REBELS FOOTBALL:

Ground game key for Wisconsin in rout of UNLV

Clay leads way for Badgers with 123 yards, two scores the old-fashioned way

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Wisconsin fans playfully taunt a UNLV fan during their season opening game Saturday, September 4, 2010 at Sam Boyd Stadium. Wisconsin won the game 41-21.

Wisconsin vs. UNLV

No. 12 Wisconsin defeats UNLV, 41-21, in the Rebels' season opener.

UNLV-Wisconsin Football

UNLV defensive back Alex De Giacomo walks back to the line of scrimmage as Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien congratulatse wide receiver Jared Abbrederis after a Wisconsin touchdown in the second half of their season opening game Saturday, September 4, 2010 at Sam Boyd Stadium. Wisconsin won the game 41-21. Launch slideshow »
The Rebel Room

WISCONSIN POSTGAME: Some good, some bad, a lot of running

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Ryan Greene, Ray Brewer and Case Keefer talk about the highs and lows from UNLV's 41-21 setback against No. 12 Wisconsin to start both the 2010 football season and the Bobby Hauck era.

Next game

  • Opponent: Utah
  • Date: Sept. 11, 1 p.m.
  • Where: Salt Lake City
  • TV/Radio: The Mtn./ESPN 1100 AM

UNLV-Wisconsin: Fan Photos

UNLV-Wisconsin: Fan Photos Launch slideshow »

The temperature at Sam Boyd Stadium minutes before the kickoff of the season opener between UNLV and Wisconsin was 107 degrees.

And here was Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema greeting UNLV coach Bobby Hauck at midfield in a red Wisconsin windbreaker with no plans of changing.

“Bobby asked me, ‘What are you doing?’” Bielema said.

Forget the heat, Bielema is a superstitious guy and wants to wear long sleeves at all of the Badgers game this season. In essence, Bielema said he was just being himself.

It was an attitude he hoped his team would embrace heading into the game. Objective achieved, as Wisconsin played its trademark brand of smashmouth football to take down UNLV 41-21.

The Badgers ran the ball on more than 70 percent of their offensive plays, gaining 278 yards on 50 carries.

“We ran the ball well and that’s what we are known for,” junior running back John Clay said. “We wanted to make sure we dominated that.”

Wisconsin established its offensive identity immediately. On the Badgers first possession, they marched 80 yards to the end zone.

Eleven of the drive’s 13 plays were rushes. Clay carried the ball seven times in that span and broke multiple tackles on some plays, including his five-yard touchdown run.

“We just showed we were all about, running the ball and establishing it right away,” Clay said. “That’s when our offense rolls.”

Clay, who spent the last two days battling the stomach flu, finished with 17 carries for 123 yards and two touchdowns. It was a performance Bielema described as gutsy, but the kind he has come to expect from Clay.

Bielema was equally impressed with the output from two of the Badgers more unproven rushing commodities. Sophomore Montee Ball had 16 carries for 79 yards and two touchdowns and true freshman James White recorded 11 carries for 59 yards.

“The pleasure we have is that all three of them are selfless players,” Bielema said. “They cheer for each other and all three of them have different skill sets.”

Ball and White starred in the third quarter when the Badgers arguably needed it most. Despite gaining 273 yards to UNLV’s 12 in the first half, Wisconsin only went into halftime with a 17-14 lead because of two turnovers.

It’s not a situation any coach enjoys, but Bielema said it was for the best in the end.

“To go through it the way we did and it to be 17-14 at the half, it’s going to be incredible teaching,” Bielema said. “It’s so much better than being whatever it should have been, 24-7 or even 31-0.”

For most of the game, UNLV looked overmatched by Wisconsin’s rushing attack. The Rebels, who ranked 112th in the nation against the run last year, were often overpowered by Wisconsin’s offensive line.

Clay, Ball and White could simply fall forward for a few yards at a time. That’s Wisconsin football at its finest according to Bielema.

He wants to make sure it continues for the rest of the year, so the windbreaker will stay on.

“It goes back to my first year in coaching,” Bielema said. “We lost to a team on the road, to Tulsa, when I took the breaker off. It took some time to adjust, but we’ll stay with it for a while.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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