Another reason for the solid performance could be the words spoken from a senior captain's mouth; two weeks after his career came to a crashing halt.
With his crutches under either arm, senior captain Luke Swan stepped up in front of his team on Friday night and again before UW took the field Saturday, speaking passionately about his life philosophy and wanting the Badgers to adopt a similar attitude.
"Luke's a guy who gets it," offensive coordinator Paul Chryst said. "It was a simple message, but when it's spoken sincerely and passionately, the words become magical. It was a neat deal."
According to multiple players, the message being spoken to them was coming from a person who used a hard-nosed work ethic and determination to get to where he was on and off the field.
Walking on the team in 2003, Swan was awarded with a full scholarship at the beginning of last season and was named senior captain at the start of this season. The season started with a bang for Swan when he hauled in 170 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the season opener. Against Illinois, Swan became the 19th player to reach 1,000 receiving yards for his career.
With time winding down in the second half and the Badgers facing an important third-and-10, Swan jumped to catch a 17-yard pass over the middle. On his way down, Swan was nailed from behind, forcing his left leg to awkwardly extend on the turf. The end result was a torn hamstring, an injury that ended his season and, possibly, his career.
"He was having a great, phenomenal year and watching him going down was a real blow for us," fellow captain Jonathan Casillas said. "Swan is a guy who everyone respects and when he talks, people listen."
For that reason alone, Swan has everyone's attention on Friday night before the Northern Illinois game. Speaking to his teammates about his work ethic, Swan talked about treating every play like it's the most important play of the season and to always give 100 percent. They were simple words, but for a teammate coming back from a serious injury, Swan's words made an impact.
"Luke Swan went out there to talk to us and he hit the nail on the head," said senior wide receiver Paul Hubbard, who missed the team's last five games with a knee injury. "He said he's done playing for the season and he told us to go out and play every play like you know that the next one is going to hurt you.
"The room was very quiet, heartfelt and inspirational words from a player everyone looks up to. His words carried over and we played 100 percent on every play and took that mentality to heart."
The words also hit fullback Chris Pressley, who had gone through a difficult couple weeks himself. After leaving the team before the Penn State game to attend the funeral of his grandma and uncle, Pressley's brother was almost killed when he was stabbed multiple times. Combine Pressley's family turmoil and Swan's message, Pressley's outlook on life has changed.
"You don't know what's going to happen in life," Pressley said. "He wanted us to go play a hearts out, have fun with the game and just play ball. Especially with the seniors, these opportunities don't come so often. You have to take advantage of what you've got. It meant a whole lot coming from Luke."
Under Bielema, the head coach traditionally has his seniors stand up and talk in front of the team near the end of the season, giving perspective as their careers wind down and how their outlook and reflections change in only a few short months. When Swan went down, Bielema decided to have one of his senior captains address the team earlier than he originally wanted.
"When Luke had his injury and pretty much saw that it was going to be a season-ending injury, I said to him, I had planned on letting you talk your last couple games," Bielema said. "Whenever you feel comfortable in doing that, you have the right to do so. "He had a great message, as he always does. Luke is such a strong person, on the football field, off the field, with his faith and the way he handles people, I knew there would be big ears."
Attending every meeting, dinner and practice that doesn't affect his rehab, Swan has become a fixture on the Wisconsin sideline during game days, becoming a coach to his fellow wide receivers. With Swan's message in their heads, the Badgers are now playing for fun and the way Swan would want them to play.
"Luke Swan is a phenomenal athlete and an asset to this team," Hubbard said. "His message hit a lot of guys hard. Guys aren't playing for the numbers or records anymore. We're playing because it's fun."