MADISON, WI – For years, defense has been the cornerstone of Wisconsin Badger football. Notably, the Badgers were the second-ranked defensive team in the NCAA last season. Despite losing big name players such as T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel to the NFL, the Badgers didn’t seem to lose a step defensively against Utah State Friday, winning their season-opener 59-10.
While the Aggies seemed to dominate the first half of the game, leading 10-0 for most of the first half, the Badger defense managed to keep the score within reach. Led by inside linebacker T.J. Edwards and safety D’Cota Dixon, Wisconsin forced four turnovers and held Utah State to just 304 yards on the game.
Unlike the defense, Wisconsin’s offense took time to get into a rhythm, failing to get on the scoreboard until halfway through the second quarter. The inexperience on the offensive end was evident throughout the first half. Wisconsin averaged just 3.16 yards per rush in the first half, with the longest run being a mere eleven yards. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook was sacked three times in the first half, one of which resulted in a fumble. Hornibrook threw for just 59 yards in the first half, providing no help to the Badger’s stagnant offense.
Wisconsin seemed to figure out the Aggies defense from the start of the second half. Freshman running back Jonathan Taylor started the third quarter with a game high 41-yard carry. This run sparked the Badger offense, which went on to score on five of their next six drives, finishing the game with 59 unanswered points, including a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown by safety Joe Ferguson to seal the game in the fourth quarter.
As the run game picked up, Hornibrook got more time to throw, resulting in connections to the preseason second team All-American tight end Troy Fumagalli, who finished with five catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. Hornibrook finished the game completing his final 13 of 17 passes, contributing to the Badger’s success on third downs in the second half.
While the box score may show a dominant offensive performance put up by the ninth ranked team in the nation, the defense should be credited for keeping Wisconsin alive in this season opener. They played aggressively against the Aggies fast-paced offense by shutting down screen passes and holding Utah State’s runners to just 3.1 yards per carry. The Badgers will need to produce early offense if they plan on competing in the Big Ten this season.