LAS VEGAS – Two first-half blunders by Wisconsin allowed UNLV to stay close, even though the Badgers had dominated the first two quarters.
In the second half, Wisconsin eliminated the mistakes and buried the Rebels.
John Clay and Montee Ball each ran for two touchdowns to lead No. 12 Wisconsin past UNLV 41-21 on Saturday night.
Clay finished with 123 yards on 17 carries and Ball had 79 on 16 rushes. The Badgers outscored the Rebels 24-0 in the third quarter after leading 17-14 at half.
Only two Wisconsin turnovers kept the game from becoming a blowout even earlier.
"At halftime, we told our team, 'Every play you take matters, and you never know when that play is going to be,'" Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "I really liked our response in the second half. I thought our defense rose to the challenge right away and our offense played off of that the whole time."
Scott Tolzien threw for 197 yards on 15 of 20 passing for Wisconsin, but he threw an interception that was run back 19 yards for a touchdown by Will Chandler in the first quarter.
Wisconsin outgained UNLV 475-215, dominating Bobby Hauck's first game as UNLV coach.
The former Montana coach started Mike Clausen at quarterback and he went 4 for 10 for 23 yards and a touchdown. Clausen was replaced by Omar Clayton, who was 6 of 16 for 82 yards and a touchdown.
"We made some plays in the second quarter to get back in it," Hauck said. "Wisconsin came out and took the game in the third quarter. We didn't win on third down on either side of the football."
Badgers defensive back Aaron Henry started the third-quarter scoring barrage, returning a fumble 20 yards less than two minutes into the half.
After Phillip Welch kicked a field goal from 33 yards out, Clay and Ball each added 16-yard touchdown runs to make it 41-14.
James White added 64 yards on 11 attempts for Wisconsin.
"I think all of (our running backs) are selfless players," Bielema said. "They cheer for each other. You can see all of them have a kind skill sets."
The game, which started at 8 p.m. locally, was played in 90 degree temperatures and Wisconsin fans made up about half the announced crowd of 31,107.
The Badgers opened the game with a 14-play drive, culminating in Clay's 5-yard run to the right side with 7:23 left in the first quarter.
On Wisconsin's second drive, Tolzien found David Gilreath down the middle for 45 yards and Ball finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.
Then Wisconsin gave UNLV a life line.
Nick Toon caught a pass and reached the UNLV 2, but was stripped by Deante' Purvis. Chandler recovered the ball and ran 82 yards setting up Clausen's touchdown pass to Phillip Payne down the middle from 16 yards out. Chandler's fumble return was the third longest in school history.
"Turnovers kill offenses and you can't have those," said Toon, who finished with four catches for 54 yards. "We're going to correct those mistakes, move forward, and hopefully continue to have success the rest of the year. Turnovers are crucial for an offense. We bounced back from it."
Wisconsin outgained UNLV 279-12 in the first half, including 138 to minus-9 on the ground.
The Badgers head home for three games in three weeks.