A game that should’ve been over early in the third quarter ended up being a semi-nailbiter for the Badgers. Will anything in 2012 come easy to this Wisconsin team? It doesn’t look like it.
The Badgers looked strong in the first half, running the ball well and hitting big plays downfield. An injury to Montee Ball put a damper on the proceedings, but still the Badgers were able to build a 23-9 halftime lead.
In the old days, the Badgers would’ve come out in the third quarter and put the game away. But these aren’t the old days. The Badger offense fell asleep in the third, allowing UTEP to crawl back in it. A long drive late in the third led to a UTEP rushing touchdown, cutting the score to 23-16.
The next drive for Wisconsin was critical. Joel Stave was able to drive them down within field goal range, giving Kyle French a chance to make it a two possession game. But wait a second…instead of French, Jack Russell was sent out to kick the field goal. Russell missed it wide left, giving new hope to UTEP.
Why would Bret Bielema yank French at this point of the game and put his team’s fortunes in the hands of Jack Russell? It seems Bielema was upset at French for sending a kickoff out of bounds earlier in the game. So he punished the kicker by yanking him from the game. This to me seemed a lot like cutting off your nose to spite your face. But Bielema would end up getting away with it.
UTEP cut the deficit to 23-19 on the next offensive possession, but after that Wisconsin found their offense again. Melvin Gordon and Joel Stave became the heroes. Stave’s coming-of-age moment happened on the Badgers’ last scoring drive of the game. A deep shot was called but Stave saw that the receiver was covered and instead pulled it down and hit James White as his outlet back. This veteran move gave the Badgers a chance to score the decisive touchdown.
The offensive stars of the game were Stave, who didn’t post huge numbers but played very well down the stretch, Jared Abbrederis and Melvin Gordon. Abbrederis finished with 6 catches for 147 yards and a TD, most of that damage coming in the first half on playaction passes. Gordon ended up with 112 yards on 8 carries with a TD on a beautifully designed and executed inside hand-off. On defense, the big star was Chris Borland who was all over the field making tackles.
The Badgers showed flashes of their old selves in this game but they still let UTEP hang around too long and there will no doubt be questions about some of Bielema’s decisions, especially the move to bench Kyle French. But overall this was the Badgers’ best effort of the season.
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