Wisconsin stays on the winning track

MADISON -- For all the reasons Wisconsin gave you last season to believe it had seriously strayed from the tenets of Wisconsin football, the Badgers are beginning to show evidence that maybe they're getting some of it back.

Badgers Philip Welch and holder Chris Maragos watch the winning field goal in the second overtime. The Wisconsin Badgers defeated Fresno State 34-31 in two overtimes at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison Wisconsin Saturday September 13, 2009. Photo by Tom Lynn/TLYNN@JOURNALSENTINEL.COM

MADISON -- For all the reasons Wisconsin gave you last season to believe it had seriously strayed from the tenets of Wisconsin football, the Badgers are beginning to show evidence that maybe they're getting some of it back.

By itself, the 34-31 double-overtime victory Saturday against Fresno State wouldn't offer substantiation, even if the otherwise depth-shy Bulldogs have as much skill-position talent as at least 75 percent of the Big Ten.

Neither would the fact that a portion of the team apparently spent more time in the sick bay than on the practice field last week, or that the Camp Randall turf temperature aggravated the situation. Outbreaks happen. So does mid-September heat in the upper Midwest.

But put all of that together during a remarkably satisfying bang-for-the-buck out-of-league game, and maybe all that talk about an off-season recommitment to the qualities that identify UW football is something more than talk. We'll see, but against a really good team there was toughness and intelligence, and, almost as important for the good of this season, one quarterback.

You applaud the Badgers for resisting the temptation to throw a Curt Phillips changeup at Fresno State even when they were down by two touchdowns. Staying with Scott Tolzien paid off in overtime, when his playmaking instincts with Nick Toon were most needed.


And you like the fact they stayed with the run, even if, down a starting lineman or two, they had almost nothing going on the ground until big John Clay broke off a 72-yard bomb behind excellent blocking inside the last 6 minutes of regulation. As a reminder, coach Bret Bielema repeated the words that should be embroidered on every blue baby blanket in this state:

"For us to have success here," Bielema said, "we've got to run the football."

But as much as anything, you could appreciate that the Badgers outsmarted someone, instead of the other way around.

With the first half about to expire, a crowd whose expectations were lowered last season began to boo when it looked like the Badgers were prepared to run out the clock with a seven-point deficit. Instead, they surprised everyone when Tolzien went up top for 44 yards to Isaac Anderson. Without that downfield shot, there would've been no 57-yard field goal by Phillip Welch. Without that mighty kick, who knows what might have happened?

It was by no means a clean game for Wisconsin, which gave up a ton of passing yards to the kind of big-time receivers that probably caught the attention of Packers general manager Ted Thompson, who was in attendance. The performance was less artful than entertaining, but that was almost secondary for what the Badgers are trying to recover.

"Wisconsin football is about being tough," senior linebacker O'Brien Schofield said. "Talk about mental toughness, there were plenty of times we could have given up."

And from senior free safety Chris Maragos: "We're a bunch of tough guys. That's what I love about this football team right now. We may not have the most talent, but from 1 to 99 we come to work."

No one personified that Saturday more than Schofield, who seemed to make 101 tackles, and Maragos, whose end-zone interception set up Welch's game-winning kick. If the Badgers are going to re-establish themselves with tough-guy senior leadership, there's no better starting point than with those two.


Afterward, Bielema said that through all the trials and tribulations of last season, he just wanted to get back to the point where a Wisconsin football team could outwork someone. The Badgers did that Saturday against a worthy opponent. Keep that up, and everything else will fall into place.

-- Copyright (c) 2009, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel/Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services


Fresno St. 7 14 0 3 7 0 --31

Wisconsin 0 17 0 7 7 3 --34

First Quarter

Fre_West 13 pass from Colburn (Goessling kick), 6:14.

Second Quarter


Fre_Wylie 70 pass from Colburn (Goessling kick), 14:46.

Wis_Brown 11 run (Welch kick), 11:35.

Fre_Ajirotutu 14 pass from Colburn (Goessling kick), 7:01.

Wis_Gilreath 8 run (Welch kick), 4:27.

Wis_FG Welch 57, :00.

Fourth Quarter

Wis_Clay 72 run (Welch kick), 5:45.

Fre_FG Goessling 41, :16.


First Overtime

Wis_Toon 6 pass from Tolzien (Welch kick).

Fre_Ajirotutu 7 pass from Colburn (Goessling kick).

Second Overtime

Wis_FG Welch 22.



Fre Wis


First downs 24 19

Rushes-yards 39-179 39-188

Passing 289 225

Comp-Att-Int 22-38-3 17-28-0

Return Yards 37 3

Punts-Avg. 4-47.3 6-47.5

Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0

Penalties-Yards 6-50 7-66


Time of Possession 33:38 26:22



RUSHING_Fresno St., Mathews 19-107, Rouse 6-46, Harding 4-10,

Miller 2-5, Colburn 6-5, Feathers 1-3, Wylie 1-3. Wisconsin,

Clay 21-143, Brown 9-40, Gilreath 3-21, Team 1-(minus 1),

E.Smith 1-(minus 4), Tolzien 4-(minus 11).

PASSING_Fresno St., Colburn 22-36-3-289, Team 0-1-0-0,

West 0-1-0-0. Wisconsin, Tolzien 17-28-0-225.

RECEIVING_Fresno St., Ajirotutu 6-83, Wylie 5-114, West 5-49,

Marl.Moore 2-30, Mathews 2-9, Hamler 1-3, Harding 1-1. Wisconsin,

Anderson 4-70, Toon 4-49, Graham 3-49, Gilreath 2-33, Brown 2-7,

Turner 1-13, Jefferson 1-4.

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