Despite two turnovers and a scary head injury to receiver David Gilreath, the Wisconsin football team improved to 2-0 after defeating the San Jose State Spartans 27-14 Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium.
For the game, UW racked up 403 yards, 212 of which came on the ground, compared to 303 total yards for SJSU. However, after turning the ball over twice in their season-opener last weekend at UNLV, the Badgers were hoping for a cleaner effort today against another major underdog.
Quarterback Scott Tolzien fumbled three times and threw one interception, while running back James White fumbled on the goal line as he tried to extend the ball into the end zone midway through the first quarter. Tolzien recovered all three fumbles, but one led to a turnover on downs and another forced an unwanted field goal.
“We didn’t improve in that facet,” Tolzien said of UW’s turnovers. “That’s not going to get us where we want to go. It’s getting to the point where it’s, we can’t keep talking about it, we got to do it, myself included.”
Wisconsin began the game in typical fashion, receiving the ball first and driving downfield on a 10-play, 77-yard drive that culminated with a 1-yard touchdown run by running back John Clay. On the day, the Heisman hopeful ran for 137 yards and two touchdowns on 23 attempts.
“You can’t be satisfied with this win,” Clay said. “We got to build upon this, watch film, study and make sure that we know what we’re doing in the next game.”
After forcing a three-out on SJSU’s first drive, the Badgers drove down the field once again, picking up 50 yards on six plays. However, White’s fumble into the end zone resulted in a touchback for the Spartans.
“James White wants that touchdown as bad as anybody, but here at Wisconsin we run the ball in the end zone, we don’t reach it in,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said. “It’s something that he’ll take forward and I know be good, hopefully, in the future.”
After the White fumble, both teams traded three-and-outs, and then UW linebacker Blake Sorenson intercepted SJSU’s Matt Faulkner and returned the ball 16 yards to SJSU’s 38-yard line. Five plays later, Tolzien completed a 14-yard pass to tight end Lance Kendricks for a touchdown and Wisconsin’s first passing score of the season, bringing the score to 14-0 at the 14:16 mark in the second quarter.
After trading punts for three series, the Badgers found themselves inside the red zone once again, but failed to score after Tolzien fumbled at the 4-yard line on fourth and one. For the game, three of the Badgers’ four fumbles came in the red zone.
The Spartans looked to be taking advantage of the miscue, but after a seven-play, 70-yard drive, UW defensive end J.J. Watt blocked a 43-yard field goal with 1:28 left in the half. Wisconsin managed only a field goal, though, as kicker Phillip Welch hit from 45 yards out as time expired.
“I told the team afterwards, if I didn’t come in that locker room and they weren’t disappointed, I was going to be disappointed in them,” Bielema said.
The Spartans picked up one first down after halftime, but were ultimately forced to punt at the 11:36 mark. Gilreath fielded the punt near the Badgers’ 25-yard line, but was hit instantly by Peyton Thompson. As he was falling back, SJSU’s Dominique Hunsucker came from behind and incidentally rammed his helmet into Gilreath’s. Gilreath was down for approximately 15 minutes, and was loaded via stretcher into an ambulance.
Another Welch field goal from 37 yards raised the score to 20-0 with 8:11 left in the third quarter. Five minutes later, UW cornerback Antonio Fenelus recorded his second career interception off of Jordan La Secla. The senior led the Spartans with 228 passing yards on 20 for 26 passing with two touchdowns and an interception.
“There was a little adversity out there,” UW cornerback Niles Brinkley said. “We pretty much came over all that adversity that was out there. San Jose [State] has some pretty good receivers, that’s what we thought [their] strength was on the team coming into the week and watching film…I feel like we did a pretty good job, but we also got to get better and make strides.”
SJSU eventually got on the board with 1:27 remaining in the third quarter after La Secla connected with receiver Chandler Jones on a 37 catch and run that saw four different Badgers fail to make a tackle.
In the fourth quarter, Clay added to his touchdown total with a 1-yard score at 11:16 that put the Badgers ahead 27-7. Six minutes later, La Secla threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Noel Grigsby to narrow the margin to 27-14. However, it was too little too late for the Spartans, as the Badgers were able to hold onto the ball and run out the clock for the remaining 5:42.