MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst delivered some motivational words to his team at halftime of their season opener.
It was probably wasn’t the cleanest of speeches given the way his ninth-ranked Badgers played most of the first half against Utah State.
Whatever Chryst said worked. Wisconsin found its footing in the second half, pulling away in dominating fashion for a 59-10 win on Friday night.
The Badgers trailed 10-0 late into the second quarter before taking off after halftime.
“We came out slow and coach Chryst definitely fired us up at halftime … He just gave some inspirational words at the half. I won’t go into great detail about it,” tight end Zander Neuville said with a smile.
Neuville caught one of the career-high three touchdown passes from Alex Hornibrook, freshman Jonathan Taylor ran for 87 yards and a touchdown on nine carries in providing a second-half spark and the defense forced four turnovers.
Star tight end Troy Fumagalli caught the go-ahead touchdown early in the third quarter, while Neuville and Quintez Cephus made highlight-reel scoring grabs.
The memories of a miserable start were quickly erased by the second-half barrage. Wisconsin outgained Utah State 251-43 in the Badgers’ 28-point third quarter alone, rushing for 130 yards.
“You don’t set the edge on defense, you’re in trouble,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said.
Aggies quarterback Kent Myers was 25 of 41 for 219 yards with three picks.
At least Utah State had a first quarter to remember.
Utah State had the Badgers’ aggressive defense on its heels with screens and a reverse. A school picked to finish last in its division it the Mountain West Conference was setting the tone against a Big Ten power at night on the road.
Hornibrook fumbled a snap deep in his own territory, a turnover that Utah State recovered at the Wisconsin 29 and returned 13 yards. LaJuan Hunt ran for a 12-yard touchdown two plays later to give the Aggies a 10-0 lead with 3:47 left in the quarter.
The fans at Camp Randall Stadium were stunned. Slowly, but surely the Badgers finally found their footing.
“There (are) a lot of lessons in that game for us,” Chryst said. “Certainly a number of areas that we’ve got to clean up to be the best team we can be.”
Bradrick Shaw’s 3-yard touchdown run with 1:12 left ended started the stretch of 59 unanswered points. Wisconsin scored 24 off turnovers.
“We came out hard and flying around fast,” Hunt said. “But we couldn’t handle adversity well.”
Utah State: The game turned into a blowout, but at least the Aggies will remember their start at a hostile road environment. That’s especially impressive given that all five of their starting offensive linemen were playing their first career games at Utah State.
“That’s a top 10 team in the country and we’re going to grow up real quick,” Wells said.
Wisconsin: All the talk going into the start of training camp was about whether Shaw or Chris James would win the starting tailback job. Shaw started on Friday, though Taylor displayed the explosiveness that helped him emerge through camp to compete for carries. On his 13-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, Taylor ran into blockers left at the line, then bounced outside and sprinted right to easily get across the goal line. Chryst could have the makings of another deep running back group.
Shaw, a sophomore, finished with 84 yards on 18 carries, while James had 15 yards on five attempts.
Utah State: Amassed just three first downs between the second and third quarters. … Hunt finished with 27 yards on seven carries. … Aggies were outgained 234-85 on the ground.
Wisconsin: Hornibrook, a sophomore, finished 15 of 23 for 244 yards, and completed 13 of his final 17 attempts. … The Badgers were 8 of 12 on third downs. … Fumagalli finished with five catches for 105 yards. … LB T.J. Edwards led the defense with seven sacks and an interception.
Safety Joe Ferguson, athletic director Barry Alvarez’s grandson, entertained the hardy fans who stayed for the fourth by returning an interception 99 yards for a score.
Safety D’Cota Dixon had the Badgers’ other interception.
Utah State: Hosts Idaho State on Thursday.
Wisconsin: Hosts Florida Atlantic on Sept. 9.