FRESNO, Calif. -- Almost every time Fresno State made a big play, No. 10 Wisconsin had an even better answer which proved to be just enough to spoil the biggest game in Bulldog Stadium history.
P.J. Hill ran for 112 yards and the Badgers defense came up with key stops in the second half of a 13-10 victory over No. 21 Fresno State on Saturday night.
"I think it's resiliency," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "It's not what happens in the game, it's how you react to what happens. If you understand that things will happen and you roll with the punches and figure out the right way to react, you can have success."
That proved to be the key in the second half of the first game in Fresno between two ranked teams. By winning in front of an amped-up sellout crowd, Wisconsin (3-0) heads into the Big Ten season undefeated and with the best hopes of any conference team of making it into the BCS title game following No. 5 Ohio State's 35-3 loss to No. 1 Southern California earlier in the night.
Wisconsin (3-0) scored its only points of the second half on a 23-yard field goal by Philip Welch after a fumbled punt by A.J. Jefferson. That proved to be just enough to win because freshman Kevin Goessling missed three field goals, including a 35-yarder in the fourth quarter and a 51-yarder after a blocked punt in the third.
Fresno State (1-1) appeared to have another good chance after Robert Malone's punt was downed inside the 1 with 1:55 to go. But backup quarterback Dustin Scherer ran for 2 yards on first down and fullback Bill Rentmeester followed with an 8-yard run, carrying Fresno State defenders on his way to a first down that let Wisconsin just run out the clock.
"That was awesome," defensive tackle Matt Shaughnessy said. "There was just like a sphere around him and he was moving in the middle of it."
The loss brought an early end to Fresno State's hopes of following the path set by WAC rivals Boise State and Hawaii the past two years of going to a BCS bowl.
Wisconsin quarterback Allan Evridge left the game midway through the fourth quarter with cramps in his left leg. But he had done enough to help the Badgers win by that point, throwing a 2-yard TD pass to Garrett Graham in the first quarter. Evridge finished 13-for-27 for 163 yards.
Tom Brandstater was 15-for-27 for 225 yards, a touchdown and an interception but was stopped by the Wisconsin defense when the Bulldogs needed him most.
After throwing a 47-yard TD pass to Devon Wylie early in the third quarter to cut Wisconsin's lead to 10-7, Brandstater was unable to get the Bulldogs back into the end zone.
They couldn't convert after Desia Dunn's blocked punt. Then after Jonathan Casillas dragged Ryan Mathews down from behind after a 61-yard screen pass to the 9, O'Brien Schofield sacked Brandstater to help force a field goal that cut it to 13-10.
Lonyae Miler's 57-yard run to the 25 put Fresno State in position to score again, but Wisconsin didn't allow the Bulldogs another first down and Goessling's missed field goal kept the Badgers on top.
"When it's all said and done, he'll be the best kicker we've ever had," Bulldogs coach Pat Hill said. "He's going to be a great player for us. This game does not fall on him or any player. It was a team loss. There were so many missed opportunities on offense, defense and special teams."
Fresno State's final drive stalled when Brandstater was sacked by Levy on third-and-10 from the Wisconsin 47 with about 2:30 to go.
"The momentum thing was big for us," Levy said. "Whatever they did, we had to come back. We came out flat sometimes early this year. It was a big test for us. We showed growth being able to respond in a hostile environment like this."
Wisconsin didn't generate much offensively in the second half but got what it needed when a short punt bounced off Jefferson as he was waving his teammates away. That gave the Badgers the ball at the Fresno State 23, leading to Welch's short field goal.
Wisconsin appeared to be in position to get another score when Levy recovered a fumble by Wylie at the Fresno State 26. But the call was overturned on a replay review.
An early goal-line stand by Fresno State fired up the crowd even more as Ben Jacobs and Jefferson teamed to stuff Hill at the 1 on fourth down.
The celebration was short-lived, however, as Shaughnessy batted a pass by Brandstater high enough in the air for Levy to intercept it at the Fresno State 26. Three plays later, Evridge connected with Graham to make it 7-0.
Fresno State struggled to generate any offense in the first half. Mathews, who ran for 163 yards and three TDs in the opener against Rutgers, had just 23 yards rushing in the first half and 54 for the game.
"We can't blame anybody but ourselves," Mathews said. "We need to execute a little bit better."