Vegas no vacation for road trippin’ Badgers

first_imgGREG SCHMITZ/Herald photoLAS VEGAS — It wasn’t supposed to be this difficult for the Wisconsin football team. Entering the weekend as the fifth-ranked team in the nation, playing a mediocre team from a non-BCS conference starting a freshman at quarterback, the Badgers were supposed to show up at Sam Boyd Stadium, roll over the UNLV Rebels and let the large contingent of UW fans who made the trip west get back to the revelry of Las Vegas.Instead, UNLV gave Wisconsin all it could handle for nearly 60 minutes, but the Badgers were able to prevail 20-13 thanks to some late-game heroics from starting quarterback Tyler Donovan.Trailing 13-12 with 2:04 left in regulation, UW faced a first-and-15 on the UNLV 29-yard line. Coming out of a timeout, Donovan took the snap, faked a handoff to running back P.J. Hill and rolled to left on a naked bootleg. Avoiding UNLV linebacker Starr Fuimaono with a nice stiff arm, Donovan scampered a Darrell Bevell-esque 29 yards for the eventual deciding touchdown, covering the final four yards with a fully extended dive.”Great call by (offensive coordinator) Paul (Chryst) to bring out that naked (bootleg) there at the end, and it showed the athletic ability of Tyler to get that ball in the end zone,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said after the game.What helped make the bootleg work so perfectly was that the UNLV defense was focused on Hill. The Badgers running back had already rushed for 23 yards on the drive, and when he faked into the line, the defense bit, opening an entire side of the field for Donovan. “That’s a situation where we’re pounding the ball with P.J., and they can’t play both,” Donovan said. “Great call by coach Chryst to see it, and it was an opportunity to change the game and put the game away.”When UNLV quarterback Travis Dixon’s final pass attempt fell incomplete, Wisconsin had done just that.Both teams struggled with some shaky play on their first drives of the game, exchanging costly penalties which led to punts on both drives. On its second drive of the game, UNLV found its rhythm.Utilizing an array of passing and running plays out of its spread offense, UNLV drove 80 yards against the UW defense. After two rushing attempts were stuffed by the Wisconsin defensive line, Dixon put the Rebels in the lead for the first time with a perfectly placed touchdown pass to receiver Casey Flair in the back corner of the end zone.UW responded quickly, however, with its own touchdown pass. Donovan hit tight end Garrett Graham with a 3-yard touchdown pass to cap a 67-yard drive.On the ensuing extra point attempt, holder Ken DeBauche couldn’t handle the snap from Dave Peck, and kicker Taylor Mehlhaff never attempted the kick.”The snap and the hold didn’t allow Taylor to kick the ball. We missed that opportunity,” DeBauche said. “I’ll have to see it on film just to see what happened.”The kicking unit would get two more chances to redeem itself. Trailing 7-6, the Wisconsin offense took control of the ball with 4:52 left in the first half. Building on what has emerged as a trademark of the Bielema era at Wisconsin — scoring at the end of halves — the Badgers drove down the field and converted a 27-yard field goal as the first half ended.”It’s something we practice and emphasize,” Bielema said of the time-crunched scoring drives that have become routine with his teams. “We always want to end on a high note. Try to execute, and this is the second game in a row. I think we did it eight times last year. So it’s something we definitely emphasize, and it ended up being the difference in this ballgame.”UNLV came out firing on its first possession of the second half. On the first play of the drive, Dixon found Flair open downfield for a big 35-yard gain down to the UW 35-yard line. Three plays later, the Rebels were on the 10-yard line, looking for a touchdown. But the Wisconsin defense held its ground and limited UNLV to a field goal, giving the Rebels the lead again at 10-9.Still holding a one-point lead, UNLV took over at its own 42-yard line at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Rebels looked poised to score, but after Dixon kept the ball for a four-yard gain, the redshirt freshman tried to make a deep throw down the left sideline. The pass sailed offline into the waiting arms of free safety Shane Carter, who returned the interception 32 yards to the Rebels’ 39.”That was the play of the game,” cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu said. “Coach was telling us we needed to make a play, get a turnover and [Carter] responded.”After Hill ran twice for six yards and Donovan misfired on third down, Bielema sent Mehlhaff out to attempt a 51-yard field goal attempt.”I thought Taylor felt good, it was a 51-yarder, which was four yards under what we thought his max was,” Bielema said. “It probably would have cleared it from 55.”UNLV took the lead one more time on a 35-yard field goal by Sergio Aguayo, but all that did was set the stage for Donovan’s heroics.last_img

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