BY JEFF BERNIER
There’s something about playing under the bright lights for a night game that can bring out the best in teams and players. The stage-like atmosphere is an adrenaline rush. The Hawaii Rainbow Warriors (2-2) and the Wisconsin Badgers (3-1) squared off at Camp Randall Stadium on a mild 70 degree Saturday night. Feeding off a frenzied college crowd, the Badgers made it three wins in a row as they defeated the Rainbow Warriors 28-0.
Hawaii received the opening kickoff. After a huge sack on a safety blitz by Wisconsin resulting in a 10-yard loss on second down, Hawaii was looking at a long third down. On third down and 15, senior quarterback Max Wittek was able to convert out of the pistol formation on a 27-yard strike to Quinton Pedroza near midfield.
On the next set of downs, the Rainbow Warriors promptly went three and out, having to punt to Wisconsin. Unlike their first two home games in which they struggled mightily on their opening possession, Wisconsin put together a very Badger-like drive. They pounded the ball with authority with Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal, the Badgers new top rushing tandem. Wisconsin capped their first possession with a 2-yard rush into the heart of Hawaii’s defense for the game’s first touchdown.
Hawaii features a 3-4 defense which is a rarity these days in college football. And maybe that was the key, as the Rainbow Warriors defense gave the Badgers fits the entire first half, surrendering just 14 points.
It would have been only seven, save for a late touchdown by Wisconsin with just 38 seconds remaining.
The Badgers defense forced a Rainbow Warriors punt with just 2:11 remaining in the first half. Badgers senior quarterback Joel Stave was just 4-10 passing to that point. Stave would go 4-4 on the final drive of the half, leading the Badgers down the field for a nine play 73 yard scoring drive that made it 14-0 after two quarters of play.
With Taiwan Deal looking unstoppable all half, it was Stave who lead the crucial drive in the final minutes of the first half.
Facing third down and 2 from their own 47-yard line, it was Deal who sprinted for a 17-yard gainer to keep the drive alive. After a holding penalty on first down, making it first and 20, Stave completed consecutive passes of 12 and 9 yards for another first down. A perfectly thrown ball from Stave to Erickson, which resulted in a defensive passing interference call in the end zone, set up Deal’s second two yard touchdown run.
With both teams struggling to score despite getting into each other’s territory in the second half, it was the Badgers who broke through late in the third when Stave connected with senior tight end Austin Traylor. Traylor has succeeded Robert Wheelwright as Stave’s favorite target in the red zone.
The pass and catch play came on third down and 11. It was a big play for Wisconsin to gain a little breathing room over Hawaii as they hadn’t been able to pull away to that point. That play sealed it for Wisconsin.
The Badgers defense has been absolutely dominant over the past three games. They haven’t surrendered a single touchdown in their last 12 quarters of play, giving up a total of three points in their last three games played.
They held the Rainbow Warriors to just 15 yards rushing on Saturday night; this after holding Miami (OH) and Troy to a combined 78 yards on the ground.
Paul Harris had just 22 yards on 6 carries. Quarterback Max Wittek was effective, finishing 189 yards passing. Hawaii just couldn’t finish the job when they got into the red zone.
Freshman back Taiwan Deal was the man on this night for the Badgers. Deal rushed for 147 yards on 26 carries, getting into the end zone twice.
Dare Ogunbowale played second fiddle this week and chipped in with 85 yards on 15 carries. Ogunbowale put the cherry on top for the Badgers with a 9-yard pitch carry for the last points of the game.
Stave had a quiet game after two brilliant efforts against Miami (OH) and Troy. The senior finished 14/23 for 164 yards and a touchdown. Stave and the Badgers did not turn the ball over.
Senior Alex Erickson had a big day for Wisconsin, catching 9 passes for 87 yards. Many of the catches kept drives alive for Stave and company.
The Badgers have hummed right along without their star running back Corey Clement. Things may be different once conference play begins for the Badgers next week. Will the Badgers continue to pass as much as they have been? Can Ogunbowale and Deal remain this effective when the quality of opponents ramp up? Head coach Paul Chryst and the Badgers certainly hope so.
The Wisconsin Badgers will now turn its attention to next week, where they will finally begin conference play when they host the Iowa Hawkeyes (4-0) at Camp Randall Stadium at 11:00 am Eastern. The game will be broadcast on both ABC and ESPN networks.