MADISON – It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish. After trailing 10-0 in an unworthy start to their season opener, the Wisconsin Badgers scored 59 straight points to take a commanding Friday night win over Utah State, 59-10.
The first quarter was all Utah State as the Badgers only managed a mere 26 yards of offense. Meanwhile, Utah State wasted no time on offense, kicking a field goal on their second drive. Utah State got the ball back quickly after a botched snap by quarterback Alex Hornibrook was recovered by inside linebacker Suli Tamaivena. The fumble recovery set up a 12-yard rushing touchdown by running back LaJuan Hunt.
“Early in the game it felt like Wisconsin versus Wisconsin versus Utah State,” cornerback Derrick Tindal said of the early mistakes by the Badgers.
Quickly, the Badgers found themselves in a 10-0 hole due to missed coverages and dropped passes galore. One huge missed play was a dropped, would-have-been, 50-yard completion from Alex Hornibrook to A.J. Taylor.
For their part, Utah State brought the house early and often on defense, and Hornibrook’s lack of a pocket presence reared its ugly head. By the end of the first half, Utah State had three sacks.
In short, the sky was falling at Camp Randall early Friday night.
“Early on we really just did not do a good job of playing good, clean football,” head coach Paul Chryst said.
Luckily, football games have four quarters. The next three would be all Badgers.
Offensively, Utah State kept momentum in their favor with an onslaught of screen plays that seemingly took the Badgers a whole half to figure out how to stop. Mid-way through the second quarter though, the Wisconsin defense figured it out.
Inside linebacker T.J. Edwards came up with two huge stops on second and third down to force a punt which finally gave Hornibrook and the offense room to work with.
Finally able to haul in some catches, sophomore receivers A.J. Taylor and Quintez Cephus came up with first down receptions. On a pivotal 3rd and 12, Hornibrook connected with tight end Troy Fumagalli, who would end the game with five receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown, for a 15-yard gain that finally put the Badgers in the red zone. With the running game starting to come around, Bradrick Shaw punched it in from three yards out.
Wasting no time, Edwards intercepted Utah State quarterback Kent Myers, putting the Badgers right back into the red zone. Rafael Gaglianone would tie the game on a 29-yard field goal as the clock expired on the half.
“Inspiration words, I won’t really go into it,” tight end Zander Neuville said with a smile and a laugh of head coach Paul Chryst’s halftime speech. “It was positive words, just told us to come out and earn it.”
In the opening drive of the second half, true freshman running back Jonathan Taylor made his presence known as a co-starter, as he ripped down the field for a 41-yard run . The crowd, finally having something to cheer about, kept on cheering as Hornibrook again found Fumagalli, this time for a 23-yard touchdown pass.
Utah State’s Myers started off the second half right were he left off the first half, throwing a interception on the Aggies’ first drive. This time, strong safety D’Cota Dixon made the play.
Once again, the Badgers capitalized with Hornibrook looking under control. Receiver Jazz Peavy hauled in a 19-yard catch with tight end Neuville following up two plays later with a 28-yard touchdown catch.
Freshman receiver Danny Davis made a crucial block on the play that allowed Neuville to score. In the post game press conference Chryst had high praise.
“Nice wasn’t it,” Chryst said with the biggest smile that only a proud coach could have.
Defensively, redshirt sophomore inside linebacker Chris Orr and junior Edwards made the most plays. Both would finish with seven total tackles each. Edwards dominated in all aspects though, disrupting Utah State’s passing game with an interception and two pass breakups.
Offensively, Hornibrook and Jonathan Taylor led the day. Taylor would finish the game with a solid 87 yards on nine carries and one touchdown.
After a shaky first quarter, Hornibrook settled in and played with poise. He would finish going 15-for-23 gaining 244 yards through the air and an eye-popping three touchdowns.
Wisconsin fans could not help put see a little bit of former Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon in a Taylor 13-yard touchdown run. As he ran into a wall of offensive and defensive lineman, Taylor had the confidence to bounce it out and run to the corner of the endzone for a score.
The play of the game came in the fourth quarter with Barry Alvarez’s grandson, safety Joe Ferguson, picking off Myers and returning it 99 yards for a touchdown, breaking a school record from 1954.
“Certainly, I’m proud of the way the guys responded to win the game. There were a lot of lessons learned,” Chryst said, emphasizing still that there were areas that needed to be cleaned up.
After a scare in the first quarter, the sky was in fact not falling. The Badgers would go on to win 59-10 and all was well once again in Madison, WI.