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September 17, 2011CHICAGO - Russell Wilson had been absolutely spectacular for Wisconsin during its first two games of the 2011 season.
Saturday's third installment might have usurped both of those performances combined.
The senior quarterback threw for a season high 347 yards and three touchdowns, he completed 23 of his 32 passes and rushed for a cool 37 more. Oh yeah, his Badgers coasted to an easy 49-7 win over Northern Illinois.
"I've been with him for three games," UW head coach Bret Bielema said. "Nothing changes from him on a day to day basis. His preparation and his detail is just always the same."
Maybe it was the professional background - UW made its first appearance inside Soldier Field - or maybe it was simply Wilson's continued familiarity with Paul Chryst's offense. Whatever it was, Wilson's performance Saturday afternoon in front of a mostly Badger contingent of 41,068 people was nothing short of stunning.
"I actually took a visit to NC State and I've witnessed him live in person," UW sophomore running back James White said. "I knew he was a great quarterback. He just had to come in, learn the plays and get to know everybody.
"That's what he did."
Apparently he's gotten to know Nick Toon especially well.
During Wisconsin's opening drive, Wilson fired a strike to Toon on a 12-yard slant for the game's first score.
That turned out to be Toon's first of two touchdowns and first of five receptions. He finished the game with 75 yards and established himself as Wilson's favorite big play target.
"It's fun as a receiver," Toon said. "You love having a ball in the air. Any time we're having success in the air it's fun to be a receiver. It's just making the plays that come to you and trying to get open and going with what works."
Between Toon, Jacob Pedersen, Jared Abbrederis, Bradie Ewing and James White, UW's receivers accumulated more than 350 yards through the air.
Between White and Montee Ball, as well as a couple of nibbles from Melvin Gordon and Jeff Lewis, UW's rushing game accounted for 266 yards.
UW racked up 621 yards of total offense by the time it was all said and done.
"That's our offense," UW sophomore linebacker Chris Borland said. "They're firing on all cylinders. They're a good group."
They're probably better than good.
With Wilson's ability to escape the pocket, his ability to make things happen with his feet and with his pinpoint accuracy, Wisconsin is proving to be quite the dynamic offensive juggernaut once again.
They feature a couple of running backs in White (eight carries, 91 yards and a touchdown) and Ball (20 carries, 91 yards, two touchdowns) that could go up against any duo in the country, they have a play-action passing attack that is probably unmatched and they have a quarterback that is generally incredibly sharp with his decision making.
Through three games Wilson has completed 81 percent of his passes and he's thrown for 791 yards and eight touchdowns. He's been everything and more for Bret Bielema and company, even with his almost accidental interception thrown late in Saturday's win.
"I think it's his mind," Bielema said. "God blessed him with a tremendous amount of athletic ability, but his mind is second to none. That kid, anything I go at him with, even if I'm just jacking around with him during the week, never ceases to amaze me. He just continues to think ahead of the play."
Northern Illinois, led by UW's former defensive coordinator Dave Doeren, never stood a chance Saturday afternoon. Wisconsin's defense, which has allowed only seven points over its past two games, proved to be stout once again.
Chandler Harnish never got into a rhythm and finished with just 164 passing yards on 14-of-24 passing. His one big play came on a 39-yard pass completion to wide receiver Perez Ashford. That was about it for a Northern Illinois offense that had reeled off back-to-back 40-plus point efforts during its first two weeks of play.
"Our coaches preach making tackles and running to the ball," junior cornerback Marcus Cromartie said. "As long as you do that good things are going to happen. That's just kind of our main goal. We just make tackles and run to the ball."
But Saturday's win was all about the UW offense.
Take away Wisconsin's kneel down to end the first half and the Badgers scored on six of their first seven drives. Only a 50-yard Kyle French missed field goal snapped what would have been a perfect 7-for-7 start.
The win is UW's 31st consecutive against non-conference opponents in the regular season. And 11th straight non-conference win away from home dating back to the 2002 season.