Sunday, September 7, 2014

Passing the test: McEvoy's three TD passes lead UW attack

Tanner McEvoy overcame a slow start to throw for three touchdowns and run for another, and No. 18 Wisconsin pulled away from Western Illinois to win its home opener 37-3 Saturday.

Melvin Gordon ran for just 38 yards on 17 carries with the Fighting Leathernecks (1-1) consistently stacking the box against one of the country's best rushers. McEvoy shook off a couple bad throws early to finish 23 of 28 for 283 yards with one interception.

Leading just 9-3 at halftime, the Badgers (1-1) opened things by throwing on first down and using more play-action.

McEvoy hit fullback Austin Ramesh on fourth-and-2 for a 3-yard touchdown pass with 9:18 left in the third quarter before connecting with Gordon on an 8-yard scoring pass three minutes later for a 20-point lead.

Western Illinois could only muster a 29-yard field goal by Nathan Knuffman in the first half.

The Fighting Leathernecks got off to a rough start themselves after Kyle Hammonds mishandled the opening kickoff near the goal line and trying to kneel in the end zone.

The play was ruled a safety, and Wisconsin had a 2-0 lead with just 1 second off the clock.

It was a grind from there for nearly the rest of the first half.

Wisconsin's offense finally got rolling with a three-play, 54-yard drive that ended with a 7-yard keeper by McEvoy for a 9-0 lead. That touchdown was set up by a 37-yard pass up the seam to Sam Arneson and a 10-yard run by McEvoy.

The quarterback faked a handoff to Gordon each play that series. McEvoy displayed exactly the kind of diverse look coach Gary Andersen sought to spice up the offense when he chose him over last year's starter, Joel Stave, in a preseason competition.

The offense kept the momentum to start the second half with a 10-play, 75-yard drive that ended with McEvoy's short scoring pass to Ramesh.

Making just his second career start for Wisconsin at quarterback, McEvoy got into a rhythm and had 17 straight completions at one point in the second half.

The junior college transfer also had 55 yards on nine carries, and led the team in rushing until midway through the fourth quarter. It's quite the feat given the Badgers' lethal backfield combination of Gordon and Corey Clement.

While Western Illinois concentrated on stopping the run, Wisconsin still has what one of the most experienced offensive lines in the Big Ten.

As for Gordon, Andersen said he practiced all week after being limited by a hip flexor injury in the second half of last week's 28-24 win over LSU.

Western Illinois' hurry-up offense gave Wisconsin's defense trouble briefly in the first half. The Leathernecks' most promising drive ended when a pass tipped by defensive lineman Chikwe Obasih was intercepted by safety Michael Caputo at the Wisconsin 8.

Western Illinois' Trenton Norvell was 13 of 21 for 108 yards with an interception, while J.C. Baker ran for 60 yards on 22 carries.

Clement led Wisconsin rushers with 57 yards on nine carries. Alex Erickson finished with 122 yards and a touchdown on 10 catches.

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