Nick Davis entered the football game against Ohio State as an enigma: a player integral in the Badger offense but without any substantial production to speak for it.
His actions spoke loud enough Saturday, answering the riddle that has been surrounding his senior season.
“We really needed Nick Davis to step up and play well,” UW receiver David Braun said. “He’d kind of been struggling the past few games and boy, he brought his A-game today. I don’t think we win that game if Nick Davis doesn’t play that well.”
How well did he play? All of Davis’ team-high six receptions went either for first downs or touchdowns as Wisconsin edged Ohio State 20-17.
Just after halftime, Davis caught a 42-yard touchdown that brought UW to within three after it had given up an early 17-0 lead to the Buckeyes.
With the Badgers facing a third-and-12 after a false start penalty set them back, OSU blitzed a safety from the right side and UW quarterback Brooks Bollinger immediately picked up the pressure, blinking a bullet to Davis who was slanting hard inside.
The 5-foot-10 senior ducked the defending cornerback and outraced the other safety to the end zone for an important score.
“You want to be able to make the play when it comes,” Davis said. “On third down I have a pretty good idea of where the ball is going to be thrown to and I just have to make that play and help the offense.”
The touchdown sparked an offense that had been held to just 112 yard in the first half, with its only score coming after the Buckeyes had misplayed a punt attempt deep in its own territory. UW finished the game with 329 yards of total offense.
For Davis, it was easily the game of the season. With just 10 catches for 139 yards prior to the afternoon, the once-promising receiver was thought to be a fading talent. In his last year, Davis said he felt time might be running out on his career.
“It’s now or never,” Davis said. “That’s the mentality you have to take from game in and game out from now on.”
Apparently, he made the realization the day after UW lost to Indiana 63-32. Davis claimed he made a decision to step up and play well against the Buckeyes, adding that he hoped the performance became a springboard for himself and his Badger teammates.
Davis’ rededication was visible to the Wisconsin coaching staff, who echoed each other in describing his focus during the week.
“I could tell he was into this game during practice,” offensive coordinator Brian White said. “He was on a mission. And he was just really relaxed; he said, ‘Hey, I’m going to go out and make plays.'”
Head coach Barry Alvarez said White had told him to get Davis the ball “as many times as you can.”
The plan worked. Davis’ increased concentration helped UW find a reliable target with which to move the football, and the Badgers improved on their usually dismal third-down conversion record.
The added weapon also took some of the pressure off junior flanker Lee Evans and freshman tailback Anthony Davis, each of whom had been shouldering much of Wisconsin’s offensive load. The result, according to Bollinger, was an offense that ran much more like it is supposed to.
“I think this is an offense that revolves around no one person and no one position,” Bollinger said. “I’m going to throw to the guy who’s open and that guy was Nick Davis today.”