "Coach B always says ‘It's not about what happens during the game, but it's how you react to it."
For the second straight week, Wisconsin's defense came out in the second half and shut down the opposing offense (three forced turnovers in three straight possessions and 96 yards allowed) and the offense started to click, scoring 44 points after intermission.
"To walk off that field scoring 51-straight points without giving up any makes you want to pack up our bags and head to Fresno and keep playing," Bielema said.
Although he said it with a smile on his face, Bielema was probably serious. After all, Wisconsin has played poorly in the first half against two substandard opponents, a trend that could lead to some losses should the trend not reverse itself.
"That's a good sign because it'll prepare us for later in the season when things get really rough," senior captain DeAndre Levy said of the response of the defense. "It gets those bumps out of the way and prepares us in the long run. We know what we can do because of adversity. We don't want to get our back against the wall or wait to get hit in the mouth before we start playing."
Let's hope UW lands the first punch on Saturday.
Through two games in the 2008 season, Wisconsin has put seven redshirt freshmen (Patrick Butrym, John Clay, Mario Goins, Louis Nzegwu, Josh Oglesby, Nick Toon and Phil Welch) and nine true freshmen (Jake Byrne, Kevin Claxton, Jake Current, Bradie Ewing, Antonio Fenelus, Brandon Kelly, Bradley Nortman, Devin Smith and Kevin Zeitler) on the field.
What makes that number more impressive is the number of units those players are on. Bielema commented Monday that seven true freshman and six redshirts start on two special teams units or more. On Saturday, however, both Claxton and Fenelus probably wish they were on the punt unit.
Both thinking the ball was touched, Claxton and Fenelus made a mad dash for the ball that could have proved costly for Wisconsin, especially with the Badgers already being down 14.
"That was both of their first college football snap and I grabbed them on the sideline and had a little dissertation on Sunday about that situation," Bielema said.
Other than that little hiccup, the youngsters on the Badgers have produced good results. On offense, the stats of John Clay and Bradie Ewing speak for themselves but the fact that Byrne, Current and Oglesby have looked solid and held their own when getting late reps on the line and Toon has done some good down-field blocking despite not catching a pass yet.
Defensively, Kelly leads all true freshmen with four tackles (two solo), leading Claxton by a single stop, Goins is second on the team with nine tackles, Nzegwu has bought good pressure off the end and Butrym registered his first tackle against Akron.
With Nortman and Welch being solid in their respective kicking games, Bielema has shown that although his recruiting classes may not have the prospects with the highest rankings, his recruits are being able to contribute and help the team succeed.
"It's 16 guys getting their first reps out there and there is a learning curve we need to go through," Bielema said. "The exciting part is, those are 16 guys that are playing for the first time and are getting some pretty good reps."