MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The mistakes that bogged down the ninth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers at times in an otherwise convincing win over Florida Atlantic can be put into perspective when accounting for the worries that their opponent face back home.
The Badgers won 31-14 on Saturday thanks in part to 223 yards and three touchdowns from freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, and an especially staunch defensive effort in the second half.
But the Owls put up a respectable effort on the road against a Big Ten power, especially when considering that they were also fretting about Hurricane Irma bearing down on South Florida.
“First of all, I give Florida Atlantic a ton of credit,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “I know just talking to our kids from Florida, with it being on their minds (that I) give them a ton of credit … and they came out ready.”
The bigger Badgers (2-0) wore down the Owls (0-2) despite some middling play in the middle of the game. Wisconsin opened up a 14-0 lead behind two first-quarter touchdowns from Taylor, but didn’t have the game in hand until his third score with 1:12 left in the third quarter made it a 17-point game.
“A lot of production, but you can see one or two things really mess it up,” said tight end Troy Fumagalli, who caught a 12-yard touchdown pass. “It’s still early, that’s the good part. We can learn from these opportunities.”
This was a trip that Florida Atlantic would remember regardless of the outcome as Lane Kiffin’s first away game as the Owls’ coach. The team was staying in Madison at least through Sunday because of the storm.
“Obviously there’s a lot going on,” Kiffin said. “But there was a decision made to come play so with all those distractions I thought the guys stayed together in a difficult situation.”
They gave the Badgers a few headaches in the second quarter.
Taylor was stopped on fourth-and-inches at the 1 on one drive in the second quarter. Alex Hornibrook was intercepted in Wisconsin territory on another series, and five plays later Devin Singletary scored from 1-yard out to make it 21-14 with 4:29 left in the period.
Wisconsin started getting more pressure in the second half with three sacks. The Badgers held decisive edges after halftime in total yards (206-50) and first downs (13-2), shutting out the Owls.
It bookended a dominating first quarter by Taylor, who showed a mix of power and speed that could make him the next star running back at Wisconsin. Taylor ran for scores from 64 and 29 yards in the period, the latter coming after breaking three tackles around left end before jogging into the end zone.
“He runs hard and he will never give up on a play,” left tackle Michael Deiter said.
Florida Atlantic: Kiffin said he would evaluate the quarterback position at midweek, but Daniel Parr started for a second straight week and had a relatively decent outing against a tough defense. The sophomore took advantage of blown coverage in the secondary to connect with DeAndre McNeal for a 63-yard touchdown pass that opened the scoring for the Owls and seemed to ease any nerves about whether they could keep up with the Badgers. Parr finished 9 of 19 for 142 yards.
Wisconsin: Hornibrook looked accurate and moved around effectively in the pocket in opening the game 8 of 9 with a touchdown pass before getting picked off in the second quarter deep in Wisconsin territory. He finished 16 of 28 for 201 yards.
Despite the gaudy statistics, Taylor was disappointed after coughing up a fumble, one of three turnovers by Wisconsin. He was also stopped on two straight plays at the goal line in the second quarter.
“What I remember most about today would be the little things – ball security, just having one guy take me down,” Taylor said.
“I’d be lying if I said there weren’t any distractions. We’re concerned about our families and whether they’re going to be safe or not. We had to come here and it was our responsibility to focus on the game and play well.” – Parr on how the team dealt with concerns about the hurricane.
Wisconsin starting right guard Beau Benzschawel left the game in the second quarter with a right leg injury. … RB Bradrick Shaw did not play after being listed as questionable this week with a right leg injury.
Florida Atlantic: Scheduled to host Bethune-Cookman on Sept. 16.
Wisconsin: Visits BYU on Sept. 16.
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