Relying on new faces in key moments was a consistent theme of the University of Wisconsin’s football season.
So after Wake Forest took a third-quarter lead Wednesday in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, the Badgers getting a spark from freshman receiver Devin Chandler wasn’t too big of a surprise. His 59-yard kickoff return set up a scoring drive and helped UW knock off Wake Forest 42-28 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.
It was a nice homecoming for Chandler, who also had an 18-yard rush to start the Badgers’ go-ahead drive in the third quarter. Chandler graduated from William Amos Hough High School in Cornelius, North Carolina, which is less than 30 minutes north of the stadium in which he played on Wednesday.
“Glad we got him,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “He’s young, he needs to have a great offseason. He’s capable of some big plays.
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“It’s neat for him, went for his senior year in the area and those were big plays for us. … Every rep is so valuable and he gave himself a chance to get some of those and some meaningful opportunities. Certainly have got to build on it.”
Chandler, a three-star recruit coming out of high school, showed flashes of speed and shiftiness throughout the season, especially after assuming kick return duties midway through the year. He put those on display on both of his touches against the Demon Deacons, shaking defenders to gain extra yards.
He tallied two catches this year, both of them at Iowa on Dec. 12, but quarterback Graham Mertz said he sees a good deal of potential in his young teammate.
“Devin’s done a great job of taking (the challenge of getting reps) on and being like, ‘I’m playing college ball now, I’m going to attack it,’” Mertz said.
O-line adjusts on fly
The Badgers were missing their two All-Big Ten Conference players along the offensive line against Wake Forest, with senior left tackle Cole Van Lanen and junior right guard Logan Bruss missing the game.
Van Lanen didn’t play against Minnesota on Dec. 19, while Bruss was missing his first game of the year.
Sophomore Michael Furtney made his first career start in place of Bruss, while senior Jon Dietzen moved from left guard to tackle to fill in for Van Lanen. However, Dietzen was lifted in favor of redshirt freshman Logan Brown, a former five-star recruit.
UW scored two short rushing touchdowns behind blocks from Brown.
“There was some times where I thought we were doing some good and as we look back at it there’ll be areas where we’ve got to be better,” Chryst said. “The one thing this year was was a lot of guys got opportunities to play. Hopefully we can all learn from those opportunities.”
The Badgers didn’t allow a sack and scored on all six of their red-zone chances, five of which were capped by short runs. The total yardage for the offense was 266, but that was in due part to the short fields the defense created after interception returns.
“Furtney came in and did really well today, worked his butt off,” senior tailback Garrett Groshek said. “Logan came in later in the game and was able to do his job and do it well. … Getting those guys a chance to play — doesn’t matter if it’s bowl game or regular season — that’s huge for them moving forward.”
An impactful adjustment
Senior linebacker Noah Burks chuckled as he recalled the pre-snap adjustment that led to his momentum-swinging interception.
Burks was slated to play man-to-man coverage, but he said a look from a teammate suggested he should change the coverage.
“I can’t remember who was in and next to me, but the corner kind of looked at me like, ‘Uh, you sure you want to play this call?’” Burks said. “We saw the condensed splits and we know with condensed splits we’d be better off zoning it out. We switched our responsibilities and I ended up being able to get the flat.
“(The ball) came right to me.”
A replay showed UW senior cornerback Caesar Williams was the closest cornerback to Burks.
Burks, who had six tackles, returned his pick 41 yards and set up the go-ahead scoring drive for the Badgers’ offense.
Distinct lack of mayo
Fans were disappointed when Chryst wasn’t doused in mayonnaise after the Badgers had secured the win. A jug adorned with the Duke’s Mayo logo was on the UW sideline and many people online believed it to be filled with the title sponsor’s top product.
However, Chryst got the traditional Gatorade bath.
UW may not have a souvenir to bring home from the game, either — Mertz dropped the trophy during a celebratory dance in the locker room and the glass football shattered on the floor. The program will be receiving a new trophy, per multiple reports.
“We’ll bounce back. It will be the last trophy I ever drop, I guarantee you that,” Mertz said.
Of course, his teammates had to rib him for his fumble.
“Graham just got a little too excited, thought he could dance,” junior safety Scott Nelson said. “I’m not much of a dancer, I don’t think good things happen when I dance."
UW freshman Aaron Witt recorded the first sack of his collegiate career in the fourth quarter.
Witt came off offensive’s right side and walloped Wake Forest’s Michael Kern, forcing a fumble on the play. The three-star recruit from Winona, Minnesota, wasn’t able to recover the fumble, but the play showed the strength and bend the 6-foot-6, 240-pounder has around the edge.
Photos: Badgers crush Demon Deacons in Duke's Mayo Bowl