12:00 PM ET, September 11, 2004
Camp Randall Stadium, MADISON, WI
Jim Leonhard returned a blocked field goal 86 yards for a score and Wisconsin (No. 22 ESPN/USAToday; No. 21 AP) used two safeties to hold off the Rebels 18-3 Saturday and avenge last year's shocking loss to UNLV at Camp Randall Stadium.
"I expected our offense to come out and do a little more," Leonhard said. "But we're going to have games like this in the Big Ten. Defense and special teams picked up the slack today. I'm sure the offense will carry us some week down the road."
Last year, the Badgers lost to UNLV 23-5 after managing just three points on nine trips into Rebels' territory and turning the ball over five times. After scoring 20 points off turnovers here last year, the Rebels managed three points off its lone takeaway Saturday.
"The luck we brought with us last year we certainly didn't have today," UNLV coach John Robinson said.
The Badgers (2-0) hadn't recorded two safeties in a game since 1951 at Purdue and they're the first Big Ten team to do it in 23 years, since Minnesota had two at Indiana in 1981. The first came on a high snap out of the end zone on a punt by UNLV and the second on linebacker Mark Zalewski's sack in the end zone.
Without star running back Anthony Davis, who is out indefinitely with an eye injury, the Badgers' offense sputtered and needed 10 possessions to get into the end zone on John Stocco's 5-yard touchdown toss to Darrin Charles with 12 minutes left.
"I missed a few passes I shouldn't have missed. We had a couple of runs stuffed," Stocco said. "Wins are hard to come by. We scored enough points to win, that's all that matters. When our defense is playing well and we hold onto the football, it's going to be tough to beat us."
The Rebels (0-2) had even more trouble moving the ball behind Shane Steichen, who replaced starter Kurt Nantkes (groin) in the first quarter. He completed 12 of 27 passes for 100 yards.
After Ryan Heise snapped the ball out of the end zone to give Wisconsin a 2-0 lead in the first quarter, Booker Stanley was stuffed by linebacker John Andrews on a fourth-and-goal dive from the 1, sandwiched between field goal misses of 23 and 49 yards by Mike Allen.
The Badgers finally got into the end zone when linebacker Reggie Cribbs blocked Sergio Aguayo's 30-yard field goal and Leonhard scooped the ball and sprinted away for the score and a 9-0 halftime lead.
"The blocked field goal was a huge part of the game. It gave them nine points and gave them a comfort zone," Robinson said.
UNLV strong safety Jamaal Brimmer had 10 tackles but wasn't nearly the one-man wrecking crew he was a year ago at Camp Randall. In the Rebels' upset, he returned a fumble for a score, set up two touchdowns with his first two career interceptions and had two sacks among his game-high 11 stops.
"It was a similar game to last year, but we just couldn't produce any touchdowns," Brimmer said. "Stocco did a good job protecting the ball. They didn't make a lot of mistakes. They were smart and just kept plugging away."
Zalewski's sack in the end zone gave Wisconsin an 11-0 lead in the third quarter.
The first scoring drive for either team came on the 19th possession of the game, capped with Aguayo's 34-yard field goal that made it 11-3. It came after Dontez Sanders' one-handed interception on the first play of the drive was negated by Jason Jefferson's roughing of the quarterback.
With 12:19 remaining, Charles, who turned the wrong way and allowed Joe Miklos to intercept a pass in the third quarter, made an 5-yard TD catch on a fade pass. The score snapped a drought of 10 quarters in which the Badgers had failed to score an offensive touchdown against the Rebels, dating to the second quarter of their game in 2002 in Las Vegas.
Leonhard's 31-yard punt return in the closing minutes moved him past Nick Davis as the school's career leader in punt return yards with 1,030, 23 more than Davis, who played from 1998-01. But Leonhard also dropped two potential interceptions that would have made his day even better.
Stanley started for Davis and rushed 22 times for 49 yards for a 2.2-yard average, and freshman Jamil Walker had 88 yards on 16 carries for a 5.5-yard average.
"I think Jamal gives us an answer back there where we have some speed," Badgers coach Barry Alvarez said.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||1-13||6-17|
|4th Down Conversions||0-1||1-3|
|TD||2:20||JIM LEONHARD 86 YD BLOCKED FG RETURN (MIKE ALLEN KICK)||0||9|
|S||7:55||MARK ZALEWSKI SAFETY||0||11|
|FG||4:40||SERGIO AGUAYO 34 YD FG|
Drive info: 7 plays, 48 yards.
|TD||12:19||DARRIN CHARLES 5 YD PASS FROM JOHN STOCCO (MIKE ALLEN KICK)|
Drive info: 16 plays, 91 yards.