It was no walk in the park for the No. 12 Wisconsin Badgers Saturday afternoon when Northern Iowa paid a visit to Camp Randall Stadium.
Appearing to be well on their way to victory after jumping to a 19-0 lead, the Panthers fought right back and managed to close within five.
Fortunately for the Badgers, they were able to make plays when it mattered most and held on for a 26-21 victory despite a valiant effort from the underdogs.
Without further ado, let's hand out performance grades for each unit of the Wisconsin Badgers.
Overall Unit: A-
Fans have to be pleased with what they saw from Danny O'Brien in his first appearance with the Badgers.
O'Brien completed 19-of-23 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns. Not only that, he also didn't have a single turnover.
He proved he could throw the deep ball on a beautiful strike to Abbrederis for a 53-yard score and was efficient, completing 82.6 percent of his throws.
The only reason O'Brien's performance didn't warrant an A effort was because of his inability to convert a few crucial third-down opportunities late in the game, which allowed the Northern Iowa offense to make the game a little too close for comfort.
But this performance was everything Badger fans could have hoped for—and then some. Any concerns about the quarterback position were laid to rest Saturday afternoon.
Overall Unit: B
Perhaps many expected more out of Montee Ball and company against an FCS opponent, but the fact of the matter is that Montee Ball and James White combined for 167 yards and a touchdown, and that's not bad at all.
Northern Iowa proved to be a formidable opponent, and its defense kept the Badgers' rushing attack in check more often than not.
Ball was a workhorse, carrying the ball 32 times for 120 yards. He also sealed the game with a big third-down run to drain the clock out to zero and caught a few passes lined up in the slot, an interesting wrinkle from offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
In my opinion, a slightly sub-par performance by the Badger backfield can be attributed to the big uglies up front more than anyone.
Unfortunately, we didn't get a look at guys like Melvin Gordon and Jeff Lewis because of the close proximity of the final tally, but there will be other chances to get a look at the exciting young running talent this season.
Fullback Derek Watt made some plays out of the backfield, but he did have a drop. Still, it appears the freshman is working his way into a starting role.
Overall Unit: A
As far as being anointed the No. 1 wide receiver, today was Jared Abbrederis' coming out party.
Aside from a nice punt return, Abbrederis hauled in both of Danny O'Brien's touchdown passes, including a 53-yard dime in which Abbrederis sneaked behind the No. Iowa secondary.
The unit didn't have any drops, and young guys like Jordan Frederick and Kenzel Doe showed not only some promise, but the reason why each were listed as starters heading into Saturday.
There were only a few instances where receivers failed to get open for O'Brien, but that was due to the Panthers' solid coverage more than anything.
It should be interesting watching the development of Frederick and Doe as well as how Abbrederis deals with facing each opponent's best week-in and week-out.
Overall Unit: C
We normally see the tight end more involved in the Badger offense, but new offensive coordinator Matt Canada went another direction on Saturday.
Brian Wozniak didn't exactly instill confidence in Canada when he had a drop leading to a first-quarter field goal. He ended up with just one reception for four yards.
Jacob Pedersen, the main pass-catching threat at tight end for Wisconsin, had a quiet day at the office. He only hauled in two catches for 26 yards, good for fourth-most receiving yards among Badger players.
Besides the inactivity catching the ball, the blocking wasn't at a high level either when the Badgers ran the ball, but for the most part, O'Brien had plenty of time to get rid of the ball.
Perhaps it just wasn't a favorable matchup for tight ends, or perhaps O'Brien prefers hooking up with his wide outs. We'll see if tight ends having a lack of an impact was a fluke, or if it will turn into a trend.
Overall Unit: C
We knew there would be some growing pains at offensive line with three new faces in the starting lineup, but Montee Ball being held to under four yards per carry tells a lot of the story today.
Rarely if at all did the running game get past the second level, and a lack of holes up front caused Ball and White to dance around too much and bounce it outside.
James White had the longest run of the day at 20 yards.
Some positives: there were no holding penalties, and Danny O'Brien had plenty of time to throw the football, so the pass protection was solid.
However, this team's bread and butter is running the ball, and to get stuffed multiple times in the backfield against an FCS opponent is simply unacceptable. The Badgers run to set up the pass, not the other way around.
Overall Unit: A-
The Badgers defensive line allowed nothing in the run game and pressured Northern Iowa quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen almost all day long.
Only 41 yards were allowed on the ground.
In the second half, they didn't get to Kollmorgen as much, but they forced the Panthers to go into all-out pass mode. Maybe that turned out to be a bad thing, but Kollmorgen torching the secondary can't be pinned on the D-line.
Besides an illegal hands to the face penalty early on, this unit played flawlessly, and the cherry on top was Ethan Hemer's defection at the line to end No. Iowa's final threat on offense.
Overall Unit: B-
The linebacker corps was a huge reason why Northern Iowa's running game was shut down.
There's no question that this unit can stuff the run, with Mike Taylor and Chris Borland constantly swarming the ball carrier, but it was exposed in coverage, especially in the second half.
All three of the Panthers' touchdowns came on short throws, but it was the run after the catch that killed the Badgers defense.
Linebackers are involved in short-to-midfield coverage, and they simply didn't get the job done in that regard.
Overall Unit: D+
If this game ended at halftime, the secondary would be receiving a much more generous grade, but then the second half happened.
Northern Iowa only had 47 total yards at the half—it ended with 306, most of those yards coming via the air.
What shouldn't come as much of a surprise after last season, the secondary allowed another big play when David Johnson scored on a 55-yard pass. The run after the catch was alarming, especially because Johnson could have easily been pushed out of bounds on the play.
Northern Iowa followed that up with a 31-yard touchdown pass on its next possession, another letdown from the secondary.
Poor tackling. Allowing big plays. This isn't the secondary's first rodeo, but it sure looked like it.
Overall Unit: B
Not a bad grade for such a young group.
Drew Meyer was called into duty four times and average 41.8 yards per punt, but his hang time wasn't the greatest. He pinned No. Iowa inside the 20 just once.
Kicker Kyle French was 2-for-2 on field goals (32, 35), but he had an extra point blocked—which just cannot happen. It was said that freshman Jack Russell would get an opportunity to kick, but that proved not to be the case.
Downfield coverage was solid, the return game was so-so and the Badgers weren't hurt in any way by their special teams, so all-in-all, Saturday was a success.
Overall Unit: C
Just as with the defensive backs, the coaching grade would have been much higher had the second half ceased to exist.
The fact of the matter is, the Badgers were out-coached by No. Iowa after the half. To be outscored 21-13 in the second half by an FCS opponent shows that Bielema and his staff failed to make the necessary adjustments at halftime as well as on the fly throughout the second half.
Matt Canada's philosophy can also be called into question, but like the offensive line, new faces need time to gel.
With how much success O'Brien was having, I was surprised with how much the Badgers kept turning to Ball, especially with how well No. Iowa was containing the run.
And who knows what was going on with the defense in the second half.
Luckily, the Badgers coaching staff has time to get things in gear with a seemingly easy non-conference schedule, because there will be plenty of things to learn from their struggle against the Panthers.