I’m honestly not sure how serious the buzz around campus was about the Badgers hanging 70 or 80 on UNLV. But then the Badgers had 20 at the end of the first. And then they had 37 at the end of the half. And then they had 51 midway through the third. By then, UNLV managed to run some clock and keep the Badgers off the field enough to avoid an Indiana-like disaster. And then Russell Wilson came out, and Joe Brennan couldn’t pull any Nate Tice-esque magic in the fourth, leading to a final score of 51-17. The Badgers offense was incredibly efficient, though, and regardless of the quality of opponent — make no mistake, UNLV is a low-quality opponent — their performance should serve notice to the rest of the Big Ten.
A quick reminder of the definition of Success Rate:
Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.
Yards: 499 (9.8 per play)
Points: 51 (1 per play)
Success Rate: 61% (31/51)
Yards: 444 (12.3 yards per play)
Points 51 (1.4 points per plays)
Success Rate: 72% (26/36)
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The defense was shaky at times, obviously during the two scoring drives UNLV mounted in the second half as well as a couple of early drives which saw the run defense gashed by Bradley Randle (12 rushes, 64 yards) of the Runnin’ Rebels. The pass defense, however, was dominant throughout, only allowing 5.4 yards per attempt — the two late scores did come through the air, but the preceding drives were mainly powered by the running game.
The picture on defense is simply not as clean or clear as it is on offense. There is still work to do — attempting to replace J.J. Watt, for example — but UNLV was largely shut down and holding the Rebels to 146 passing yards is impressive. The rushing defense will be a concern all season if this game is indicative of the true skill, but we’ll have to wait and see if this is simply one poor effort or a dysfunctional unit. On the other side of the coin, the defense was impressive on third downs, holding UNLV to 2-12, but it would be best not to rely on such a showing on a weekly basis.
Yards: 292 (4.6 per play)
Points: 17 (0.3 per play)
Success Rate: 56% (36/64)
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Overall, as with any 51-17 game, this has to be considered a successful opening outing for the Badgers. Russell Wilson flashed both the feet and the arm, the running backs were productive running and catching the ball, and the defense did a reasonably decent job of holding UNLV when necessary. There is still room to improvement, of course, but for week one, it’s difficult to ask for much more.