LAS VEGAS (Sports Network) - John Clay ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns, as 12th-ranked Wisconsin used its ground game to take a resounding 41-21 win over UNLV in the teams' season-opener.
Clay picked up right where he left off last season, when he was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. He shared the backfield Saturday with Montee Ball, who rushed for 79 yards and two scores.
Scott Tolzien completed 15-of-20 passes for 197 yards with one interception for the Badgers (1-0), who are coming off a 10-3 season that they ended with a Champs Sports Bowl victory over Miami.
Omar Clayton and Mike Clausen each threw a touchdown pass for the Rebels (0-1), who made their debut under new head coach Bobby Hauck. The former head coach at FCS powerhouse Montana was named to the position at UNLV in December. Hauck replaced Mike Sanford, who was dismissed following a 5-7 record in 2009.
Wisconsin's dominant running game was on display on the game's opening drive, which lasted for more than half the first quarter. The Badgers went 80 yards in 14 plays, the last a five-yard run into the end zone by Clay.
Wisconsin scored on its next possession, as a 45-yard pass from Tolzien to David Gilreath set up a one-yard plunge by Ball with 4:32 left. That made it a 14-0 game, and the Badgers got the ball back once more before the quarter was through. However, that possession ended when UNLV's Will Chandler intercepted Tolzien and returned it 19 yards for a score.
The Rebels trimmed their deficit further by halftime, limiting Wisconsin in the second quarter to a 20-yard field goal by Philip Welch. They then got a 16-yard touchdown pass from Clausen to Phillip Payne with 1:08 remaining, and went into the break trailing by a 17-14 score.
However, Wisconsin blew the game apart in the third quarter. UNLV started the frame with the ball, but the Badgers' J.J. Watt forced a fumble that Aaron Henry recovered and returned 20 yards for a touchdown.
A UNLV punt led to a Welch 33-yarder, which made it a 27-14 game. The Badgers' defense then forced the Rebels into another three-and-out, which led to Clay's 16-yard touchdown run with 6:22 remaining. After another Rebels punt, Wisconsin drove back down the field for another score -- this time a 16-yard run by Ball, set up by a 19-yard run by Clay. That touchdown put the Badgers ahead 41-14, and they cruised in the fourth quarter.
"After halftime we made a couple of plays to get ourselves back in it, but they came out and took the game in the third quarter," said Hauck. "We just weren't good enough tonight to beat them."
Clayton's touchdown pass to Irshad Stolden a few minutes into the final frame completed the scoring.