The University of Wisconsin’s quarterbacking saga underwent a wicked twist Saturday afternoon at Penn State.
Somewhere in the desolate isolation of central Pennsylvania, under the shadow of mysterious Mount Nittany, Brooks Bollinger won a football game. More specifically, the Badgers won the game — their 19th in 22 tries with Bollinger as the starter.
“Brooks is a winner,” Lee Evans said. “Hands down, he’s a winner.”
Bollinger came up big, directing Wisconsin to its most prolific offensive game of the season. But Evans, UW’s junior wide receiver, had been the Badgers’ big-time performer in the first three games of the season. He entered the weekend as the nation’s leading receiver and was averaging 161.7 yards per game. He had one reception on Saturday that went for no gain.
“Well,” Evans said. “We won the game and that’s the most important part.”
Win at all costs. Even if the cost is prettiness. Sounds all right, especially if the result is effective, like it was Saturday.
The Badgers were effective, particularly on third down — a situation in which they had struggled during their 1-2 start. Of the 18 third downs Wisconsin faced, 15 were third-and-long. So, it is significant that UW converted 10 of those opportunities.
However, Bollinger seemed uncomfortable in the pocket, and Wisconsin’s offense struggled when it drew near the goal line. The junior quarterback’s scrambles were effective at midfield — on one instance, Bollinger sprinted 33 yards down the left sideline, setting up his own touchdown run — but five times he stalled drives inside PSU’s 30-yard line, three of which ended without scores.
Not that Sorgi looked sharp. The sophomore completed just two passes and did no more to tap Evans’ athleticism than Bollinger.
“It’s not like we’re two different teams,” Evans said. “They’re doing the same thing and making the same reads. On a scramble, Brooks is more apt to run and Sorgi’s more apt to pass, and that’s the big difference, but it really doesn’t matter to me.”
Evans got a chance to show off his arm with a razzle-dazzle throwback, which went to Bollinger for 26 yards.
And that’s the sort of contest it was: A game so ugly it featured an odd number on the scoreboard just once (at 9-0; UW missed two field goals, an extra point and a two-point conversion before the day was out).
Anthony Davis’ 200 yards carried the load on the ground, so Bollinger was never really asked to pass. We cannot be sure how well he might have thrown the ball if the circumstances had called for it, and that’s the way Barry Alvarez likes it.