Sherer Squeezes the Juice

After a 17-for-34, two interception performance in his first-career start, junior Dustin Sherer throws for 174 yards two touchdowns, including the game-clinching touchdown, and one rushing touchdown in Wisconsin's upset-victory over Illinois.

MADISON —Hanging on to a 20-17 lead midway through the fourth quarter, University of Wisconsin quarterback Dustin Sherer had a mission to complete while driving his offense down the field.

Three consecutive completions to tight end Garrett Graham, whose role increased rapidly when top tight end Travis Beckum was knocked out of the game with a left ankle injury, put the Badgers on the Illinois 20-yard-line. The last of those three catches was a 45-yarder, and only a touchdown-saving tackle by UI linebacker Brit Miller stopped Graham from scoring.

"It's huge, we haven't had too many of those this year, a run after the catch like that," said Sherer, Graham's roommate. "That's a play where you can kind of gash them, it's a big play for us."

Here were the Badgers, inside the red zone again. If this season has been any indication, that's trouble for the UW team that wears red so proudly.

A field goal would be nice, sure, because it would force the Fighting Illini to answer with more than a field goal to tie the game on the ensuing drive.

But UW has become more accustomed to just "settling" for three points than the Badgers might like; besides, nobody wanted to give Illinois quarterback Isaiah "Juice" Williams the ball back with six minutes left – an eternity for the Big Ten Conference's top-rated passer to score the winning touchdown.

What happened next – dare it be written, even for a 4-4 football team? – might change the course of this frustrating season.

The Badgers faced a 3rd-and-11 just moments later, and handed off to tailback Zach Brown. Somehow, the little speedster got 14 yards and a first down, instead of a short gain and yet another slow trot out to the field for kicker Philip Welch, who's gotten way too much face time in these situations.

Two plays later, Sherer rolled right, and spotted wide receiver David Gilreath rolling with him toward the end zone, with no Fighting Illini defender in the general vicinity.

Touchdown. Ten-point lead. Ball game over, and the Juice was squeezed.

For once this season, instead of hoping its opponent would hand the game over, Wisconsin went out and took the initiative. That might be one of the most satisfying feelings for this team that desperately needed a win.

"That's what we haven't been able to do, we've kicked way too many field goals in our last couple games," Graham said. "It was good to finally punch a couple in."

Sherer started slowly, completing just one five-yard pass in the first quarter. But he quietly put together one of the most efficient quarterbacking days UW has seen this year, finishing 12-of-22 for 174 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

"Dustin just kind of lets things happen," UW head coach Bret Bielema said. "He's a ‘roll-off-your-back' kind of guy, handles the game as it comes at (him)."

In a game where Williams was supposed to be the running threat, Sherer stole the show, outrunning his counterpart 40 yards to four, and adding a 15-yard rushing touchdown as well.

Wisconsin's defense stopped Williams with a couple minutes left after Gilreath's touchdown, but UW still needed to run the clock out. Sherer iced the game when he faked on a playaction, saw nothing upfield, and tucked the ball and scrambled for 30 yards.

"That's such a big threat when you can do stuff like that," Sherer said. "A lot of times on our runs, the back-side guy was taking out the running back, and he wasn't accounting for me. That's when you pull it up and run."

One week after playing miserably in his career debut at Iowa, Sherer smiled when asked if it's a relief not to be worried about his job security anymore.

"I knew I was better than that," Sherer said. "Coach knew I was better than that, and so did everyone in that locker room."

UW played most of the game without the services of Beckum (two catches, 16 yards) and tailback P.J. Hill (three carries, nine yards). That makes Sherer's growth – along with that of the entire offense – on this day that much more impressive.

"He's confident in the huddle, he knows what he's doing, he's been in this offense for a while," Graham said. "We have all the confidence in the world in Dustin."

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