Strong debut for Badger freshman
MADISON -- If Mike Taylor's debut is any indication, the UW freshman is going to be an impact player this season. The linebacker from Ashwaubenon finished with three tackles, including one for a loss, and a forced fumble in the first half of the ...
MADISON -- If Mike Taylor's debut is any indication, the UW freshman is going to be an impact player this season.
The linebacker from Ashwaubenon finished with three tackles, including one for a loss, and a forced fumble in the first half of the Badgers' 28-20 victory over Northern Illinois Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium.
He finished with seven tackles, tied for third most on the team.
Taylor, who redshirted last season after undergoing neck surgery, was hampered by hamstring problems in the spring and in fall camp.
His talent, and in particular his big-play ability, could not be denied, and he earned the starting job alongside Culmer St. Jean and Jaevery McFadden.
"Mike was all over the place," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "There were a couple of times when he wasn't in the right alignment, but he plays fast and he plays hard."
On the game's fourth play, Taylor blew up a first-down play at the NIU 44, dropping tailback Me'co Brown for a 4-yard loss. The Huskies never recovered and were forced to punt.
That change in possession led to Wisconsin's first touchdown, an 80-yard pass play from junior Scott Tolzien to junior Isaac Anderson.
In the second quarter, Taylor put the Badgers in great position again with a clean strip of Brown that gave UW the ball at the NIU 24. Wisconsin failed to convert this time as Tolzien was intercepted on the ensuing play.
"Sometimes people don't carry the ball well when they get tackled and they expect to fall to the ground," Taylor said. "I've found that if you ever get your hand on the ball, just take it out."
Running backs Zach Brown and John Clay combined for 94 yards in 29 carries for an underwhelming average of 3.2 yards per carry.
Bielema attributed some of UW's rushing struggles to the Huskies' commitment to stuffing the run, which he pointed out opened the door for the Badhgers' 80-yard touchdown pass from Tolzien to Anderson on the their first play from scrimmage. The coach also noted that Brown was hampered by a ding he received about 10 days ago.
"He isn't where he was at the beginning part of fall camp," Bielema said. "I really like (how) John came in there and made some extra-effort plays."
While much attention was given to quarterback Curt Phillips' debut, Travis Frederick was equally sound. The freshman center, who became the first true freshman in school history to start a season opener on the offensive line, filled in for starter John Moffitt, who did not play because of a pectoral muscle injury.
Frederick was called for a holding penalty in the second quarter, but Bielema gave the Big Foot graduate the benefit of the doubt on the play.
"I think it was actually on the front-side guard," Bielema said. "From where I was sitting, he handled things very well and it got tight down toward the end. There were no center-QB exchange issues out there and we had two quarterbacks going in there, so I thought that was a pretty good thing."
Be smart, safe
UW junior strong safety Jay Valai developed a reputation as a ferocious hitter in his first season as a starter by sending four players to the sideline, two for the remainder of the game.
Ohio State officials question whether one of the two hits Valai delivered in that game -- on running back Dan Herron -- was a helmet-to-helmet hit.
Valai's hit didn't draw a penalty and he was not suspended by the Big Ten or UW. However, the NCAA has made helmet-to-helmet hits a point of emphasis this season and leagues can suspend a player for such a hit even if a penalty is not called.
He didn't draw any penalties Saturday.
"I'm going to have to be a little smarter, obviously," Valai said before the game "because I don't want to get kicked out of a game."
-- When Phillips entered the game in the fourth series Saturday, he became the first UW freshman quarterback to play in the opener since 1999. Redshirt freshman Brooks Bollinger, the backup to Scott Kavanagh at the time, made his debut against Murray State.
-- Bielema did not have a timetable for the return of Louis Nzegwu, but said the sophomore defensive end's shoulder injury wasn't as serious as initially thought.
-- One of the Badgers goals this season is to perform on defense on third down. Mission accomplished Saturday. NIU was 3 for 12 in those situations.
-- Sophomore Nick Toon established collegiate highs in receptions (five) and receiving yards (72).
-- UW held the ball for 12 minutes 11 seconds in the third quarter yet still lost the time of possession battle, 30:14 to 29.46.
-- UW has a 15-game home winning streak in non-league games. The last loss came in Week 3 of the 2003 season, a 23-5 decision to Nevada-Las Vegas.
Jeff Potrykus of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
-- Copyright (c) 2009, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services