Russell Wilson shines in Wisconsin debut as Badgers roll over UNLV

MADISON, Wis. -- Russell Wilson peeked behind him on his way to a long touchdown run and saw no one in pursuit. Wide receiver Nick Toon was delivering the final punishing block ahead.

Welcome to Wisconsin, Russell. You'll find the Badgers know how to keep a quarterback safe.

Playing his first game for the Badgers, Wilson ran for a 46-yard touchdown and threw two TD passes to lead No. 11 Wisconsin past UNLV 51-17 on Thursday night.

"I don't think I got touched at all today, which is pretty unbelievable," Wilson said. "The offensive line did a great job. They're tremendous up there. Got to keep getting better, but they really are special up front."

Montee Ball scored four touchdowns for Wisconsin (1-0), but all the attention was on Wilson.

The North Carolina State transfer is using his last year of eligibility at Wisconsin in hopes of getting the Badgers back to the Rose Bowl or better.

"Some moxie, some savvy, some God-given ability," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "Russell has been very impressive how he's handled everything."

He thrived against UNLV, and thanked every one of his offensive teammates on the bench after his spectacular TD run, another sign of how humble and well-liked he is after being voted a captain following just a month in the program.

"He said, 'Thanks for the block,'" Toon said. "Big play by Russell and happy to have that running ability back there at quarterback."

With Wilson, the Badgers are built to run but have a dangerous new dimension. Ball and James White overwhelmed the undersized Rebels (0-1) from the start in the hottest game in the 94-year history of Camp Randall Stadium.

"We feed off that," Bielema said. "(Wilson) really saw how that can open things up in the passing game."

Wisconsin's running game gave Wilson plenty of opportunities to pick UNLV apart, and the charismatic signal caller calmly went to the bench and sat under a giant fan flanked by a TV camera following his every move after each score. He finished 10 of 13 for 255 yards and had two rushes for 62 yards.

Ball caught Wilson's first TD pass as a Badger from 4 yards out.

In some ways it was a typical Wisconsin opener. The Badgers scored on their first drive of the season for the sixth straight year. In some ways, it was very different: the temperature at kickoff was 90 degrees.

Wisconsin made it 13-0 when Ball took a handoff, busted through two arm tackles and high-stepped to avoid Quinton Pointer's desperation dive for a 22-yard touchdown. It was 20-0 when Wilson found top target Toon for completions of 39 and 15 yards before White punched it into the end zone from a yard out.

Ball, who finished with 63 yards rushing, also scored on a pair of 1-yard runs, making it 51-3 midway through the third quarter.

UNLV, losers of 10 straight on the road, showed some of the same jitters that coach Bobby Hauck's squads have struggled with after he finished his first season 2-11.

"We weren't ready to come in here and beat a top 10 team, certainly. But with that being said, we're going to be all right," Hauck said. "I like our guys. I like the way we play. There were a lot of negatives but there were a lot of positives to build off of."

Such as new starting quarterback Caleb Herring. He threw two second-half touchdown passes that cut the lead to 51-17 in the fourth. He kept plays alive with his feet and showed poise under relentless pressure but didn't have many options and finished 18 of 27 for 146 yards.

"Caleb Herring made a lot of mistakes but he did some good things," Hauck said. "Our guys ran hard. I thought we held our own."

UNLV failed to convert its first nine third-down conversions, and one second-quarter sequence highlighted the Rebels' struggles.

Wide receiver Phillip Payne committed a 15-yard personal foul for a late hit, center Robert Waterman snapped the ball over Herring's head for an 8-yard loss, Payne dropped a pass with no defender nearby and Nolan Kohorst pulled a 52-yard field goal wide left.

"It was good especially after we got down there in the first half and didn't capitalize," Hauck said. "We had the late hit penalty on the block at the end of the route. We just didn't capitalize in the first half. It was a shame."

Wilson has been a hot topic, dubbed Russellmania, since he arrived on campus in Madison.

Expectations are high that the 22-year-old can lead the Badgers back to a BCS game following their 21-19 loss to TCU on Jan. 1 despite losing six offensive starters, including quarterback Scott Tolzien.

Wilson joined Wisconsin after a stint playing minor league baseball for the Colorado Rockies and NC State's decision to move on without him despite his stellar numbers over three years, including a win over West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl last season.

"He's just so true. There's not a fake thing in his body," Bielema said. "He's just so genuine."