Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Badger opener was a close call

A win is a win. Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema and numerous Badger players echoed this cliché following Wisconsin’s (1-0 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) 26-21 victory over FCS opponent Northern Iowa (0-1 overall, 0-0 Missouri Valley Conference) Saturday afternoon in the first game of the 2012 season.
However, the Camp Randall crowd wasn’t necessarily pleased with that type of mentality. The usually raucous crowd essentially stood in disbelief when UNI pulled within five points midway through the fourth quarter. Fans appeared lifeless when the Wisconsin offense responded to UNI’s surge with a three-and-out, giving the Panthers the ball back with 5:17 left to play, still only behind by five.
The anxiety was felt in the crowd most when UNI went for a fourth-and-one on Wisconsin’s 41-yard line with just under three minutes remaining. The Panthers had converted on their two previous fourth down attempts, but redshirt junior defensive lineman Ethan Hemer deflected Northern Iowa redshirt freshman quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen’s pass across the middle, ridding the crowd of its unexpected restlessness.
“There’s a lot of credit that should go to UNI,” Bielema said. “I thought they were probably the best FCS team we’ve ever faced. I could see that before we even played them.”
Senior running back Montee Ball capped things off for Wisconsin following Hemer’s play, as he rushed for 24 yards during the last drive to run the clock out.
“I don’t care if that was UNI or Nebraska, or anyone else that’s left on our schedule,” Bielema said. “[Ball] was going to secure that win and you could tell that.”
Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Rob Havenstein felt the Wisconsin offense brought a bit more life and intensity during that drive.
“We definitely picked it up a bit,” he said of the drive. “[But] the intensity has got to be there every play, every snap, every down.”
The Badgers’ defense looked like an almost entirely different squad in the second half, as Kollmorgen completed clutch passes at will. After holding the Panthers to just three first downs and 47 yards in the first half, Wisconsin gave up 10 first downs in the second. All 13 Panthers’ first downs came off passes.
Let's hope this week isn't so close.

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