Every week Herald Sports will take a look back at the Wisconsin football game and grade the position groups on a scale of zero to five. Here’s how the Badgers fared in their season-opener against UNLV.
Quarterbacks — 2.5 out of 5
Senior Scott Tolzien’s performance was more or less what UW fans are accustomed to: efficient, but not magnificent. Tolzien was 15-for-20 for 197 yards and no touchdowns. Taking away from the otherwise solid game was his first quarter interception, which Will Chandler returned for a momentum-changing touchdown. Otherwise, Tolzien was quietly effective, making some key completions on third down.
Running backs — 4.5 out of 5
Wisconsin’s one-two punch of running backs turned out to be a trifecta. John Clay rumbled his way to 123 yards and two touchdowns, while sophomore Montee Ball added 79 yards and a pair of scores, but freshman James White also had an impressive debut. White’s first carry went for 18 yards, and he was third on the team in receiving with three catches for 37 yards. All three backs looked fresh, even in the third and fourth quarters, indicating the three-man rotation should be extremely helpful to the Badgers as the season goes on.
Wide receivers — 2.5 out of 5
The lasting memory of Badger wide receivers from the game might have been Nick Toon’s fumble, which led to UNLV’s second touchdown. While the receivers combined for just nine catches for 143 yards, Toon and Kyle Jefferson had big catches for first downs. David Gilreath hauled in the longest pass of the night, a 45-yard strike that set up UW’s second touchdown.
Tight ends — 3.5 out of 5
Lance Kendricks and Jacob Pedersen had just one catch apiece, for a combined 11 yards. However, the duo did an excellent job blocking in the running game, with Kendricks especially laying some big hits.
Offensive line — 4 out of 5
All in all, the massive UW offensive line had a successful game. Tolzien wasn’t sacked once and had ample time in the pocket on a consistent basis. If you count the play of guard Ryan Groy, who played fullback for most of the game, the grade goes up even more, as the converted lineman helped pave the way for UW’s 278 rushing yards.
Defensive line — 4.5 out of 5
The question entering the season on defense was how the line would play. Not only did the Badgers lose star defensive end O’Brien Schofield, the interior line spots were unsettled. Wisconsin showed the line should be just fine, as J.J. Watt looked ready to replace Schofield, forcing a fumble and almost coming up with an easy pick on one of his three pass break ups. Louis Nzegwu and Jordan Kohout each had sacks, and at least one defensive lineman was in the UNLV backfield on most of the Rebels’ offensive plays.
Linebackers — 4 out of 5
Reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Chris Borland showed he has his sights set on bigger things with his performance against UNLV. The sophomore was especially dangerous in UW’s Badger package, racking up five tackles and a sack, despite coming out of the game with an injury in the third quarter. Culmer St. Jean led the team with seven tackles, while Kevin Rouse added a sack and Blake Sorenson tied for second on the team with five tackles.
Secondary — 2.5 out of 5
Wisconsin’s secondary wasn’t tested often, and when the defensive backs were challenged, the results were mixed. By the end of the game, UNLV was able to pick up some big gains in the passing game as UW head coach Bret Bielema admitted his corners were getting tired. Senior safety Aaron Henry played well, returning a fumble for a momentum-swinging touchdown to begin the third quarter. Cornerback Devin Smith looked a bit slow on UNLV’s two touchdown passes.
Specialists — 3 out of 5
While kicker Philip Welch converted on his two field goal attempts — from 20 and 33 yards — he had a directional kickoff go awry, kicking it out of bounds. Punter Brad Nortman averaged 45.2 yards on his five punts and had a long punt of 70 yards. Most encouraging was the coverage on kickoffs, with David Gilbert and Kyle Zuleger delivering some of the game’s biggest hits on special teams.