Sept. 1, 2011
BY PATRICK HERB
UW Athletic Communications
MADISON, Wis. -- As the radio sideline reporter for the Badger Sports Network, Patrick Herb spends game day pacing the Wisconsin sideline. His up-close-and-personal vantage point allows him a unique perspective and an insider view. Here some of his thoughts from the Badgers' 51-17 win over UNLV.
Wilson era starts in familiar fashion
The "RU-SELL WIL-SON, clap, clap, clap clap clap" cheer blanketed Camp Randall Stadium on two different occasions before the Badgers even took their first snap of the season. It's fair to say fans were excited and anxious for the debut of QB Russell Wilson.
UW's offensive coordinator Paul Chryst wasn't quite as anxious.
In typical Badger fashion, Chryst delayed breaking out his new weapon by calling three straight running plays for Montee Ball. The junior running back picked up 33 yards on those three carries, establishing UW's line of scrimmage dominance early. It looked as though UW would pound the ball on the ground all the way down the field. UNLV, for one, was convinced.
That was when Chryst dialed up a play action pass, freeing Wilson on a bootleg to the right. UNLV -- which had crept both safeties into the box to stop the run -- was caught with single coverage on the outside and Wilson completed an effortless 23-yard pass to WR Jared Abbrederis, moving UW into the red zone.
From that moment on, the Rebels were overmatched. UW would score its first TD three plays later, and the rout was on.
Montee Ball lighter, but still a fighter
Much was made of RB Montee Ball shedding roughly 25 pounds in the offseason, slimming down to playing weight of about 210. Throughout fall camp, the junior has shown a quicker burst and sharper cuts with his new frame. However, Ball has earned a reputation for power running and some feared (or at least wondered) that his power might be compromised with the weight loss.
On the game's first play, Ball picked his way through small cracks in the UNLV defense, slashing for 11 yards. Then, early in the second quarter, Ball took a short pass and raced 63 yards for his longest career reception.
However, the play that made me stand up and take notice was his 22-yard TD run on UW's second drive. Ball took a handoff over right guard and slammed through a few would-be tacklers near the line of scrimmage, then high-stepped through another UNLV tackle attempt on his way to paydirt.
The Wisconsin offensive line had a dominating game, causing UNLV coach Bobby Hauck to say UW manhandled his front seven. However, the Badgers' front five weren't the only guys blocking Thursday night. TE Jacob Pedersen and WRs Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis all made big blocks downfield, helping turn modest runs into big gains.
No more was this evident than on Wilson's 46-yard touchdown scamper. After dropping back to pass, Wilson broke contain and ran around a pancake block from Pedersen on the edge, then followed Toon's block into the end zone.
Those downfield efforts didn't go unnoticed by the Badgers' new signal-caller. Wilson made sure to find Pedersen and Toon on the sidelines after the play, thanking them both for their escorts... er, efforts.
ESPN falling from the sky
If there was anything that had a bigger presence at Camp Randall Stadium than Russell Wilson Thursday night, it had to be ESPN. The "Worldwide Leader" had a full broadcast team covering the game for ESPN, another full crew carrying the game in ESPN 3D and a third unit working on a UW documentary that will be called Depth Chart (scheduled to air on ESPN in October).
ESPN was seemingly everywhere you turned and it felt like the network was trying to hit you over the head. Perhaps I felt this way because I was standing about 10 feet from a TV that fell off a 10-foot high camera cart and smashed just behind the Badgers bench.
It's not a cheap deal to cover a game of this magnitude... and the Wisconsin-UNLV broadcast just got a little more expensive.