MADISON, Wis. – Melvin Gordon looked like he barely broke a sweat.
Leading by four touchdowns already by halftime, No. 21 Wisconsin could afford to give its speedy running back a breather in the second half on a warm, sticky afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium.
The Badgers tossed a shutout on defense and had three backs go over 100 yards for a second straight game – including 140 yards and a 37-yard score for Gordon – in a 48-0 rout Saturday of FCS school Tennessee Tech.
“We’re challenged to get better and I believe we have for the most part,” coach Gary Andersen said. “That’s always a good sign.”
A week after opening Andersen’s tenure in Madison with a 45-0 drubbing of Massachusetts, the Badgers bounced back with an equally impressive victory over thoroughly overmatched Tennessee Tech. Wisconsin has back-to-back shutouts to open a season for the first time since holding Miami and Marquette scoreless in 1958.
Not bad for a team switching to a 3-4 defense, even with the decided advantage in talent over the opposition.
Still, senior safety Dezmen Southward, who recovered a first-quarter fumble that set up a score, knows an FCS team can be a nuisance. Eight FCS schools tripped up major college teams in the season’s opening weekend.
“A lot of people say `Your competition this, your competition that.’ Well, if you look across the nation, there are a ton of teams, big-time teams playing FCS teams and they’re not pitching shutouts. It’s really tough to do especially most of the time, halfway through the game, you’re going to pull your starters,” Southward said.
“You need to come in and not lose your intensity. And we were able to do that today.”
James White added 109 yards rushing on 22 carries, while freshman Corey Clement had 149 on 13 carries in the second half.
Joel Stave was 24 of 29 for 219 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Defensive back Darius Hillary set the tone early by forcing the fumble recovered by Southward on the first play from scrimmage for the Badgers (2-0).
The turnover was a harbinger of things to come for Tennessee Tech (1-1). Six plays later, Stave connected with fullback Derek Straus for a 3-yard touchdown pass only four-plus minutes into the contest.
The rout was on.
Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown could have used a few players from younger brother Mack Brown’s team at Texas.
“They had offensive and defensive dominance up front,” Watson Brown said. “The line of scrimmage was dominating all day long. The turnover didn’t help. There were like eight more scores after that.”
It only felt like eight; it was actually just six more TDs.
The brightest spot for Tennessee Tech may have been punter Chad Zinchini, who had a career-best 70-yard boot in the third quarter. That surpassed a 64-yard punt earlier in the day for Zinchini, a senior who last year set the school record by averaging nearly 45 yards a punt.
Didn’t matter to the Badgers, who moved the ball at will. Gordon accumulated all his stats in the first half on nine carries. He had more yards rushing by himself than Tennessee Tech had in total offense (83) at halftime.
Stave had a stretch 13 straight completions. He was 10 of 10 during a late drive in the first half during which the Badgers decided to brush up on their two-minute offense, ending with a 6-yard scoring pass to Brian Wozniak for a 28-0 lead at the half.
Stave bounced back after misfiring to a double-covered receiver Jared Abbrederis and getting intercepted by Austin Tallant earlier in the second quarter. The late touchdown drive was the kind of learning experience that Andersen sought for his sophomore quarterback.
“That was something we practice and it was really good to see it get clicking in the game like that,” Stave said. “So we did a great job protecting and getting the ball out quickly.”
White got in on the fun with a 2-yard touchdown run in the third. Kyle French’s extra-point attempt bounced off the right upright – one of the few flubs on the day for Wisconsin – to keep the score at 34-0.
Clement added a 75-yard run down the left sideline to give Wisconsin a seven-touchdown lead late.
Only one Tennessee Tech drive ended past the 50. Dual-threat quarterback Darian Stone rarely had time, going 8 of 19 passing for 69 yards, and carrying seven times for 16 yards.
Stone had Badgers in his face all day.
“It seemed like it was from everywhere,” he said of the pressure. “They are just big dudes and they’re hard to block. We weren’t used to it.”
Dangerous sophomore Ladarius Vanlier, who had a 93-yard punt return for a TD last week against NAIA school Cumberland, was never a factor Saturday on special teams.
The student section began clearing out early in the fourth quarter on the humid afternoon, content with another Badger blowout. Wisconsin held huge edges in total offense (606-113) and first downs (29-6).
Wisconsin got the reps and confidence boost it needed headed into much tougher game next weekend at Arizona State.