August kickoffs are becoming a standard in Madison. Two years ago, the Badgers experienced their first Thursday night game with a win over Western Michigan on August 31. Last year, Wisconsin participated in the Eddie Robinson Classic and defeated Virginia on August 25. This year, Badger fans cram Camp Randall to witness the earliest kickoff in school history in the John Thompson Foundation Classic.
On a steamy summer evening, Wisconsin faithful are still seething over Fresno State’s remarkable victory over the home team one year ago. Revenge swells in the thoughts of those who punched their ticket for this season’s opener. The Bulldogs are without their star quarterback, David Carr, as he graduated and became a first round draft pick in the NFL. Carr chopped the Badger secondary a year ago en route to their shocking slaughter of Wisconsin. The Badgers also lost the most potent weapon in their arsenal as wide receiver, Lee Evans, injured himself in spring practice.
Perhaps both teams were feeling a bit disabled. However, Fresno State wide receiver Bernard Berrian picked up where he left off last year and hauled in a pass to break the wrapper on the scoring. Wisconsin fans grew shaky with flashbacks of last year’s breakdown and subsequent loss. More debilitating to the Bulldog offense was the game ending injury that Berrian suffered shortly following his first score. Now both teams were dealing with sub par health in the passing category and it was frustrating watching the Badgers have to rely so heavily on the running game in this contest, but it did prove effective as Matt Bernstein scored on two short runs, the second giving Wisconsin a 17-14 advantage in the third quarter.
But, even the 20-14 lead that the Badgers acquired in the fourth quarter would not be enough to stifle the Bulldog’s determination. A Wisconsin fumble resulted in a quick turnaround and a Fresno State score pushing them in the lead 21-20. Wisconsin had little intention of pushing the repeat button on last year’s debacle. Consequently, they marched excruciatingly down the field setting up a field goal with just over five minutes left. Kicker Mike Allen knocked the ball up and drastically to the right causing an entire new set of harmful flashbacks to be had for Badger fans.
However, a Bulldog penalty on the play restored hope as the Badgers gained a first down, dissolved three more minutes off the clock, and succeeded on the field goal attempt. Wisconsin was able to keep the Bulldogs from scoring again and relief swept the stadium as fans gazed at the scoreboard trying to burn the image of 23-21 in their minds. Neither team looked solid to open the year – fitting that a penalty would decide the outcome.