Each team littered the field with penalty flags and scattered opportunities this way and that in Kenan Stadium.
Significant gains quickly became significant losses. Potential touchdowns became footnotes in the game log.
"I didn't think we played our best game," UW head coach Barry Alvarez said. "I didn't think we played well. We made a lot of mistakes; more mistakes in this game than we did the first two probably combined."
The struggles began almost as soon as the game's first whistle.
Wisconsin drove inside the UNC 35-yard line on three first-half possessions, but turned those chances into just seven points.
On the Badgers' second drive, they had first-and-10 at the UNC 14 when junior tailback Booker Stanley spelled Brian Calhoun, who already had nine carries. Stanley took a handoff running right and picked up three yards, but linebacker Doug Justice stripped the ball free and defensive end Brian Rackley recovered for the Tar Heels at the 8.
UW opened with good field position on its third possession and quickly marched back into the red zone. On fourth-and-inches from the UNC eight, Calhoun went in untouched to give the Badgers a 7-0 lead with 57 seconds left in the first quarter.
Late in the second quarter, quarterback John Stocco completed a screen pass on third-and-17 to tight end Owen Daniels versus a UNC blitz. Daniels sprinted into the clear and scored what would have been a 41-yard touchdown, but the play was called back because of a holding penalty on Calhoun at the UNC 24.
The penalty gave UW third-and-10 at the 34 and the Badgers again just missed a touchdown when Stocco overthrew senior receiver Jonathan Orr down the left sideline.
Sophomore place kicker Taylor Mehlhaff then missed a 51-yard field goal wide right, in just his second field goal attempt of his career.
"It's obvious we made a lot of mistakes," Alvarez said. "We hurt ourselves, we took points off the board."
North Carolina shot itself in the foot even more.
After forcing UW to punt to open the game, UNC returner Brandon Tate picked up 26 yards to the Tar Heel 39, but two penalties on the play forced UNC to start first-and-10 at its 5.
On UNC's next possession receiver Jesse Holley dropped what would have been a 35-yard touchdown pass from Baker. Connor Barth then made a 52-yard field goal, but it was negated by a delay of game penalty. Rather than attempt a 57-yarder, UNC punted.
During the Tar Heels last drive of the first half, Baker completed a 24-yard pass to receiver Mike Mason to the UW 35, but the play was called back for offensive pass interference.
Late in the third quarter and trailing just 7-3, UNC drove to its 43, only to be called for consecutive penalties (clipping, holding) that knocked it back to an untenable first-and-35 at its 18.
All told, the Tar Heels were called for 12 penalties for 115 yards, about twice as much yardage as UNC's rushing tally (57).
"I don't think we've ever had this many (penalties) in my four years here and I'm disappointed in that," UNC coach John Bunting said. "It's horrendous and I was one of the guilty people."
UW was not much better. The Badgers were flagged eight times for 74 yards.
"I thought, quite frankly, what they called was there," Alvarez said. "I'm sure after about four flags in a row you don't want to call not enough guys on the line or an illegal formation, but if it's there you've got to call it. I thought they were on their game. I thought — both teams — we just made too many mistakes."