Numbers would argue the University of Wisconsin dominated Florida Atlantic on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
The ninth-ranked Badgers ripped off 564 yards of total offense, saw true freshman Jonathan Taylor explode with a 223-yard, three-touchdown performance, recorded five sacks defensively and allowed the Owls to convert just two of their 14 third-down attempts.
When adding in a poor interception from Alex Hornibrook, Taylor’s lost fumble, two failures inside the 5-yard line, third-down drops and a number of off-target throws, however, UW’s modest, 31-14 victory no longer feels too encouraging.
“The stat sheet really didn’t reflect the scoreboard today,” UW quarterback Alex Hornibrook said. “I don’t know if we’re disappointed. A win’s a win. We’re happy with that. But we definitely left some out there."
The Badgers’ lead never felt truly threatened throughout the day, but a second straight incomplete performance on offense against lower-level competition raises plenty of questions heading into a challenging road test at BYU next week.
Taylor gave UW (2-0) comfort with two early touchdowns, from 64 and 29 yards out, but the Badgers only scored 17 points in the final 51 minutes of the game.
FAU (0-2) stuffed the freshman three times from inside the 2-yard line late in the second quarter, forcing a turnover on downs, and UW kicked a 20-yard field goal to end the first half after failing to finish the drive with a touchdown.
“We’ve got to execute down there,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “It changes the dynamic of the game. Those opportunities to score are important."
After the Owls’ first goal-line stand, the Badgers’ defense held its ground and forced a punt deep in FAU’s territory. With great field position to work with, Hornibrook led a 39-yard touchdown drive that he capped with a 12-yard completion to tight end Troy Fumagalli, giving UW a 21-7 lead.
On the Badgers’ next drive, however, Hornibrook made a poor decision under pressure and threw the ball right into the hands of FAU’s Leighton McCarthy, who returned the ball to UW’s 17-yard line. Running back Devin Singletary scored a 1-yard touchdown five plays later to cut the Badgers’ advantage to 21-14.
Hornibrook said he didn’t miss-read the Owls’ defense and described his interception as a “stupid throw.”
“That was a second-and-3 and they had pressure off the edge,” Chryst said. “You’ve just got to dump it and live to play another down."
Taylor’s third touchdown, a 4-yard run late in the third quarter, killed any chance of a remarkable upset, but he also lost a fumble the previous possession when the Badgers were still only leading by 10 points.
UW missed another opportunity to put points on the board when Fumagalli dropped a third-and-9 pass from the FAU 36-yard line.
Fumagalli, who finished with team highs in catches (8) and receiving yards (92), also failed to hold on to a third-and-10 pass early in the third quarter, although the ball was thrown behind him. It wasn’t the only time Hornibrook, who completed 16-of-28 passes for 201 yards with one touchdown and one interception, misfired to an open receiver Saturday.
There are logical reasons for UW’s miscues offensively. Fumagalli said FAU often lined up in odd fronts, with three defensive linemen, when the Owls’ film didn’t indicate they would play that way.
It’s also still early in the season, and Hornibrook said all the mistakes offensively remain fixable.
“I felt like we did a lot of good things, but a few little details were off,” Fumagalli said. "A lot of production, but you see one or two things in a drive can really mess it up. It’s still early. We’re learning. That’s the good part, is we can learn from those opportunities.
“No team’s perfect from the first game. I think we do a great job of coming in and understanding what we need to get better at, fixing up those problems and trying to get better every week."
While it’s easier to be forgiving of mistakes during the first weeks of a new season, UW’s time for correction could soon be running out.
As the Badgers’ schedule toughens, beginning with their first road test of the season at BYU next week, their margin for error will shrink dramatically.
UW started painfully slow offensively against Utah State last week before ripping off 59 straight points in a 59-10 win. Saturday’s uneven performance still resulted in a comfortable win.
Are the Badgers ready for an opponent capable of sending them home with a loss?
“Ready or not, here it comes, right?,” Chryst said. "We’ll make sure they’re ready for it."