As the University of Wisconsin football team approached halftime, it had a 44-0 lead over Central Michigan and still coach Paul Chyrst was calling pass plays.
He said it was because he wanted his offense to gain experience in the 2-minute drill.
As UW moved through the third quarter of a game that could have used a running clock, quarterback Jack Coan stayed on the field and still Chryst was calling pass plays.
He said it was because that's how UW was moving the ball best.
As UW reached the final quarter with a 54-0 lead, first Graham Mertz and then Chase Wolf replaced Coan and still Chryst was calling pass plays.
He said it was because he wanted to give his young backups some meaningful experience.
Solid explanations all, but there probably was a little more to Chryst's decision-making than meets the eye. Indeed, it looked for all the world like Chryst was sending a message to seventh-ranked Michigan — UW's next opponent — during the 17th-ranked Badgers' 61-0 demolition of Central Michigan Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
That message? This isn't the UW team you remember from last season.
Chryst didn't try to accomplish that by intentionally running up the score on the overmatched Chippewas. He did it by showing Michigan that UW has a passing game that can balance out its vaunted running game, possesses a deeper, more physical defense and plays with a much greater sense of purpose than the team that limped home with an 8-5 record in 2018.
When the Wolverines flip on the video of UW's first two games, they will get an eyeful and, thanks to Chryst's strategy, an awful lot to prepare for when the teams open their Big Ten Conference schedules in two weeks.
"I think we gave them something (to think about)," center Tyler Biadasz said. "Offense specifically, I think we have a lot of weapons. I think we're a very well-balanced group."
Back-to-back dominant victories to open the season have shown that to be the case. Neither South Florida, which was crushed 49-0 by UW in the opener, nor Central Michigan look like they'll be bowl teams come December, but the way UW took control early and never let either opponent come up for air has to count for something.
- Chris Doyle | Wisconsin State Journal
The Badgers don't control the schedule, but they did exactly what they were supposed to do against lesser competition. They dominated their opponents and they looked good doing it. That hasn't always been the case for UW early in the season, which is why its fast start isn't simply a product of favorable scheduling.
Yes, they Badgers will have to up their game against Michigan. But they've shown enough improvement — and in all the right places — that their Sept. 21 meeting with the Wolverines has become the biggest game in the early portion of the Big Ten season.
So far, UW has outscored its opponents 110-0 and held halftime leads of 28-0 and 44-0. The Badgers' quality of play has been such that they almost have to search to find negatives, especially against Central Michigan in one of the most lopsided affairs ever played at Camp Randall.
"We definitely didn't have any doubt in ourselves going into this," linebacker Chris Orr said. "That's kind of the mindset we wanted to have. We wanted to come out fast, come out landing the first punch. Offense, defense and special teams, we want to jump out on everybody. We want to show them who we are, show them who the 2019 Badgers are. We truly live by that. We worked by that all summer, all winter, all spring, and it's just coming together. Now people can just see it."
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There is no argument there. The Badgers have a lot of young talent, players who took their lumps while getting their feet wet last season. Well, those feet have hit the ground running this year.
Coan is a different quarterback than he was last season, when he was forced to make four late starts in place of injured Alex Hornibrook. It appears Coan has done what Hornibrook couldn't do last year — turn a strong bowl performance into a major step up.
The full force of UW's diverse, new passing game was on display Saturday as Coan fired passes all over the field to wide receivers Quintez Cephus, Danny Davis, A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor, tight end Jake Ferguson and, for the second straight game, tailback Jonathan Taylor, who was strictly a runner in his first two seasons. Having opponents stack the box with run defenders is a weekly problem for UW, but Michigan might have to rethink that strategy after Coan's 363-yard passing performance against the Chippewas.
"We have the best running back in the country but he's not the only threat we have," tackle Cole Van Lanen said. "We're trying to use those other threats and I think it's working. So they do have other things to think about."
Like, say, UW's defense. In pitching two shutouts, the Badgers have allowed 215 total yards, 41 rushing yards and 12 first downs.
"We're playing our game," defensive end Matt Henningsen said. "We're playing a physical brand of defense that we wanted to play last year and we want to get back to."
No matter what you think of the competition so far, UW is clearly playing at a different level this season. Michigan will test that improvement like few teams can, but UW is as ready as it will ever be for that challenge.