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Depleted Badgers Break Broncos

Michael Bennett rushed for 128 yards and a touchdown as No. 4 Wisconsin survived the suspension of five starters in a lackluster 19-7 victory over Western Michigan on Thursday night.

Three hours before kickoff, Wisconsin said 26 players had been suspended from one to three games for receiving unadvertised discounts at a shoe store. Eleven players served all or part of their suspensions against Western Michigan.

In the Badgers' first game since the graduation of NCAA career rushing leader Ron Dayne, Wisconsin's offense struggled to produce the methodical drives once led by the Heisman Trophy winner. Bennett got 30 carries but rarely broke into the Broncos' defensive backfield, and Wisconsin's passing game was erratic.

But Wisconsin's underwhelming performance can't be attributed entirely to the suspensions. Only four Badgers expected to play a significant amount were suspended.

Receiver Chris Chambers who's injured anyway receiver/kick returner Nick Davis and offensive tackle Ben Johnson were the only offensive starters out. All-American cornerback Jamar Fletcher and linebacker Bryson Thompson were the missing defensive starters.

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Game summary

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  • Wisconsin didn't get an offensive touchdown until a 68-yard drive capped by Bennett's 8-yard run around the left end with 9:31 to play. Thirteen seconds later, defensive end Ross Kolodziej sacked Broncos quarterback Jeff Welsh in the end zone for a safety.

    Josh Hunt scored on an 89-yard punt return in the second quarter for the Badgers, who entered the season with the highest preseason ranking in school history. Hunt, a junior playing in his first game, made the second-longest punt return in school history.

    Wisconsin quarterback Brooks Bollinger frequently scrambled but found no one open. Bollinger, the Big Ten freshman of the year last season, was 6-for-10 for 96 yards while improving to 9-0 as a starter.

    Western Michigan's wide-open passing offnse capitalized on Fletcher's absence. Welsh, in his first start since replacing Tim Lester, was 20-for-39 for 243 yards and was intercepted once.

    Wisconsin's first drive in the post-Dayne era ended on downs when Bennett was hit for a 3-yard loss by Jared Pike at Western Michigan's 29. But linebacker Ben Herbert recovered a fumble moments later, and the Badgers scored on a 21-yard field goal by Vitaly Pisetsky.

    The game then descended into a turf war, with neither team able to gain significant yardage. Wisconsin's offense even heard a smattering of boos when it failed to move the ball midway through the second quarter.

    The Broncos trailed 10-7 at halftime after Welsh capped an 80-yard drive with a 2-yard TD pass to Mobolaji Afariogun with 1:54 left in the second quarter.

    The Badgers' opener was played on one of the hottest days of the year in Wisconsin, with the school flashing messages on the scoreboard urging fans to drink plenty of water.

    Wisconsin extended its winning streak to nine games, third-longest in the country.

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