After slow start, Badgers finish strong against WSU
MADISON, Wis. -- Entering this season, some were concerned about Wisconsin's ability to pass the football. Not anymore.
Starting quarterback Tyler Donovan and senior wideout Luke Swan connected on long pass plays all afternoon as the seventh-ranked Badgers took care of Washington State, 42-21.
Donovan, who won a hotly contested camp battle with Allan Evridge, performed brilliantly. He was selective in the passing game (19-of-29 for 284 yards, three touchdowns) and gave the team an occasional boost in the running game. And on a day when the feared Badger rushing attack stumbled, especially early, it was Donovan and his receivers who came through.
Washington State exploded out of the gates, scoring the first touchdown, then pulling ahead again in the first quarter, 14-7. The Cougars threw successfully against the Badgers' well-respected defense.
"They're a really good offense," said Wisconsin cornerback Allen Langford. "Seems like the first couple of drives we didn’t get a feel for what they were doing."
After opening up the Badger defense, the Cougars received a boost from a running game that produced 157 yards.
"I never thought we would do that coming into (this ballgame)," said Washington State coach Bill Doba. "We got their backers loose throwing the football. Some teams run to be able to throw and I think we were throwing in order to run."
But the Badgers kept pace, and by halftime held a commanding lead they never relinquished, much thanks to Donovan.
Said Badger coach Bret Bielema, "He managed the game, he handled the clock." At one point Bielema listened in on a conversation his quarterback was having with offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. "(Donovan) said, 'We left some things out there today.' That tells me he is going to be his own worst critic," said Bielema.
Player of the game
Luke Swan caught everything – tipped balls, balls thrown into tight coverage – and finished the day with eight catches, 170 yards and two touchdowns.
Play of the game
On a first-and-10 from the 18-yard line, Donovan found Swan for a 43-yard gain on a fade route. That play began a drive the ended with an 11-yard Garrett Graham touchdown reception to give Wisconsin its first lead of the game. It also was the longest catch for Swan on a career day.
What the highlight shows will not show you
Left tackle Gabe Carimi, who stepped in for departed starter Joe Thomas, was satisfied with his afternoon -- somewhat. "I think I did well," said Carimi, "But there's still stuff I need to clear up and stuff I need to watch on film." Carimi is the only newcomer to a line that helped dominate opponents during a one-loss season in 2006.
Cougar back Dwight Tardy is the real deal. Sure, he has had good days before, but the Badgers are a well-respected defense that rarely gives up much ground. The fact that Tardy did so well (21 carries for 96 yards and a touchdown) is proof of just how good he is.
Speaking of running backs, Badger backup Lance Smith looked very strong in relief of P.J. Hill in the final 20 minutes of action. Smith, who returned to the club after offseason legal woes, bounced a run to the outside for 16 yards late in the third quarter; in all he gained 60 yards on 11 carries. Smith is much more elusive than Hill but has been criticized in the past by Bielema for lacking on-field discipline. Today, though, he looked sharp.
Tight end depth is apparently of no concern for the Badgers. Travis Beckum did well (six catches), and Andy Crooks is expected back soon from a hamstring injury. Against Washington State, virtual unknown Garrett Graham had a nice day: three catches for 38 yards and a touchdown. Said Bielema, "He is a tremendous football player. We didn't have much of a letdown (from losing Crooks)."
The Badgers travel to UNLV, where they lost their last non-conference outing in 2003.
Washington State hopes to get back on track at home against San Diego State.