UW football: Early points are a Badger hallmark

Ready, set, score
2010-11-17T18:46:00Z 2010-12-17T14:28:18Z UW football: Early points are a Badger hallmarkTOM MULHERN | tmulhern@madison.com | 608-252-6169 madison.com

The University of Wisconsin football team's offense can't wait to take the field in games.

In an age when most teams defer their decision to the second half after winning the coin flip, the Badgers jump at the chance to take the ball.

And why not? Their offense averages 40.2 points per game.

"I like when you get out there and get going," tight ends coach Joe Rudolph said. "Any time you go to work, you want to get started. You don't want to stand around.

"I imagine defensively, they wouldn't mind getting out there and getting going, too. Whatever works. You're not going to shy me away from wanting that opportunity."

UW is 35-4 in coach Bret Bielema's five seasons when scoring first, including wins in 14 of the past 15 games.

The Badgers have started on offense in eight of 10 games this season, and have scored the first time they touched the ball seven times, counting a 97-yard kickoff return by David Gilreath against Ohio State.

Still, offensive coordinator Paul Chryst never makes a huge deal with his players about starting fast.

"The one thing we never talk about is we have to start fast," Chryst said. "Well, what if you don't? If you make too big a deal of it ... you can't turn the ball over and win. What if you turn the ball over, are we done playing? You try to keep it steady and go."

Even if Chryst doesn't use the precise words, his players know it's a priority.

"If you don't start fast, it's hard to pick it up," tight end Lance Kendricks said. "It's why we always try and take the ball. It just gives us an opportunity to get out there and score right away and get it flowing."

The Badgers have outscored opponents 79-37 in the first quarter, but their best quarter has been the third with a dramatic 118-34 advantage. They have scored the first time they touched the ball in the second half in eight games, including a defensive touchdown on a fumble recovery.

Invariably, when teams have third-quarter success it gets attributed to halftime adjustments, which brings a hearty laugh from Chryst.

"The most overrated thing in all of (football)," Chryst said. "Think about it. The first series or second series, you've got something (that needs fixing), ‘Let's wait until halftime to clean that one up.' "

Halftime is a time to reinforce some things, take a breath and refocus.

"You re-center them, but the adjustments are on the sidelines," Chryst said. "The adjustments are on the headsets."

The high-powered offense has put up a lot of gaudy numbers this season and the opening drives are one segment of that success.

Still, there seems to be a greater level of precision on those drives. The Badgers don't script plays at the start, but they have worked on things so diligently in practice, players have a good feel for what will be called.

"It should be that way, you want to really have that plan," quarterback Scott Tolzien said. "Early on in the game, you never know what the flavor is going to be. (Defenses) might run five coverages, but usually they're going to zero in on a few to run during that game. You don't really know what you're going to get.

"It's good to know those plays so you can really maximize them during the week, (against) all the looks you might see. Hopefully, you have success on those early plays."

Often, it's the offensive line setting the tone, opening gaping holes and giving the opposing defense an idea of what's to come.

"I think we're older and we understand how important it is to come out and start fast and finish on everything," left guard John Moffitt said.

Against Indiana last week, the Badgers marched 65 yards on their first drive for a touchdown. The drive consisted of five straight runs by Montee Ball and a facemask penalty.

"Then they have to start changing their game to account for what you're doing," Moffitt said. "I think coach Chryst does a great job. We might pound the ball 10 plays in a row, then all of a sudden, we're throwing it. I think it's hard for linebackers, especially, to get a grip on it. They have to bite hard on a run and we run play-action and it's right there."

Chryst may not talk specifically to his players about starting fast in both halves, but he stresses preparation and the things that lead to good starts.

"I think it goes back to what you spend your time on through the course of the year," he said. "How do you approach games? How do you respect the game? How do you play? And those things (starting fast) fall into line.

"If you respect the game and approach it the right way, you're ready to go. If you're ready to go and you prepare right, you should be in good shape. Those are all by-products of bigger things."

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