”To me, we get a lot better out of this than a 42-0 blowout. I don’t see what that gets. I know our fans, it kept them in their seats.”
That was Wisconsin head coach Brett Bielema after the Badgers needed a stop against Northern Iowa late in the fourth quarter to preserve their 26-21 season opening victory.
While his statement may be true – maybe Wisconsin actually did get better – you can bet he much rather would have had a 42-0 blowout when his offense put up big points and his defense was a steel curtain.
Instead he’s left with a five point victory over an FCS opponent as the Badgers get set to head to Corvallis, Oregon to take on Oregon State next week.
Wisconsin built a 26-7 lead in the fourth quarter after Danny O’Brien’s second touchdown strike of the day, a 53 yard pass to Jared Abbrederis and looked as is if they might put some distance between themselves and the Panthers.
The Badgers’s defense then allowed back-to-back scoring drives that ended with touchdown passes of 55 and 31 yards and the Badgers found themselves hanging on for dear life.
“We’ve been resilient,” linebacker Chris Borland said. “Hopefully, we don’t need a reason to be resilient, though. We’d like to be ahead and stop them the whole game.”
It certainly wasn’t the final score many expected. There was plenty of praise for UNI afterwards, who truth be told, is a solid FCS team and has been for some time. ”There’s a lot of FBS schools that I’d rather play than those guys,” Bielema said. ”They’re a really, really good football team.”
They are also a team the defending Big Ten Champs should beat with ease. All Wisconsin can do now is take whatever positives it could from Saturday’s victory.
There were several including O’Brien’s first start as the Wisconsin starting quarterback. He was efficient completing 19 of 23 passes for 219 and two scores while not turning the ball over.
Last year’s leading rusher and Heisman contender, Montee Ball, finished with 120 yards on the ground but needed 32 carries to get there, a 3.8 yard average per carry. That’s both a positive and a negative, but when you have Northern Iowa’s coach talking after the game about winning the line of scrimmage, you can probably put that in the “needs to improve” category.
That’s what first games are for, however, getting a starting point and improving from there. The good news for the Badgers is they still have three more chances to work on their game before their Big Ten opener at Nebraska on September 29th.
Saturday’s win didn’t happen how many envisioned, but then again, we’re talking positives here and winning certainly beats the alternative.