The rave reviews for Russell Wilson's performance last night in Wisconsin's opener keep coming in.
In this report from correspondent Jason McMahon of the Wisconsin State Journal, Wilson's new teammates up in Madison, Wisc., were gushing postgame about the 255 passing yards, two TDS and 46-yard TD run he racked up in just one half of play against overwhelmed UNLV:
University of Wisconsin senior safety Aaron Henry was unusually succinct doling out the credit for the No. 11 Badgers’ season-opening 51-17 victory over UNLV on Thursday night at Camp Randall Stadium.
“Hats off to our offense; they did a tremendous job,” Henry said. “Two words: Russell Wilson. I mean, the guy put on a show. You know what I’m saying? His ability speaks for itself.”
Henry actually had more to say, but nobody was really listening. Seconds after he lavished praise upon Wilson, the Badgers’ new quarterback was brought into the team’s weight room for postgame interviews. Dozens of reporters ditched the players they had been talking to in mid-sentence and swarmed Wilson, engulfing him in a sea of recorders, cameras and notepads.
Just as he had been all night – all summer, really – Russell Wilson was the center of attention.
The former N.C. State standout donned a familiar red No. 16 jersey and showed 77,085 fans at Camp Randall — the largest crowd Wilson has played in front of since his collegiate debut at South Carolina in 2008 - and a national TV audience the reason why he was so popular during his three seasons in Raleigh.
Wilson passed for 255 yards and two touchdowns, took off for a 46-yard TD scamper of his own and led the Badgers to the end zone on seven of the eight series he played. On the eighth possession, Wisconsin had to settle for a field goal at the end of the first half.
“It’s pretty special, man. It’s crazy out here,” Wilson said after the game. “It’s just a great crowd, a great atmosphere, kicking off the season and all that. It’s a pretty special moment.”
It was the moment Wisconsin fans had been waiting for all summer ever since Wilson announced his intent in late June to join the defending Big Ten champions as a transfer. Wilson had hoped to finish his decorated career at N.C. State, but Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien gave the starting job to junior Mike Glennon when Wilson missed spring practice to play minor-league baseball with the Asheville Tourists, a Class A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.
So Wilson, who was on pace to leave as the ACC’s all-time leader in touchdown passes and second only to former Wolfpack star Philip Rivers in passing yardage, became a free agent. He ultimately narrowed his choices to defending national champion Auburn and the Badgers, who are coming off a Rose Bowl appearance but had a huge question mark at quarterback following the graduation of Unitas Award winner Scott Tolzien.
Wilson made a recruiting visit to Wisconsin in early June, when coach Bret Bielema paraded his top eight offensive linemen into a room to meet their prospective quarterback. The message was clear: Wisconsin takes pride in protecting its quarterbacks.
Wilson, who was sacked 39 times a year ago and 94 times in his Wolfpack career, wasn’t even hurried once in 15 dropbacks against UNLV.
“I don't think I got touched at all today, which is pretty unbelievable,” said Wilson, whose 13 pass attempts were his fewest in a game since his collegiate debut. “The offensive line did a great job. They're tremendous up there. We gotta keep getting better, but they really are special up front.”
On his touchdown run – the longest run of his career – Wilson dropped back, scanned for an open receiver and finding none, bolted through a gaping hole on the left side of the line. He eluded one would-be tackler with a nifty cut, then outsprinted at least four more down the right sideline and benefited from a key block from wide receiver Nick Toon inside the 5-yard line to reach the end zone.
“That was crazy,” said running back Montee Ball, who on the previous drive had taken a screen pass from Wilson 63 yards to the UNLV 3. “He kind of made me look bad when I got hauled down on mine. But like I said, he's a playmaker. We all know it.”
Wilson has only been with his new team for two months, but he made such an impression on his teammates in camp that they elected him one of four captains. The foursome, all seniors, led the team out of the tunnel behind Bielema at the beginning of the game.
“It was great, man. Emotional a little bit, but at the same time, you know, I've been ready for it,” said Wilson, who noted that he heard from many former Wolfpack teammates on Thursday wishing him good luck. “I've been excited about it. … I thank the Lord for blessing me to be able to come here and play with these guys.”
The feeling is clearly mutual.
“The man’s like a brother to me. I really enjoy his company; I really enjoy the way he conducts himself,” said Henry, one of Wilson’s co-captains. “I mean, the kid is tremendous. He’s a high-character guy. Just with his ability to make plays and throw the ball around a little bit, it’s definitely something beautiful to see.”