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Badgers rely on defensive scores as offense sputters

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The Wisconsin Badgers didn't let a stagnant
offense cost them a victory over UNLV two years in a row.

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.