Hill, Rowan provide potent 1, 2 punch in Badger backfield

first_imgCLEVELAND — Throughout spring ball, summer conditioning and even into fall camp there were many questions surrounding the state of the Wisconsin running game in light of Badger standout Brian Calhoun defecting to the NFL last April.Not only have these questions been answered in convincing fashion, it appears that the UW offense may not miss a beat without Calhoun in the 2006 season. The style of running just might look a little different.During Wisconsin’s 35-14 defeat of Bowling Green on Saturday, the Falcon defense was consistently hammered by a pair of bowling-ball-sized backs: P.J. Hill and Dywon Rowan. Hill plunged his way to 130 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown, whereas Rowan chipped in with 28 yards and UW’s first touchdown of the game.At 5-foot-11 and 242 pounds, Hill made a resounding statement in the first start of his career, literally hauling Bowling Green defenders down the field on many occasions. As a result, Hill averaged nearly six yards a carry on the evening.”I felt I was pretty good with my start. I had a few long runs. I didn’t get many losses of yardage,” said Hill, who only lost three yards from scrimmage. “I just stayed focused; I just went out there and just had fun and played my game.””He really runs hard, lowers his shoulder and got a lot of tough yards for us,” quarterback John Stocco added. “He was right on his blocks, right on everything, so I thought he did a great job for us.”With new coach Bret Bielema at the helm, most of Hill’s carries seemed to come in bunches, as he regularly ran the ball on two or three consecutive offensive plays during the night.”I have no problem being the workhorse as long as the coaches see that I’m helping to try and win this game,” Hill said.Rowan saw most of his action in the first half, but the 5-foot-9, 241-pound fifth-year senior helped the Badgers gain an early advantage. After Bowling Green eased down the field for a 7-0 lead on the first drive, Wisconsin answered with a 10-play, 66-yard drive capped by Rowan’s 7-yard dash to the left side of the end zone.”We were down. I just knew I had to bring the team back and get us in the end zone,” Rowan said. “Hopefully [I can get more red-zone touches]. Whatever I can do to help the team, I just want to be able to do that.”Hill, who didn’t find the end zone until 5:19 left in the fourth quarter, said he knows he can be more than a sufficient successor to Calhoun — a quicker and flashier runner.”I was pretty comfortable setting my mark, Brian Calhoun’s a good back, but I’m a different back,” Hill said. “We have two different kinds of running games. I just brought my game to the table.”That other style came from true freshman Lance Smith, who, on the first play of his career, broke free for a 14-yard carry up the middle. Two plays later, Stocco hit full back Bill Rentmeester for a 4-yard touchdown, pushing the UW lead to 28-14.Smith also earned some late-game work and turned in an eight-carry, 42-yard performance for the Badgers.On the other side of the ball, Wisconsin’s defense struggled to contain Falcon quarterback Freddie Barnes. In the redshirt freshman’s first start, Barnes all but destroyed the UW run defense, dashing for 158 yards and two scores.But that didn’t stop Wisconsin from matching the Falcons’ running game, equaling Bowling Green’s mark of 4.8 yards per carry as a team. In the end, Barnes’ two touchdowns were not enough as the Badgers were able to utilize the steady run power from Hill, Rowan and Smith to craft three touchdown drives of at least 66 yards.If the first game of Wisconsin’s season serves as any indication, Bielema will not hesitate to employ two, three or even four backs. Bielema acknowledged that Jamil Walker will be incorporated into the mix of running backs throughout the remainder of the year.”As coaches, we knew that there were probably [at least] three running backs that we felt comfortable with,” Bielema said. “As a drive wears on, that tailback’s been carrying the ball, those same defenders are out there. All of a sudden, you pop in a fresh set of legs. … [It’s] just a little change in speed.”last_img read more