MADISON, Wis. — Utah State’s Josh Thompson missed a 37-yard field goal with seconds remaining, allowing Wisconsin to hold on for a 16-14 victory Saturday night.
Thompson missed the kick wide right, preserving a win for the Badgers (2-1).
Trailing 14-3 at halftime, the Badgers got an 82-yard punt return from Kenzel Doe to begin their comeback. Montee Ball shook off a rough night to score the go-ahead touchdown on a 17-yard run late in the third quarter.
Ball carried 37 times for 139 yards and the decisive score despite getting stuffed behind an offensive line that has struggled to open holes for him in the first three games of the season.
Utah State (2-1) built its first-half lead on a pair of touchdown passes from Chuckie Keeton, who was 18 of 34 for 181 yards.
Wisconsin was coming off a loss at Oregon State that led to an abrupt coaching staff shake-up.
It was a wild end to a game that started in strange fashion, when the opening kickoff was delayed as a player had to chase a squirrel off the field.
With Wisconsin leading 16-14, the Badgers’ Drew Meyer shanked a punt to give the ball back to Utah State at the Wisconsin 45-yard line.
The Badgers’ defense forced a punt, but Ball and the Badgers couldn’t run out the clock and had to punt again.
Utah State took over on its own 32 with 1:38 left and no timeouts. Facing third-and-10 near midfield, Keeton was flushed out of the pocket and completed a 36-yard pass to Cameron Webb to put them in field goal range.
An offensive pass interference call backed Utah State up to the 30, but Keeton got 10 yards back — and Wisconsin burned a timeout with 29 seconds left.
After a short running play and a spike, Thompson — who didn’t have a field goal attempt this season — missed the kick and a shot at the win.
The Badgers switched quarterbacks at halftime, with Joel Stave taking over for Danny O’Brien. But it took Doe’s return to make it a game again, cutting the lead to 14-10 in the third quarter.
After a short punt by Utah State, Wisconsin put together a drive that finally included a third-and-short conversion by Ball.
Ball then found plenty of room to run on the left two plays later, scoring a 17-yard touchdown. The extra point attempt was blocked, and Wisconsin led 16-14 with 3:06 left in the third.
The Badgers won despite another subpar performance by the offensive line. Wisconsin handed the ball to Ball on third-and-short four times in the first half and Ball wasn’t able to move the chains on any of them.
The Badgers were coming off a tumultuous week that included the loss at Oregon State, a tumble out of the Top 25 and the abrupt firing of offensive line coach Mike Markuson only two games into the season.
Wisconsin promoted former graduate assistant Bart Miller to replace Markuson on an interim basis, in hopes he will be able to help the line regain the dominant form that has become a staple of the Badgers’ program.
The Aggies pounced on a blown coverage by the Badgers early on, as Keeton found Kerwynn Williams wide open for a 39-yard touchdown.
Wisconsin finally got a drive going late in the first quarter, but Ball was stuffed on third-and-goal from the 2 and the Badgers had to settle for a 19-yard field goal by Kyle French to cut the lead to 7-3 early in the second quarter.
French would miss a 36-yarder later in the quarter.
The Aggies, coming off a victory over in-state heavyweight rival Utah in overtime last week, struck again late in the half. Zach Virgil sacked O’Brien and caused a fumble, which Jake Doughty recovered at the Wisconsin 24.
Keeton then threw an 11-yard touchdown to Matt Austin, and Utah State took a 14-3 lead at the half.