MADISON, Wis. - It took the Wisconsin Badgers two quarters to get in to a groove against UMass, but the offensive floodgates opened after halftime while the defense dominated and the Badgers bowled over the Minutemen for a 45-0 win in their first game of the season.
It was Gary Andersen's first win as Wisconsin's head coach, and Andersen said his defense made a statement by keeping UMass off of the scoreboard.
"First of all, division one games are hard to win. It's a tremendous victory and to get the first one under your belt is always good," Andersen said. "UMass played hard- they battled from the first snap to the last snap. My hat goes off and we have a lot of respect for that team."
"I'm sure they're proud of [the shutout as a defensive group of kids, and they should be."
As a whole the Badgers (1-0, 0-0 Big Ten) held UMass (0-1, 0-0 MAC) to just 212 offensive yards, and the Minutemen only crossed midfield on three drives during the game. UMass quarterback Mike Wegzyn completed just 9-of-23 passes for 73 yards during the game, and four players combined to rush for just 100 yards against Wisconsin's new 3-4 defense. The Badgers also forced a fumble and intercepted one of Wegzyn's passes, and safety Dezmen Southward said Saturday's game could be an important building block for Wisconsin's defense.
"It was huge, mostly from a confidence standpoint," Southward said. "You really want to get the ball rolling- you want to have really good games, and you want to stack those games. Because later down the line we're really going to need that confidence- to see on film that we can go out there and make these plays, we can pitch shutouts, we can be one of the best defenses in the nation."
But while the Badgers held firm on defense for most of the game, their passing attack had a bit of trouble getting off the ground during the first half of the game. Sophomore Joel Stave started at quarterback, ending a month-long quarterback battle where Stave and Curt Phillips went back and forth on a daily basis. But Stave struggled out of the gate, and the Badgers had to lean on their defense and a strong running game to hold UMass at bay. Running backs James White and Melvin Gordon rushed for 146 yards apiece on 24 combined carries, and each tailback scored a touchdown as well.
Stave completed just 4-of-11 passes in the first half, but he and the Badgers bounced back after halftime. Stave completed a 65-yard touchdown pass to Jared Abbrederis on Wisconsin's first play of the second half, and added another 57-yard touchdown pass to Abbrederis later on in the third quarter.
Stave completed 9-of-17 passes for 197 yards in the game, and said after the game he was glad offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig kept calling for longer passing plays after a rough first half.
"That [play] is one I know we can get the offense going with, and when you have a chance to take a shot like that I really enjoy it," Stave said. "We moved the ball in the first half, we just couldn't get it in the endzone. When we get down in to the redzone we need to come away with points and that's what we did in the second half."
Overall it was a successful debut for Andersen and his staff, who have tried to implement their own philosophies without deviating from the Badgers' winning formula from the last few seasons. Andersen said it was a special experience for him to get his first game at Wisconsin under his belt, and with his team up big in the fourth quarter he even took some time to savor the moment.
"You get a lot of special stadiums as you go through your career, but this is my second [game] here," Andersen said. "The first three quarters you kind of get caught up in to the whole coaching thing, but in the fourth quarter I was able to sit back and look at it a little bit. It's a special, special place. I'm learning that more every single day."
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