I know, I know. The Wisconsin Badgers didn’t exactly set the world ablaze with their performance Saturday afternoon against Northern Iowa.
To only defeat an FCS team by five points—at home—is a bit of a red flag, and likely lowered the standards many had for Wisconsin heading into the season opener.
But the Badgers won, and that’s better than losing the last time I checked. Where there are victories, there are positives, so here are five encouraging signs from the Northern Iowa game.
Too often in the game of football, we here the following words strung together: “____ won the game today, BUT ____ appeared to suffer a devastating injury.”
Well, the Badgers won the game on Saturday, and no one suffered a devastating injury. In fact, nobody suffered any kind of injury.
If you recall the 2011 campaign for the Badgers, a couple of key players went down with injuries early in the season, including defensive lineman David Gilbert and cornerback Devin Smith.
The healthier Wisconsin can stay moving forward, the better. Even though we saw the defense—most notably the secondary—struggle mightily in the second half, we’ll see them struggle even more if it loses the continuity factor.
According to the vantage point I had from my couch Saturday afternoon, there were three critical errors made by the Wisconsin Badgers against Northern Iowa.
The first one occurred almost immediately after the Badgers jumped out to a 26-7 lead with just over 12 minutes remaining in the game, when No. Iowa’s David Johnson had a 55-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in what was an incredible swing of momentum.
The second occurred in the Panthers’ following possession, this time a 31-yard touchdown pass to Johnson to cut the lead to five.
And finally, the third took place over the entire course of the game—the stubborn play calling of new offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
Wisconsin can look at the tape this week and figure out exactly what went wrong on those two communication meltdowns, and Canada’s is an easy fix—use some common sense.
With Northern Iowa constantly stacking the box, Danny O’Brien simply should have been given more chances to throw the football.
O’Brien clearly showed he has what it takes to lead this offense, and should teams continue to load up the box against the Badgers, just let O’Brien loose. It will save us all a lot of headaches.
Speaking of O’Brien, it’s hard not to like what we saw from him against the Panthers: 19-of-23 passing—which included a couple of drops—for 219 yards and two touchdowns.
Talk about proving you belong.
O’Brien also protected the ball. He did exactly what was expected of him and then some.
Of course, his stellar game came against Northern Iowa, and for most of the contest, the Panthers’ main objective was to stop the run. But that’s not O’Brien’s fault.
It was a promising start to what is hopefully a memorable two-year stretch in Madison.
You never like to see a team of Wisconsin’s caliber struggle against a team of Northern Iowa’s caliber, but sometimes getting the living you-know-what scared out of you is a good thing.
In this particular instance, it was the first game of the season and it’s common to see teams have trouble shaking off the rust. We should just be fortunate the Badgers picked this game to have a bad day.
Wisconsin wasn't anywhere near its best, and Northern Iowa was.
This was an eye-opening experience for a lot of Badgers players, and for how experienced the defense is on this team, it’s a little concerning they would have the two precarious slip-ups they did.
But because of that experience, these players have been in this situation before. They will learn from their mistakes moving forward, because if they don’t, there are plenty of openings on the bench.
Ever since Bret Bielema adopted this motto, Madison and the entire state of Wisconsin have enjoyed the spoils that are the success of Wisconsin Badgers football.
No matter which way you cut it, the Badgers escaped their first game with a victory, and Wisconsin just needs to take things week by week.
The upcoming game in Corvallis against Oregon St. could prove to be another test, but for the most part, the Badgers face a relatively easy non-conference schedule to help them build some confidence heading into Big Ten play and their first true test in Lincoln.
The Badgers are 1-0, so let's just calm down. Things could be a lot worse.