The University of Wisconsin football team took a step forward in the first half against Fresno State Saturday, and two giant leaps back in the second half.
The game, touted as a defining matchup for both schools, turned quickly as the No. 19 Bulldogs suddenly burst to life just after halftime and never looked back in a 32-20 win over the Badgers.
Bernard Berrian took the second-half kickoff 96 yards nearly untouched for a score. Two plays later, Jim Sorgi was intercepted on the Badgers’ 31-yard line, setting up a 16-yard touchdown hookup between FSU quarterback David Carr and wide receiver Rodney White.
Fresno State surprised Wisconsin with a pair of two-point conversions and took a 26-20 lead.
“The kickoff return at the beginning of the second half really swung the momentum,” UW head coach Barry Alvarez said. “We never seemed to recover after that.”
The 16-point avalanche took 1 minute, 34 seconds and sent the Bulldogs on their way to a 22-0 shutout in the second half.
Momentum aside, Fresno State (3-0) seemed to physically dominate Wisconsin’s offense for the last two quarters; the Badgers never had a legitimate scoring chance. Their best opportunity followed a breathtaking Lee Evans catch that might have ignited UW’s stagnant offense if not for the Bulldogs’ blitz.
Flushed out of the pocket on first and 10, Sorgi stepped to his right and nearly crossed the line of scrimmage before firing a laser between two defenders, where Evans reached out and caught the ball in stride for a 35-yard gain.
Wisconsin advanced the ball to Fresno State’s 29-yard line – its deepest penetration of the second half – but halted when Sorgi was smothered by a jailbreak blitz on fourth down.
“The first half offensively we were able to keep them off balance; we were able to run the ball and throw,” Alvarez said. “Then in the second half we got behind, and we got predictable. In passing situations they had a chance to really tee off and blitz, and that’s what we didn’t want to get into.”
The failed drive typified Wisconsin’s second half. Evans made several similar plays, catching three passes for 77 yards after halftime, but the rest of the Badgers’ offense combined for just 67 yards in the same span. Sorgi was an ineffective 5-for-17 with two interceptions in UW territory.
The first half was remarkably different. Wisconsin (1-2) displayed exceptional offensive balance, enjoying equal success on the ground and through the air, and looked sharp both in the spread offense as well as its traditional tight-end sets. As a result, the Badgers took a 20-10 lead into the locker room.
It could have been more. With 7:49 left in the first half, Anthony Davis broke through the line for a 68-yard touchdown. Holding was called downfield, which would have left the Badgers with a 35-yard gain, but an offsides penalty against FSU resulted in offsetting fouls, and the down was replayed from the original spot.
“A couple times in the first half, we had the opportunity to put them away, and we didn’t,” Evans said. “We just kept killing ourselves and killing ourselves.”
The freshman Davis totaled 137 yards on the afternoon and now has 414 yards rushing in three collegiate games. Evans had seven receptions for a career-high 182 yards and a touchdown.
“We had a really good first half,” Alvarez said. “Our guys blocked well and ran well, kept them off balance. I don’t think we did anything well in the second half.”