Expectations can often be deceiving. For Wisconsin football (1-0 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) and head coach Bret Bielema, the team’s high expectations proved to be a little misleading this past weekend as the Badgers pulled out a 26-21 nail biter over Northern Iowa (0-1 overall, 0-0 Missouri Valley Conference). With many projecting the preseason No. 12 Badgers to roll to their 15th consecutive season-opening win, it took a timely fourth quarter pass deflection by redshirt junior defensive lineman Ethan Hemer on a fourth-and-one to pull out the win.
“On Sunday I emphasized to the guys that every weekend of college football half of the teams lose,” Bielema said at his Monday press conference. “For us to be able to get into that situation and win, it was huge and something we can build on in the future.”
Offensively the Badgers were powered by senior running back Montee Ball. The 2011 Heisman Trophy finalist led Wisconsin with 120 rushing yards and a touchdown. He also recorded 31 receiving yards.
“I found it amazing that after a day like that people would call that a bad day for him,” Bielema said. “We will take those bad days any day of the week.”
Redshirt junior quarterback Danny O’Brien relieved any doubts about his ability to transition to a new offense, turning in a quality performance in his debut with the Badgers. The Maryland transfer finished 19-for-23 with 219 yards and two touchdown passes. His 191.3 pass efficiency mark was the second-best ever by a Wisconsin quarterback in his first start, surpassed only by Russell Wilson in his season debut last season.
“I let him know after the game that I was proud of him and appreciated the effort, but we have to keep moving forward,” Bielema said. “On the sideline I liked how he was engaged and positive, working to improve on things that he missed.”
Up next for Wisconsin will be its first road test of the season, as it heads west to Corvallis, Ore., to take on the Oregon State Beavers. The Badgers will be facing an opponent in Oregon State that has yet to play a game, as its scheduled season opener was postponed because of inclement weather.
“The strength of their team is in their wide receiver corps,” Bielema said. “They have three to four players that you have to account and look out for.”
Even with a close call in their season opener, Bielema was optimistic that the Badgers will rise to the challenge against the Beavers.
“A team with as much coaching transition as we’ve had can make a huge jump early on in the season,” Bielema said. “I’m very confident that there will be a noticeable improvement from week one to week two.”