MADISON - Bret Bielema wanted to give his team its own identity for 2007, and he got just that as No. 7 Wisconsin defeated Washington State 42-21 Saturday in the season opener.
And while the Badgers (1-0) donned a new look with red-on-red uniforms, Bielema wasn’t just talking about appearances.
“I told the team, you guys have to make your own identity, establish who you are,” Bielema said.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Tyler Donovan made his own identity as well, throwing for 284 yards and three touchdowns in his first game as the full-time starter. He didn’t waste any time doing it, either.
On Wisconsin’s first offensive possession, Donovan came out slinging—throwing for 48 yards and a touchdown as the Badgers marched 61 yards down the field. Donovan hit senior wide receiver Luke Swan in the back of the zone to tie up the game early in the first quarter.
Wisconsin found itself down early due to a bad bounce. After Kirk DeCremer blocked Washington State’s punt, Cougars wide receiver Michael Bumpus picked up the ball and ran for the first down.
“I think that gave them the momentum,” UW linebacker Jonathan Casillas said. “Even though we blocked the punt, they recovered it and it propelled them into that drive.”
Then Washington State running back Dwight Tardy ran snuck in the end zone for the score to give the Cougars the early lead.
Wisconsin and Washington State (0-1) traded touchdowns on the game’s first four possessions before the Badgers were able to settle down into a rhythm on defense. After allowing two quick touchdowns, Wisconsin’s defense only gave up one more touchdown as the offense poured on the points.
“Our defense did some positive things in potential negative situations,” Bielema said.
“I always tell our players, it’s not what happens during the course of the game it’s how you react to what happens and I think our offense really had a positive response.”
Tied at 14 in the second quarter, Donovan engineered two drives to put the Badgers up 28-14 at half.
The first saw Donovan hit Swan for two long passes — one for 43 yards and another 30. Wisconsin’s new quarterback ended the drive by finding sophomore tight end Garrett Graham in the end zone for his first career catch and touchdown.
The second took only 15 seconds as Donovan threw a strike to tight Travis Beckum and another touchdown to Swan right before halftime.
Swan finished the game with 8 catches, 170 yards and two touchdowns, and might just be Donovan’s go-to receiver.
“I got a good feel of his speed and how he comes out of routes so we took advantage of some shots,” Donovan said.
“He’s a finesse guy who you just know where he’s going to be at every time. You feel good going to him with the ball because he’s so sure-handed. He’s just smooth.”
Following halftime, Wisconsin was able to cruise to the 42-21 win, allowing Donovan’s back-up—Allen Evridge—to see some playing time toward the end of the game.
“I said all along we had a great quarterback competition,” Bielema said. “I really like the depth we have [at quarterback].”
Donovan wasn’t the only making his full-time debut for the Badgers as safeties Shane Carter and Aubrey Pleasant were also making their full-time debuts.
Carter and Pleasant helped hold down the secondary coverage, holding WSU quarterback to 127 passing yards and no touchdowns—most of which came early in the game.
“They did good,” said cornerback Allen Langford of Carter and Pleasant. “They did exactly what I gave them a tip on: Don’t give up the deep ball … they did good for their first time starting.”
While the first game wasn’t the cleanest, it was a good learning experience for Wisconsin to gauge where its at for the 2007 season.
“I know we made some mistakes and we’re going to come in and correct them, but I think we started off on a good foot,” Pleasant said.