In Michael Deiter’s mind, the University of Wisconsin’s offense ultimately did just what the Badgers wanted against New Mexico on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
UW ran the ball over and over - so many times that he could feel the Lobos wearing down as the second half progressed. The senior left guard could sense his team’s third-quarter explosion before it happened.
“You feel it over the course of the game on offense,” Deiter said. “You keep chugging away at runs, chugging away at runs. Defenses just don’t want to do that for four quarters, and you really, actually feel it. They don’t hit as hard as they used to. They don’t seem as bought in the more you keep hitting them with runs and hitting them with runs.
“When you feel them not giving the same effort as they were in the first quarter and the second quarter, it’s what you take pride in.”
The end result was 417 rushing yards, the most for UW under coach Paul Chryst, and a 45-14 victory. The way the Badgers arrived there, however, wasn’t the cleanest path to a 31-point win.
Jonathan Taylor’s fumble inside the 10-yard line on UW’s third possession and Alex Hornibrook’s interception on the third quarter’s opening drive put New Mexico in position to take a second-half lead in a game the Badgers entered as 36-point favorites.
Last week’s 34-3 outlasting of Western Kentucky began in similar fashion before UW began pulling away late in the first half.
“I think we were already playing good in the first half (against New Mexico),” left tackle Cole Van Lanen said. “There were just certain things that happened ... and I think we got it rolling in the second half. We didn’t do anything different. We just played football, and we played really well.
“That’s just football. Everything’s not going to go your way, and that’s what’s fun about the sport. And then things started going our way. We were playing Wisconsin football and we did what we do.”
It won’t be quite as easy to wear down opponents in the Big Ten, and clawing out of slow starts may not feel so routine later in the year. Perhaps UW has good reason not to worry, though.
This isn’t the first time the Badgers started a season with these type of performances. In last year’s opener, they fell behind 10-0 against Utah State before ripping off 59 straight points. The following week, UW turned the ball over twice in an ugly, 31-14 victory over Florida Atlantic.
The Badgers tempted fate with a near-disaster against Georgia State in 2016 as well. In both the previous two seasons, however, UW went on to remain College Football Playoff contenders throughout the year and finish in the top 10.
With difficult road games against Iowa and Michigan coming in the next five weeks, the Badgers won’t have long before needing to tighten up their play on offense.
“It doesn’t make you worry,” Deiter said. “Worry? No. Do we want to be better? Yes. ... We need to be better, we need to start faster, but there’s not a panic or a worry to slow starts. It’s just something that happens.”