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September 10, 2011MADISON - If Wisconsin's season opening rout of UNLV more than a week ago was the genesis of the Russell Wilson era, consider Saturday's effort against Oregon State the advent of a star.
UW's senior quarterback completed 17 of his 21 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns. Most importantly, he led what was a stagnant offense to an easy 35-0 pasting of the nicked up Beavers.
"I'm feeling good out there," Wilson, who has now thrown for 444 yards and five touchdowns through two games, said. "There's a lot of great chemistry out there in the huddle and that's what I've noticed. The huddle is really sharp and really clean.
"And we're getting in and out and playing with a lot of confidence."
Some of the chemistry Wilson was surely alluding to had everything to do with his senior wide receiver. Nick Toon tied a career high with seven catches before finishing with 69 yards receiving and a touchdown.
That 10-yard reception on a fade route late in the second quarter gave UW the upper hand even though the offense slugged out of the gates before finding a groove heading into half time and then again in the final 30 minutes of the contest.
"We have a lot of weapons on offense," Toon said. "Obviously in the passing game, with the tight ends, the receivers and the running backs. And the running backs also contributed in the pass game. When you can have success doing all that stuff, you're pretty dangerous."
Oregon State and its head coach Mike Riley found that out awfully quick.
Though the Badgers struggled to gain much yardage in the first quarter of play - - the Badgers finished the opening frame with just three yards rushing - - Paul Chryst and his offensive unit remained patient before pouring it on.
"Early in the game Oregon State's safeties were playing aggressively," UW head coach Bret Bielema explained. "They weren't going to let us run the football but we were patient and didn't panic. I thought it really opened up our play-action game."
And nobody benefited from that play-action technique quite as much as Jacob Pedersen, UW's breakout sophomore tight end. The Michigan native collected six balls for 80 yards. His two touchdowns on the day established a new career high.
"We're working in practice and taking a lot of reps," Pedersen said. "But with Russell just coming in here we had to work on that chemistry and that timing. It's just a lot of work during the week and we're running every route as many times as we can so we can make sure that we really get that down."
Wilson opened UW's scoring with a 17-yard strike to Pedersen following a completely disastrous -4-yard punt that gave the Badgers the ball inside Oregon State's red zone. From there, both offenses tried feeling each other out before the Badgers, and particularly their play-action passing game, opened the proverbial flood gates.
"We had a chance early on to play better and make that a game," Riley said. "I thought defensively we hung in there as long as we could against their very good running game and play-action game. We could never really respond at all for a long time.
"We never did really offensively do anything."
That's because the Badger defense, particularly led by the more comfortable Chris Borland in the middle, didn't allow any sort of offensive rhythm from the Beavers. Oregon State tried to run the ball, but they never did so with any sort of success.
Riley's squad eventually finished the game with just 23 yards rushing.
"I challenged our defensive staff and players," Bielema said. "One of the things we always say is what you put on film is who you are. They gave up some free yardage last week, but this week they did a great job. What was great about today was that the way we practiced just reinforced what happened today.
"We aren't a team that just plays to fix things, I think it's about the way we practice and that's what carried over to the game today."
Following Toon's 10-yard touchdown reception, one where the senior rose up over an Oregon State defender for what turned out to be a relatively easy, albeit impressive, touchdown reception, Wilson and company went right back to work.
The senior newcomer calmly led a 12-play, 72-yard drive before capping it with a six-yard touchdown pass to Pedersen, his second of the day. The drive lasted just more than five minutes and left Oregon State with just 27 seconds to play with before the intermission.
The UW running game never really got on track throughout the first half, but it never needed to simply because Wilson had everything under control. He finished the opening 30 minutes 12-of-14 with 124 yards and three passing touchdowns.
When the second half opened, it was all on the tailback combo of Montee Ball and James White.
"The game is five percent of what happens and 95 percent of what you react to," Bielema said. "Because they were giving us certain looks that took away (things) we had to have the mentality to not panic, not flinch and just keep the ball going the right direction.
"I thought it was a great example of Wisconsin football."
Ball eventually finished with 118 yards rushing and two touchdowns. The junior tailback now has six touchdowns through two games. James White chipped in 53 yards rushing on 17 carries.
"Today was all about being patient," Ball said. "We were pressing a lot of blocks and bouncing outside to make things happen outside. We faced some adversity this week when we didn't really face any last week at all. I was glad to see we overcame that and made a lot of great runs and great plays."