Michael Deiter could barely handle waiting for his most nerve-racking play of the season late in Saturday’s 24-10 win over Illinois.
After calling in the huddle for the left tackle to catch a backward pass near the sideline on third-and-goal, the University of Wisconsin took a timeout. ESPN went to a commercial, leaving Deiter to think about the possibility of scoring a touchdown — or what could go wrong if he didn’t.
“The TV timeout took forever, at least it seemed that way,” Deiter said. "The suspense was killing me.
"My legs were kind of jello. But I knew if I caught it, it should score because they weren’t going to expect it."
It worked just as UW drew it up. Deiter caught the ball with ease and ran in for a 4-yard touchdown, giving the Badgers a 24-3 lead with less than 4 minutes remaining.
UW installed the trick play this week, beginning on Monday, and Deiter said it worked against the Badgers’ defense in practice, too.
Coach Paul Chryst said he suspected he’d have a good opportunity to fit the play in this week, and he thought it was the right situation to call it when UW faced third-and-goal from the 4.
Deiter said he had never caught a pass in a football game at any level before Saturday.
"I’ve never had a ball thrown to me. I’m not a receiver or running back,” Deiter said. “All I had to do was catch it and run forward.
"I knew we were trying to run it and we called a timeout, and I was nervous that we were going to get away from it. But luckily we called it again, and it went."
Senior safety Joe Ferguson found out the news that he’d be starting against the Fighting Illini from the player he was replacing.
Junior D’Cota Dixon, battling a leg injury, told Ferguson in pregame warmups that he wouldn’t be able to play.
Just because he didn’t suit up doesn’t mean Dixon didn’t make an impact for the Badgers. Ferguson said Dixon was offering encouragement and advice from the sidelines throughout the game.
“He could have been sulking and sad that he wasn’t playing. But he was the exact opposite,” Ferguson said. “He was trying to get everybody juiced. The ultimate teammate is how I’d describe him.”
As for Ferguson, he gave his performance mixed reviews despite coming up with an interception in the fourth quarter that essentially sealed the win for UW.
“I missed too many tackles,” Ferguson said. “If not for the pick, I’d probably be down in the dumps. I’m glad I was able to make an impact on the game in some way."
Gaglianone nails 52-yarder after 3 TOs
Illinois coach Lovie Smith tried to ice UW kicker Rafael Gaglianone with two seconds remaining in the first half by using all three timeouts as the Badgers lined up for a 52-yard field-goal attempt.
The junior nailed the kick anyway, easily clearing the bar to give his team a 17-3 lead.
"When he called the second one, I just felt like he was going to call the third, but I was ready at every point there,” Gaglianone said. "I feel like it was more annoying. It was kind of a, let’s just get this over with. You don’t need to call all three. But it just gives you a little bit more excitement once you (make) it."
Gaglianone said Smith calling the third timeout may have actually made the kick easier for him, since he then knew another timeout wasn’t coming.
The field goal was a career long for Gaglianone and matched the fifth-longest in school history. It was his third of 50-plus yards, tying a program record with Taylor Mehlhaff and Philip Welch.
Gaglianone has made 17 of his last 20 field-goal attempts, dating back to the 2015 Holiday Bowl.
“Really big,” Chryst said of his 52-yarder Saturday. "The way that game was going, there wasn’t going to be, you’re hoping, but there’s a chance there weren’t going to be a lot of points. I think that was big."
UW defensive end Chikwe Obasih suited up but did not play Saturday, marking the sixth straight game he’s missed due to a left leg injury. Chryst said Thursday that Obasih had been cleared to play, although he was expected to be worked back in slowly. … Fullback Austin Ramesh left in the second quarter with an undisclosed injury and did not return.