After being on cruise control throughout the first three quarters, No.12 Wisconsin let Northern Iowa get back into the game and was forced to hold on to an uneasy 26-21 season-opening victory in front of 79,568 fans at Camp Randall Stadium.
The Badgers (1-0) limited Northern Iowa to only 47 first-half yards but the Panthers – led by redshirt freshman quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen – stormed back to throw touchdown passes of 2, 55 and 31 yards to cut the lead to 26-21.
With a chance to take the lead with 5:30 remaining, Northern Iowa (0-1) drove as far as Wisconsin's 41-yard line, but was stopped on fourth down when junior defensive tackle Ethan Hemer batted down an attempt at the line of scrimmage. Wisconsin ran out the clock from there.
Wisconsin outgained Northern Iowa 387-to-306 and won the time of possession battle 39:05-to-20:55.
Junior quarterback Danny O'Brien was impressive in his debut with the Badgers, becoming the sixth quarterback in school history to eclipse 200 passing yards in an opener. He finished 19-for-23 with 219 yards and two touchdowns, including a 55-yard pass to Jared Abbrederis (six catches, 84 yards, two touchdowns) in the fourth quarter.
Wisconsin running back Montee Ball moved within 17 touchdowns of tying the NCAA record, grinding his way for 120 yards on 32 carries (3.8 yards per carry) and one score.
The win gives the Badgers their 15th straight victory to open a season – a streak that dates back to 1998 – and gives Wisconsin its 33rd straight regular-season nonconference win, trailing only LSU (37) for the longest active streak among FBS teams.
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14 plays, 61 yards, 7:35 TOP, 7:19 left
Kyle French 32-yard field goal.
Key Play: On second-and-2, Danny O'Brien out route to Jordan Fredrick just slipped past the fingertips of a Northern Iowa defender. The result was Fredrick's first career catch for 19 yards and a first down at the UNI 33. The drive would have continued, but Brian Wozniak dropped a pass on third-and-3 on the 15.
13 plays, 66 yards, 6:28 TOP, 7:37 left
Kyle French 35-yard field goal.
Key Play: Wisconsin's offense had yet to connect on a big play until the offense handed the ball to James White on the 31-yard line. Finding a gab on the right side, White went 20 yards to get the UW offense to the UNI 49.
10 plays, 53 yards, 5:28 TOP, :50 left
Jared Abbrederis 10-yard pass from O'Brien (French kick).
Key Play: Wisconsin's offense was going backwards after a sack and a four-yard rushing loss, but O'Brien hit tight end Jacob Pedersen on a slant across the middle. On third-and-22, Pedersen fought for the first down, moving the chains inside the 31.
8 plays, 60 yards, 3:39 TOP, 10:22 left
Montee Ball 1-yard run (kick blocked).
Key Play: O'Brien has settled into a groove in his first game. After hitting Ball on a screen play for 16 yards on third-and-7, O'Brien hit Fredrick on an inside slant for 20 yards, getting UW inside the 10.
13 plays, 75 yards, 6:02 TOP, :52 left
Chad Owens 2-yard pass from Sawyer Kollmorgen (Sievertsen kick).
Key Play: Forced to go for it on fourth-and-4 inside the Wisconsin 30, Sawyer Kollmorgen took advantage of Marcus Cromartie and Mike Taylor bumping into each other, creating enough separation for Brett LeMaster to haul in a 21-yard pass down to the UW 6.
7 plays, 79 yards, 3:16 TOP, 12:31 left
Jared Abbrederis 53-yard pass from O'Brien (French kick).
Key Play: After pounding the ball to the tailbacks throughout the first three quarters, OC Matt Canada finally dialed up a play-action pass. O'Brien didn't miss, selling the play perfectly and hitting a wide-open Abbrederis for the score.
4 plays, 74 yards, 1:13 TOP, 11:11 left
David Johnson 55-yard pass from Kollmorgen (Sievertsen kick).
Key Play: Playing sound for three quarters, the Badgers' blitz backfied, leaving Johnson wide open in the flat. UW could have prevented the score, but Dezmen Southward missed a tackle that results in the touchdown.
7 plays, 62 yards, 1:52 TOP, 7:24 left
David Johnson 31-yard pass from Kollmorgen (Sievertsen kick).
Key Play: In almost a carbon copy of the last touchdown play, Wisconsin's secondary failed to mark Johnson, leading to an easy touchdown. That play followed a remarkable catch by Chad Owens along the sidelines for eight yards on fourth-and-7.
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