Tom Oates: For Badgers, a little pizzazz goes a long way

2011-10-15T20:30:00Z 2012-05-23T17:57:35Z Tom Oates: For Badgers, a little pizzazz goes a long wayTOM OATES | toates@madison.com | 608-252-6172 madison.com

College football these days is about style points. It's about getting on television, making a splash and building a resume in hopes of landing a Bowl Championship Series bid.

The University of Wisconsin has done those things with great success this season, capitalizing on impressive performances in two nationally televised night games and the unique talents and storyline of transfer quarterback Russell Wilson to climb to fourth in the national polls.

But Badgers coach Bret Bielema faced a ticklish situation Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium as he tried to keep his team's undefeated season and national momentum rolling merrily along.

It became obvious early in UW's 59-7 victory over Indiana that the Badgers would be able to name the score against the rebuilding Hoosiers for the second consecutive year. However, Bielema caught considerable flak nationally after UW hung 83 points on Indiana last year even though the final two touchdowns were unintended consequences of eager reserves trying to make a play in a rare moment to shine.

So how could the Badgers move to 6-0 on the season and do so with enough pizzazz that it would generate more national attention for them and yet not embarrass the overmatched Hoosiers?

Bielema and UW might have stumbled upon it unwittingly, but they found a perfect way to do that Saturday. The Badgers had Wilson, who had already generated multiple highlights with his arm and his feet this season, make a big play with his hands. Indeed, when halfback Montee Ball swept to the right before flipping a 25-yard touchdown pass back across the field to a wide-open Wilson, it was a made-for-TV moment virtually guaranteed to find a prominent spot on the weekend highlight shows.

"That's up to them," UW guard Travis Frederick said when asked if he expected to see Wilson's touchdown on ESPN's SportsCenter. "I wish I could pick those plays. I'd definitely put it in there."

Actually, showcasing Wilson's amazing versatility is a no-brainer. In his short time at UW, he has become a college football sensation and has helped bring rare attention and respect to the program.

In addition to sustaining interest in the Badgers, there were other possible reasons Bielema used the trick play in a game where he probably didn't need it.

Perhaps he was just trying to score a touchdown, though the way Ball and James White were running through the Hoosiers scoring didn't seem to be an issue.

Perhaps he was trying to send a message, either to opponents or his own team, about UW's new go-for-the-jugular mentality.

Perhaps he was trying to add some fuel to Wilson's growing Heisman Trophy campaign.

Perhaps, and this was Bielema's explanation, he wanted to get the play on film so opponents will have even more to think about when they face UW's explosive offense.

Whatever the reason, Bielema flatly rejected the notion that he would have been better served to save the surprise play for a more critical situation.

"I like the attitude and the edge of these guys," he said. "It's a mentality that they just go out and do it. And if you show that (play), then it makes people respect that the entire game."

Fair enough, but the consequences of Wilson's play were significant. Despite playing an off-the-radar game against a down-and-out team, UW will generate considerable buzz from Wilson's touchdown, not unlike that one-handed catch Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck made recently.

Bielema, who hasn't been shy about seeking national exposure for his team, can surely appreciate that, especially because it's positive exposure.

He claimed he didn't give last year's 83-point outburst a thought Saturday and praised the week-to-week improvement of the Hoosiers under first-year coach Kevin Wilson. But he also pulled two offensive line starters at halftime and flooded the game with reserves after UW went ahead 52-7 late in the third quarter.

UW's second-string defense scored on a turnover to push UW's total to 59, but there will be no ill will emanating from this game -- only positive vibes after another strong performance by a team that is averaging 50 points per game behind a quarterback who seemingly can do everything.

"Montee was probably more nervous than I was," a beaming Wilson said. "I've been waiting for that moment. I've been waiting for that moment for a long time."

So what's Wilson's next trick?

"Maybe kick an extra point?" tight end Jacob Pedersen said. "I'm not too sure yet. I know it's hard to stop (a team) when you've got different plays like that and they've got to watch every corner of the field on every play. That was a nice play."

In more ways than one.

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