MADISON, Wis. -- James White and Melvin Gordon picked up the slack for Montee Ball and the Wisconsin Badgers.
With the Heisman Trophy finalist sidelined by an early head injury Saturday, White rushed for a pair of touchdowns and Gordon sealed Wisconsin's 37-26 victory over UTEP with a 26-yard scoring run late in the fourth quarter. Jared Abbrederis added a 47-yard TD reception in his first game back from a concussion as the Badgers (3-1) extended their home winning streak against non-conference opponents to 26 games.
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The Miners (1-3) fell to 0-17 in road games against BCS teams, but they didn't go away easily. UTEP converted on fourth down twice during a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive in the third quarter, and Steven Valadez kicked a 43-yard field goal on the Miners' next possession to cut Wisconsin's lead to 23-19 with 7:59 left to play. But Gordon ripped off a 20-yard run to set up White's 2-yard scoring run and the Miners fumbled the ensuing kickoff.
Wisconsin recovered, and Gordon scored on the next play to finish the Miners off. Gordon, a redshirt freshman who had all of 18 yards in Wisconsin's first three games, finished with 112 on eight carries. White had 65 yards on 15 carries while Abbrederis had a career-high 147 yards receiving.
And the Badgers appear to have found themselves a quarterback, with Joel Stave going 12 of 17 for 210 yards in his first career start. After being sacked twice in Wisconsin's first three drives, the redshirt freshman settled in and showed the poise and rhythm the Badgers didn't get from Danny O'Brien. His only major error was an interception in the second quarter.
The Badgers began the year with high hopes for the Big Ten title -- and more - but have been mediocre, at best. This was another shaky effort, and losing Ball early didn't help.
UTEP scored first, getting a big assist when Chris Borland was called for roughing the passer. That gave UTEP the ball at the Wisconsin 39, and Nick Lamaison found Michael Edwards in the end zone. But that seemed to finally wake the Badgers up. Konrad Zagzebski got his body in front of Steven Valadez's extra point attempt, and Devin Smith scooped up the ball and raced the length of the field to make it 6-2. According to Wisconsin, it was the first time the Badgers had returned a blocked extra point for two points since the NCAA adopted the rule in 1988.
Gordon opened the Wisconsin drive with a 20-yard run, and Ball followed with a 22-yard rumble that gave the Badgers the ball at the UTEP 25. Five plays later, Ball scored on a 1-yard run. But he got knocked around on the play, looking wobbly as he got up. The medical staff only needed a few minutes to decide he was done for the day, and Ball spent the second half on the sidelines in street clothes.
It was a rough afternoon all around for Ball, who had the first fumble in his career on Wisconsin's opening drive.
Stave's 60-yard pass to Abbrederis set up a 3-yard scoring run by White. The two connected again on a 47-yard TD reception to give Wisconsin a 23-6 lead, and the rout appeared to be on. But the Badgers allowed the Miners to hang around repeatedly. A roughing-the-kicker call kept UTEP's drive alive late in the second quarter, and Valadez kicked a 45-yard field goal just before halftime. That started a run of 13 unanswered points by the Miners.