As it turns out, it was all part of Wisconsin's master plan.
The Badgers first three rushing touchdowns were set up by stellar Scott Tolzien passing plays, as the Badgers balanced offensive attack on an over matched Hawaii team led the visitors to a 51-10 victory in front an announced crowd of 37,018 at Aloha Stadium.
Facing a team that needed to win to qualify for the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl against former UH coach June Jones, the Badgers wasted no time in piling up the yardage. The Badgers (9-3) ran for 167 yards on 28 carries (6.0 per carry) and registered 179 through the air, piling up 346 first-half yards on its way to 554 total yards.
Hawaii's third-ranked passing offense (throwing for 348.7 yards per game) was stymied against a UW secondary that had allowed 41 plays of 20 or more yards this season, throwing for a season-low 197 yards while UW sacked UH quarterback Bryant Moniz sacked six times, a season-high for the Badgers, who won their 24th straight non-conference game in the regular season.
"You're going to win plenty of games when you do that," sophomore J.J. Watt said. "It means we put together a complete game, which we've been trying to do all year."
Wisconsin's running game, which has thrived on past trips to the island with Ron Dayne, Anthony Davis and Brian Calhoun, was in good hands with Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay, as the sophomore rushed for 172 yards and three touchdowns in three quarters of work, coming out with a chip on his shoulder after a costly fumble two weeks ago at Northwestern.
"I told my team that I messed up that game and I am doing everything possible to forget about that and step up to help my teammates out," Clay said. "People were telling me that each running back had breakout games here. I was trying to have a great game."
Even when Clay was out, the Badgers never wavered, scoring seven rushing touchdowns from five difference sources.
"That just shows our offensive line was clicking," Clay said.
The Badgers' offense never looked out of sync, even with UW having to reshuffle its offensive line after freshman center Peter Konz was a late scratch after suffering with lung inflammation. Even with UW's fifth offensive line combination of the season, Wisconsin's 7.7 yards per play in the first half crushed Hawaii's 4.2 yards.
"Bob Bostad did a great job," UW coach Bret Bielema said of his offensive line coach. "When I called him and told them that Peter wasn't going to be there, he knew right away what he wanted to do to move forward, and it obviously worked out very well."
Even after a Hawaii student dressed as Santa Claus ran across the field, halting play, the Badgers clicked, as Clay scored his third rushing touchdown after easily hurdling a fallen Warrior, pushing UW's lead comfortably to 34-3 and Hawaii (6-7) closer to the off season.
"They physically out played us, they beat us in third downs, they beat us in every phase of the game," UH coach Greg McMakin said. "They were very physical ... and we couldn't handle it."
The offensive outburst started right from UW's opening drive. After six straight run plays and forced to air it out on a third-and-5, Tolzien led sophomore Nick Toon brilliantly down the sideline and the wide receiver hauled in the 33-yard pass to get UW down to the 2, setting up a Clay touchdown on the next play.
Wisconsin's passing game didn't flicker out either. Tolzien, who threw for 98 of his 253 yards in the first quarter, hit Lance Kendricks for a 23-yard pass in the flat down the UH 8, setting up David Gilreath for an eight-yard end around on the next play.
Early in the second, Tolzien, amidst pressure, couldn't get much on a throw to Gilreath on a deep route, but the junior wide receiver adjusted nicely between two Hawaii defenders, coming back to the ball and advancing it 45 yards down to the one-yard line, allowing Tolzien to dive in from one-yard out on second down. Three big pass plays inside the UH 5, three touchdowns within two plays.
"I thought Scott's accuracy were big-time throws," Bielema said.
Tolzien completed a season-high 80 percent of his passes, helping the Badgers score 30 points for the fifth straight time and ninth time this season.
"Short yardage, they were going to load up the box and it was good for us to answer the bell," Tolzien said. "The run game was still great, considering everybody that was up the box, but you still have to throw with success, too."
The Badgers' defensive line extended their dominance against opposing team's run games. Hawaii managed only 17 net rushing yards, giving the Badgers nine straight games without a team rushing for over 100 yards (a program record).
The Badgers had six sacks, including two apiece by defensive ends O'Brien Schofield and Watt, and didn't allow Hawaii to score a touchdown until 4 minutes, 51 seconds remained in the game. By that time, the game had been decided and most of the boisterous home crowd had headed for the exits.
"We couldn't get into a rhythm," Moniz said. "Our defense was on the field all night. We could never get anything started, and I was having a hard time hitting my routes."
It appears the Big Ten Conference will get two teams - Ohio State and Iowa - into Bowl Championship Series games, meaning UW will find out today whether it will be invited to the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., where it would play Auburn on Jan. 1.
If the Outback Bowl chooses Northwestern (8-4) instead, the Badgers could be headed to the Champs Sports Bowl for the second consecutive season or to the Alamo Bowl. Wherever UW goes, the Badgers feel that this week's bowl-like preparation have already paid dividends.
"We know what it's like to come out early out to place, have a couple of days of fun time to yourself and still be able to lock it in," Watt said. "To come out here with a 51-10 win over Hawaii is great for our team."