In a game that figured to be a defensive battle in Madison, two young quarterbacks had career days for teams that put up a combined total of 65 points.
Fresno State quarterback Ryan Colburn had an excellent first half in his second career start, throwing for three out of his four touchdown passes on the day in the game's first two quarters.
The Bulldogs also had no trouble converting long third downs in the first half thanks to precision throws from Colburn and good hands from receivers Devon Wylie and Seyi Ajirotutu, and the team was 11-18 in converting third downs on the day.
Trailing 21-7 with seven minutes remaining in the first half, the Badgers put together a drive that swung the momentum back in the home team's favor. David Gilreath put the cap on a drive that took only two minutes and 24 seconds off the clock on an eight-yard end-around touchdown run.
Fresno State, unable to get to halftime without relinquishing the ball, allowed Wisconsin kicker Philip Welch to boot a 57-yard field goal as time expired in the first half, cutting the lead to 21-17 going into the locker room.
When the teams returned for the third quarter, the Badger defense tightened the screws on the inexperienced Colburn.
Two Bulldog drives ended on interceptions by Wisconsin in the third. In the fourth quarter, Fresno State moved into position for a 45-yard field goal that kicker Ryan Goessling missed wide right.
Following the miss, Badger running back John Clay broke free for a 72-yard touchdown run that gave Wisconsin its first lead of the game and the Grateful Red crowd a reason to jump around.
Goessling redeemed himself late in regulation, kicking a 40-yard field goal to force overtime. Both teams scored touchdowns in the first extra period, and Fresno had possession first in the second overtime.
This is when Colburn threw his third and most fatal interception in the end zone to Badger safety Chris Maragos. Welch finished the game with a 22-yard clincher, sending the Badger faithful home happy.
Again, a Badger win is overshadowed by the shakiness of the victory. The Wisconsin defense cannot afford a sluggish start against teams like Ohio State or even Michigan because those defensive squads will not allow the Badgers back into games like Fresno State did.
One name I failed to mention above was Badger quarterback Scott Tolzien, who had a great game throwing the football. He played smart, he played within himself and he played within the Wisconsin system, finishing with 225 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
The Badgers haven't been known for their passing attack for a long time (despite the inexplicable fact that former Badger great Brooks Bollinger still has a job in the NFL), but Tolzien is a passer capable of keeping defenses honest, given his top receiving targets (Nick Toon, Isaac Anderson and Garrett Graham) stay healthy.
Wisconsin faces FCS opponent Wofford next weekend in Madison.
Off the Schneid
Washington Husky head coach Steve Sarkisian earned his first collegiate win against the Idaho Vandals Saturday afternoon in a 23-42 game that was closer than the score indicates.
In fact, the Vandals outgained the revived Husky offense, 412 yards to Washington's 374. The disparity was especially clear in the passing offenses, with Idaho rolling up 349 passing yards in the game.
The difference in the game and the reason for the Huskies first victory in 16 chances was efficiency and discipline.
In four first half drives, the Vandals moved inside Washington's 30-yard line. Three of those drives ended in field goals, and another resulted in a lost fumble. Washington, on the other hand, scored touchdowns on six of its drives.
Third down conversions and penalties also hurt Idaho's cause. On third down, the Vandals were 4-12 compared to Washington's 11-14. Idaho committed eight penalties for 72 yards while Washington had only four for 45 yards.
Altogether, the Huskies' offensive performance was impressive with quarterback Jake Locker accounting for four touchdowns, three of which came through the air. Running backs Chris Polk and Johri Fogerson each had touchdown runs of their own.
Washington still has trouble stopping the pass, however, as evidenced by Idaho's ability to move the ball through the air. With a big game against Southern California next weekend, the Huskies have a lot of work to do if they expect to hang with the Trojans, who will be coming off of an emotional victory at Ohio State.