Wisconsin rings up over 600 yards of offense to pummel Northern Illinois

CHICAGO -- Try and shut down Montee Ball and James White, and Russell Wilson will throw all day long.

Cover up his receivers, and Wilson will tuck the ball and run.

And even if a defense somehow manages to contain all three of Wisconsin's best weapons, well, the Badgers will find someone else to get it done.

No. 7 Wisconsin looked like an offensive juggernaut Saturday, piling up more than 600 yards in a 49-7 rout of Northern Illinois at Soldier Field. Wilson threw for 347 yards and three scores, Ball ran for a pair of touchdowns, White finished with 126 yards of total offense and four other players pitched in with 50 yards of offense or more.

"It's a positive thing that a lot of guys can make a lot of great plays," said Wilson, who was 23 of 32. "I just have to get the ball to the right guys, that's my job."

It was the 31st straight regular-season victory over a non-conference team for the Badgers (3-0), who have one last warmup before their much anticipated Oct. 1 game against new Big Ten member Nebraska at Camp Randall.

The only blemish for the Badgers was Wilson's interception in the third quarter, the first turnover of the season for Wisconsin.

After scoring 45-plus points in each of their first two games, Jasmin Hopkins scored the only touchdown for the Huskies (1-2). The loss dropped the Huskies to 4-27 against ranked teams, and spoiled new coach Dave Doeren's reunion with his old team.

Doeren spent the past five years as Wisconsin's defensive coordinator before taking over at Northern Illinois (1-2).

"We just didn't help ourselves," Doeren said. "That's a big thing when you're playing a team as good as Wisconsin. You can't beat yourself."

Wisconsin has been one of the better teams in the Big Ten for much of the last decade, and it won a share of the conference title last season. But those Badger teams were built on power: running backs who could bulldoze their way over opponents and a big, physical defense.

Thanks to the addition of Wilson, who transferred from North Carolina State, these Badgers have endless options.

"All of us are able to make plays when the ball comes to us," said Nick Toon, who had two touchdowns among his five receptions. "When we play clean, we're hard to beat."

Just look at the stats. Wisconsin put the game out of reach by scoring on six of its first seven possessions. The exception? A missed field goal on the second drive, after the Badgers set themselves back with penalties for a chop block (15 yards) and a false start (five).

"They've got a great team," Doeren said. "They're going to win a lot of games. There's no doubt."

Northern Illinois did manage to make things interesting for about 3 minutes at the end of the first quarter.

Following that missed Wisconsin field goal, the Huskies put together their best drive of the day. Chandler Harnish completed passes of 20 yards to Nathan Palmer and another of 39 yards to Ashford to set up a 3-yard run by Hopkins that tied the game at 7 with 1:59 left in the first quarter. Hoping to build on their momentum, the Huskies went for the onside kick.

"(Doeren) wanted to win this football game," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "He was going to do whatever he had to do."

But the Badgers recovered, and Wilson put a quick end to any hopes the Huskies had for the upset. He needed only three passes to give Wisconsin the lead again, connecting with Toon for the 16-yard score, then moved the Badgers 97 yards on their next drive after they'd been pinned to their own 3.

With the offensive line giving Wilson what seemed like hours to throw, he took his time until he spotted Jacob Pedersen sprinting up the left side of the field, hitting him in stride for a 55-yard gain that took Wisconsin to the 2-yard line. Two plays later, Ball ran from a yard in to give Wisconsin a 21-7 lead.

Ball has now scored in nine straight games, and has 22 touchdowns since last Oct. 23.

Not to be outdone, backfield mate White scored on Wisconsin's next drive. Wilson turned what should have been a sack into an 11-yard gain, and White scored two plays later on a 20-yard run, getting help from a great block by offensive lineman Peter Konz that allowed White to turn the corner and get outside.

It was White's second touchdown of the season.

"He's a good quarterback," Northern Illinois defensive end Sean Progar said. "Everyone talks about his scrambling and he got loose on us a couple of times, but he's a good quarterback. He put the ball on the money to his wide receivers."

Northern Illinois got to the Wisconsin 25 just before halftime. But Mathew Sims' field goal attempt was wide right and the Huskies never came close to scoring again.

In fact, they got past midfield just once in the second half.