Bulldogs scare Badgers
Citadel plays Wisconsin to first-half tie
MADISON, Wis. — As Tory Cooper cradled the ball in the end zone less than a minute before halftime, a stunned silence gripped Camp Randall Stadium.
Then you could hear it, softly at first, then louder.
Wisconsin fans, more than 80,000 of them, were booing their beloved Badgers. At that moment, the nation's seventh-ranked team was tied with The Citadel, a Division I-AA squad that was supposed to take its paycheck of $425,000 and give Wisconsin a Big Ten tune-up.
"It sounded great," said Citadel quarterback Duran Lawson, who had whistled that scoring pass to a wide-open Cooper just 59 seconds before the half. "We talked about making 80,000 people sound like eight, and we did it."
The 3-0 Badgers, behind five touchdowns from sophomore running back P.J. Hill, rallied from that halftime tie for a 45-31 victory before 80,327 fans, extending the nation's longest Division I-A (FBS) winning streak to 12 games.
But before Wisconsin could put it away, the 2-1 Bulldogs had Big Ten officials nervously contemplating the ramifications of another upset loss to an underdog Southern Conference team. On the heels of Appalachian State's momentous victory over a fifth-ranked Michigan on opening weekend, a 21-21 halftime score had Badgers coach Bret Beilema seeing red where he had only wanted a "sea of red."
"We knew coming out of the locker room we had to correct things, or we might become what Michigan was against Appalachian State," said Badgers cornerback Allen Langford. "That was in the back of our heads."
The Badgers, who open Big Ten play against Iowa next week, will have a lot to correct over the next few practices. After the game, many of them headed straight to their locker room instead of shaking hands with Citadel players.
"Look back at their schedule, and you'll see not a lot of teams have scored 30 points and had a bunch of yards on those guys," Citadel coach Kevin Higgins said. "They were one of the top defenses in the country. They were probably concerned about what their coach would have to say."
Lawson and mates gave Wisconsin plenty to be concerned about. Exploiting the middle of the Badgers' secondary, Lawson threw three TD passes in the first half, and finished 23 of 35 for 254 yards and four scores to four different receivers. Cooper, the SoCon's all-purpose yardage leader last year, had 152 yards running and receiving.
Hill, who finished with 168 rushing yards, scored three times in the first half on runs of 22, 2 and 1 yards. But the Bulldogs answered each time, Lawson passing 10 yards to Tim Higgins, 6 yards to tight end Aaron Kelly and 19 yards to Cooper to keep the Bulldogs even at the half.
"That was the position we hoped to be in at halftime," Higgins said. "The game close, with an opportunity in the second half."
But after Bielema peeled the red paint in the locker room, the Badgers took control in the third quarter. Hill capped an opening 81-yard drive with a 1-yard score for 28-21, and Wisconsin's defense finally came to life.
Strong safety Aubrey Pleasant sacked Lawson on a blitz on first down, and Lawson lofted a hanging deep ball that free safety Shane Carter raced over to pick off, Lawson's first interception of the season setting the Badgers up at the Bulldogs' 36.
The Citadel held and forced a 22-yard field goal to trail 31-21, but momentum had turned and Wisconsin QB Tyler Donovan threw TD passes of 11 yards to Hill and 25 yards to Travis Beckum to open up a 45-21 lead with 12:27 left in the game.
"Basically, we told the defense that their play was unacceptable," Bielema said after his team allowed its most points at home since a 56-42 win over Bowling Green in the 2005 season opener. "They have big ears, and were able to pay attention to their coaches in a short amount of time."
The Bulldogs scored 10 points in the final 5:03, on a 38-yard Mike Adams field goal and Lawson's 1-yard pass to Taylor Cornett with 11 seconds left. That left The Citadel locker room a mix of disappointment and quiet pride.
"It is there for us," Higgins told the Bulldogs after the game. "We were 21-21 with the No. 7 team in the nation. Eighty thousand people, and you stuck it right to them. You can do that, over and over again, if we get our minds and our hearts right."