Despite all of the attention focused on transfer quarterback Russell Wilson, the running game is still the engine that drives the University of Wisconsin football team's offense.

The Badgers reminded a national television audience of that in another dominating offensive performance in their opener on Thursday night, thrashing UNLV 51-17 in front of a crowd of 77,085 at Camp Randall Stadium.

Many fans undoubtedly left talking about the impressive debut by Wilson, who completed 10 of 13 passes for 255 yards and two touchcowns. He also ran twice for 62 yards and another touchdown.

Yet, it was set up by a strong effort from the running back tandem of junior Montee Ball and sophomore James White. Along with a top performance by the offensive line, it made for an easy night for Wilson, who was hardly touched by a UNLV defender.

"We feed off of that," UW coach Bret Bielema said of the running game. "(Wilson) really saw how that can open up things in the run and play-action game."

The Badgers viewed the nationally televised game, the unofficial start to the college football season, as a chance to make a statement to the rest of the nation.

That statement is, this offense could have a chance to be even better than the one that set the school record a year ago, averaging 41.5 points per game.

The only ones who weren't all that surprised by the output were UW's defensive players, who had to face the offense during preseason camp.

"We've been going against our offense for so long, we kind of expected that," senior free safety Aaron Henry said. "Not everybody else sees what we go up against in practice every day."

Picking up where they left off from the regular season a year ago, the Badgers treated UNLV's defense like a speed bump, scoring touchdowns on their first five offensive possessions.

If anything, the offense was even more efficient and explosive. The Badgers broke the 50-point barrier despite holding the ball for only 25 minutes, 40 seconds. They had eight plays of 22 yards or more when Wilson took a seat near the end of the third quarter.

"It's clear we have a lot of offensive weapons," said senior wide receiver Nick Toon, who caught two passes for 54 yards. "We're very explosive. We weren't perfect today, but, hopefully, we continue to have success and win games."

Ball and White did most of their damage in the first half. They each had nine carries in the half, with Ball gaining 63 yards (6.9 average) and White gaining 60 (6.7).

"They're good with the football in space," UNLV coach Bobby Hauck said. "They run hard and they've got a make-you-miss ability and then can get the tough yards when they have to. They're impressive."

One new wrinkle from last year is using the backs more as receivers. Ball had two catches for 67 yards, including a 63-yarder that set up a touchdown. White set up the field goal at the end of the first half with a 40-yard reception.

"You've got two running backs who are similar, yet different," Bielema said. "Both of them are very good at certain plays, you can kind of see that in the way we set things up.

"I think you have some ability to throw the ball around with a group of both wide receivers and tight ends and that's not always the case. A lot of people are wide receiver oriented or maybe tight end or running back oriented."

Then there's Wilson, who brings an added dimension unlike few Badgers quarterbacks before him. He showed that with an electrifying 46-yard touchdown run on a scramble in the second quarter.

On second-and-10 he dropped back to pass, then took off. Showing impressive speed, he started to his left, then darted up the middle.

Tight end Jacob Pedersen flattened one UNLV defender and Toon took care of the last one with a block at the goal line to complete the touchdown run. That gave UW a 34-3 second-quarter lead and seemed to deflate the Rebels, who also gave up a field goal at the end of the half.

"We had a good handle on who (Wilson) is," Hauck said. "He's a real good with the football. He can get out and go with it."

It's that added dimension with Wilson that will cause even more nightmares for defensive coordinators who hope to stop UW's offense.

"I know this as a (former) defensive coordinator," Bielema said. "A quarterback who is gifted enough to be the dropback passer, yet when the answers aren't there down the field, he can take off and hurt you in the running game -- which is exactly what happened -- it's a great balance for us. It's very difficult to defend."

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