Chip Scoggins: Badgers play like the pros with frightening precision

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 13, 2011 - 1:25 AM

Wisconsin's pro-style offense ran to near-perfection, sparked by Russell Wilson's precision passing and a power running game.

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Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson did damage against the Gophers both with his arm (16 completions in 17 attempts) and his legs.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema was asked this summer about the proliferation of spread offenses in college football and the difficulty in defending that wide-open style of play.

The Badgers don't run the spread. Therefore, their defense doesn't face it every day in practice. Must be tough to prepare for, right, Coach?

Bielema countered with an argument that made perfect sense. Opposing defenses, he said, don't often see a pro-style offense as powerfully built as the Badgers.

It's not easy to simulate in practice an offensive line that averages 6-5 and 322 pounds.

Or a quarterback as calm and cool as Russell Wilson.

Or a two-headed running back tandem as explosive as Montee Ball and James White.

Or a play-caller who keeps you guessing as much as offensive coordinator Paul Chryst.

The Gophers got their up-close look Saturday and suffered a similar fate as most others in a 42-13 loss at TCF Bank Stadium.

The Badgers flattened the Gophers without even hitting their season averages in scoring and total offense. But they functioned with such precision, especially in the first half, that the Gophers really had no chance of stopping them.

"When everything is clicking," Bielema said, "it's hard to defend it."

Everything clicked Saturday. Wilson was nearly perfect as he threw four touchdown passes with only one incompletion. Just a hunch, but that should help the ol' pass efficiency rating.

Ball rushed for 166 yards and scored three touchdowns, setting the Big Ten single-season record for touchdowns with 27. Nick Toon finished with 100 yards receiving and two touchdowns.

The Badgers racked up 29 first downs, held nearly a 10-minute advantage in time of possession and scored touchdowns on all six of their red-zone chances.

Oh, they also regained control of their own destiny in the Big Ten race after consecutive last-second losses to MSU and Ohio State left them in need of help.

They got their wish before kickoff as both Penn State and Ohio State lost in early games. That opened the door for the Badgers, who can win the Leaders Division and earn a spot in the Big Ten championship game by winning their final two games.

"After the game in the locker room, I said, 'Hey, in the world of college football things worked out well for us today,' " Bielema said.

He could've used that same line back in the summer when Wilson opted to transfer to Wisconsin after N.C. State nudged him out the door. Wilson became a one-year stopgap, and what an addition he has been for the Badgers.

Wilson's size (5-11, 210 pounds) might scare off NFL teams, but he's a terrific college quarterback and a perfect fit for the Badgers.

Their offense is beautiful in its efficiency and simplicity. There's nothing gimmicky about it. It's not basketball on grass and five-wides.

They use a fullback -- gasp! -- and multiple tight ends. Ball is a terrific talent who could leave early for the NFL after the season. And Wilson makes it all work.

"If there's a better player in college football ..." Bielema said.

He probably won't get too much argument from the Gophers, who watched Wilson complete his first 16 passes. His lone incompletion came with 6:14 left in the third quarter when Toon couldn't hold on to a jump ball down the middle of the field.

That was it as far as his misfires. Wilson said he was aware of his perfect completion streak as the game unfolded but he tried to have "amnesia." (Come to think of it, the Gophers might want to employ that tactic.)

Wilson finished with 178 yards passing, 162 of that coming in the first half as the Badgers built a comfortable lead. They pretty much were able to coast in the second half.

Bielema said his team is in the "construction phase" after those two heartburn losses staggered them. Suddenly, they're in the driver's seat again.

"We had two weeks back-to-back that were about as gut-wrenching as anybody could imagine," he said. "I know we're a stronger team today than we were four, five weeks ago."

It certainly must be comforting when you have Wilson and that offense to lean on.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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