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September 2, 2011MADISON - Apparently somebody bottled up whatever worked so well a year ago for a Wisconsin offense that averaged well over 40 points per game because Thursday's night's 51-17 win over UNLV was essentially a blast from the recent past.
The offense, led by senior quarterback Russell Wilson, scored on each of its first eight drives, seven of which went for touchdowns.
It's fair to say Paul Chryst is set to work his magic once again with another potent offensive unit.
"I can see things during practice that will get you excited," UW head coach Bret Bielema, who collected his 50th career win, said following the game. "I thought with Nick Toon playing well, Jared Abbrederis really playing well, Russell Wilson really grasping the situation and the game plan really well and then obviously with the combination of our running backs and offensive line, it's a special group.
"You know what, I think it's a group that stays hungry so it's going to be fun to watch them grow."
Wilson, even with all the hype that has surrounded his arrival and for all the expectations placed firmly on top of his shoulders, might have exceeded what anybody could have ever imagined or anticipated during his debut in cardinal and white.
He finished his first career game in Madison by completing 10 of his 13 passes for 255 yards and two passing touchdowns. He also gathered 62 rushing yards on just two carries, including one scintillating 46-yard touchdown scamper just before the conclusion of the first half.
"I just went down field and saw some guys downfield but they weren't really open," Wilson said of his touchdown run. "I just decided to run and tried to get something positive out of it. Once I realized I could keep going guys were making some tremendous blocks downfield. Nick Toon made that great block on the two-yard line, which was pretty awesome.
"His ability to make catches and also block is a tremendous asset for a receiver."
Toon finished his first game as a senior with two catches for 54 yards. But he was more impressive with the way he set the tone as a blocking receiver not only for Wilson's touchdown run, but also for the running back duo of James White and Montee Ball.
In fact, even though Wilson will receive most of the attention following his exceptional debut, it was that running back duo that set the tone.
Ball, who finished with 64 yards rushing on 10 carries, moved the ball at will during UW's season opening drive. His eventual four-yard run capped off a seven-play, 65-yard scoring drive, UW's sixth consecutive touchdown-scoring drive to open a season. And it also marked just the first of what would turn out to be a four-touchdown night for the junior tailback.
"I feel a lot faster and a lot more elusive and I still have my power," Ball, who also collected 67 yards receiving, said. "With that weight I lost I feel like I move a lot better and am able to make better cuts. It felt like another practice. We go out there and get the job done."
When the Badgers scored for the eighth consecutive time, it opened up a 51-3 lead midway through the third quarter. At that juncture Wisconsin had more than doubled a Runnin Rebels squad in total yardage. Considering it's the first game of the season and considering anything can happen, Thursday's script went as perfectly as it could for the Badgers.
It went well enough for freshman quarterback Joe Brennan, as well as several other young reserves, to log some important reps in a game situation and environment.
"Huge, huge, huge for the quarterback to get in there and to be in there in a situation where the game wasn't on the line," Bielema said. "Just to get some reps and for them to be quality is really a blessing in disguise with Jon Budmayr's situation. You could tell it was the first time going out, but Joe responded really well.
"Joe will get a lot better."
James White, much like Ball, was able to run seemingly wherever he wanted during Thursday's opener. The sophomore finished the game with 11 carries for 64 yards and one catch for 40 yards. He also scored a touchdown.
UNLV, a squad that is slowly rebuilding under second-year head coach Bobby Hauck, was overmatched from the start.
"Wisconsin did a great job," Hauck said. "They are a good football team and do things right. We have a lot of respect for how they do business. They took it to us. They manhandled us up front. We couldn't get out there. Their front seven on offense, we just couldn't get off them.
"Great job by them and we need to get better, obviously."
Jacob Pedersen, UW's sophomore tight end, also collected a touchdown in the win.
"I told the kids in the locker room there are two things that excited me," Bielema said. "The way we came out to start the game and the way we came out in the second half with our No. 1's. I thought they both came out ready to play and challenge them at halftime to come out and make a statement on film.
"I thought they did that."