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Sunday, November 28, 2021
Mistakes briefy slow Badgers in lopsided win

phillips: Curt Phillips ran for 92 yards late in Saturday?s victory over Wofford.

Mistakes briefy slow Badgers in lopsided win

It may seem unorthodox, but at halftime on Saturday, Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema was thinking about delaying the band's fifth quarter performance to practice ball security. It was even stranger since, at that point of the game, his team was leading 31-0.

After a sloppy start, the Badgers hammered Wofford in the second quarter, and blew out the Terriers 44-14 in front of 78,203 at Camp Randall Stadium.

That attendance was under the number needed for a sellout, snapping a streak of 41 consecutive home game sellouts.

""The crowd out there today was outstanding. I really felt they were engaged and I didn't notice any difference from that standpoint,"" Bielema said.

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Coming out of the game, fumbles were the biggest concern for Wisconsin going forward.

The Badgers put the ball on the turf six times: one by junior running back Zach Brown, three by sophomore running back John Clay, one on a dropped snap and one on a quick screen that went backwards and was dropped.

Wofford only recovered three of those six fumbles.

The roughest patch came when Clay lost a fumble in the first quarter. The Badgers immediately forced and recovered a Terrier fumble and two plays later, Brown lost the ball to Wofford again.

Bielema made it clear how concerned he was with the turnovers after the game, while Clay, who had been named the starting running back, declined to speak to the media.

""On offense, one of the hugest things we have talked about all week was we were not going to give anyone an opportunity to get a turnover, ball security,"" Bielema said. ""I know there's an issue, we fumbled the ball. We cannot have that happen, so as the head coach I will take responsibility.""

According to Bielema, his dream of working on ball security on the field after the game would have violated NCAA rules.

Beyond the turnovers, the Wisconsin ground game did have a productive day. Clay, Brown and freshman speedster Erik Smith all ran for over 50 yards, averaged at least 5.2 yards per carry and combined for 187 yards against an undersized Wofford front seven.

After the game had been decided, freshman quarterback Curt Phillips made his impact in the rushing attack, running for 92 yards on only four carries. His runs all came after faking a handoff one way and going the other as the defense chased after the tailback.

""When you've got our line doing as well as they were and our backs running that hard, sometimes it opens it up on the outside because to take that away they have to really crash down on our backs,"" Phillips said. ""So now and then we kind of popped one to the outside.""

The Wisconsin defense had an answer for every element of Wofford's triple option offense, consistently getting into the backfield and minimizing big outside runs. The Terrier offense only had 63 yards at halftime as the Badgers' starting linebackers combined for five tackles for loss.

Even when Wofford tried to take advantage of the defense focusing on the option, the Badgers were ready for it.

""Defending the option, you try to prepare for everything,"" senior linebacker Jaevery McFadden said. ""Of course the option, the dive, the quarterback, the pitch. You try to get ready for the counter option, you try to get ready for reverses ... the coaches try to make the defense easy for us.""

The Badgers also forced four turnovers, one interception and a pair of fumble recoveries.

Though it could be considered a trap game, coming between a hard-fought double-overtime win against Fresno State and the start of Big Ten play, the Badgers made sure it was anything but. They started slowly with a 3-0 first quarter, but then the offense sprung to life with 21 points in a five-minute span, all but putting the game away.

""I think kind of going in we needed to expect [to score 21 points]. Just seeing that we were the only ones stopping ourselves,"" said junior quarterback Scott Tolzien, who threw for 159 yards and two touchdowns. ""It's good to have high expectations like that and set the bar high, instead of just being satisfied with the turnovers.""

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