MADISON, Wis. – John Clay gave Wisconsin's offense everything it needed. It wasn't nearly enough to satisfy the 11th-ranked Badgers.
Clay ran for 137 yards and two touchdowns, but Wisconsin's vaunted offense was sloppy for the second straight week in its 27-14 win over San Jose State on Saturday.
It was Clay's eighth straight 100-yard rushing game as the Badgers won their 15th consecutive home opener and improved to 13-0 in nonconference regular-season games under head coach Bret Bielema.
"We know we can play a lot better than that," Clay said.
They haven't yet.
Scott Tolzien was 15 of 22 for 191 yards with a touchdown, but had an interception and three fumbles against the Spartans.
"The great thing about it is you never want to be peaking early on in the season," he said. "Obviously we're not happy with where we're at."
Wisconsin built a 17-0 lead and could've been up as much as 31-0 before David Gilreath was hit and taken off the field in an ambulance early in the third quarter.
The senior took a punt in the third quarter and was hit almost immediately by Peyton Thompson. As Gilreath was being driven back, Dominique Hunsucker came in from behind, appearing to make incidental helmet-to-helmet contact.
Gilreath stayed down for about 10 minutes and didn't appear to move, but Bielema said Gilreath was talking and trying to get up after being knocked out for a little over a minute.
"When he left, they told us his feet were moving and his arms were moving, so that definitely gives you peace of mind right there," defensive end J.J. Watt said. "We had to play for him, you can't just stop a football game, so you've got to go out there and you've got to keep playing."
Clay did. The reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year scored another touchdown after Gilreath left and has 260 yards and four touchdowns so far this season.
"I think if 32 lays out he still gets 3 (yards)," Spartans coach Mike MacIntyre said. "He's a big man."
Wisconsin took the opening possession 77 yards in 10 plays, capped by Clay's 1-yard TD run, but the offense sputtered when freshman James White fumbled through the end zone on Wisconsin's next possession for a touchback. In the second quarter, Tolzien and center Peter Konz bumbled a snap on fourth-and-1 at the Spartans 4 and failed to convert and the sloppy play continued into the second half despite two field goals by Philip Welch.
The Spartans, meanwhile, kept improving. Their first touchdown this season came late in the third quarter on a terrific effort by Chandler Jones, who finished with 113 yards on eight catches.
Jones grabbed a short pass from La Secla and made four Wisconsin defenders miss, finishing the final 10 yards untouched after Niles Brinkley's desperate dive failed. After Clay scored his second touchdown from a yard out, La Secla led the Spartans to another touchdown with 5:45 left with a 12-yard TD pass to Noel Grigsby that made it 27-14.
San Jose State, which netted more than $1 million from the guaranteed games at Alabama and Wisconsin, has traveled more than 7,000 miles over the last eight days. MacIntyre said the experience of playing top teams is worth it, even though they lost senior Robbie Reed for the season to a serious knee injury.
Otherwise, the Spartans appeared to be having some fun, joining the crowd by bounding up and down during House of Pain's "Jump Around" before the start of the fourth quarter.
"We had watched a video of it and told our kids about the atmosphere and to enjoy the moment," the coach said. "They weren't hanging their heads. They were ready to play."
The Badgers just proved to be too much.
"We're happy with the win, we're 2-0, you can't be any better than 2-0, so we'll be happy with that, but I'm actually very disappointed," said Watt, who made six tackles, hurried the quarterback that resulted in an interception and blocked a field goal. "We have things to correct and we're going to come out next week better."