Although the defense has a group had seven new starters roaming the field, the defensive line saw three newcomers take the first snap, the defensive ends – senior captain O'Brien Schofield and sophomore J.J. Watt – provided stability.
Two of the big standouts in Wisconsin's 28-20 season-opening victory over Northern Illinois Saturday, the duo combined for 13 tackles, had three combined tackles for loss and shared a sack on quarterback Chandler Harnish.
Furthermore, the Badger defense limited Harnish, the team's leading rusher last season, to only 10 yards on the ground.
"We definitely stopped their run," Watt said. "Near the end we lapsed a little bit obviously, but we came back and finished the game and got the ‘W.'"
The two needed to be solid on a night where the depth across the line was incredibly thin.
With Brendan Kelly (groin) already scheduled to miss the opener, defensive ends Louis Nzegwu injured his shoulder on Wednesday's practice and was deemed unavailable by the medical staff on Thursday, leaving redshirt freshman Anthony Mains to fill in the gaps.
Throw in the fact that senior tackle Dan Moore (1.5 tackles) and sophomore Patrick Butrym (.5 tackles) were limited this week because of injuries, the Badgers came out of the game with no further injuries and a big fourth-quarter stop to win the game.
"They are survivors," Head Coach Bret Bielema said. "They played their tails off and that's something to get excited about. I felt that group had a lot to prove coming into today's matchup."
Frederick Gets the Start
If there were any nerves flowing through Travis Frederick's body, the freshman center from Walworth exhausted them as he ran downfield to jubilation.
In a game that started with junior Isaac Anderson going 80 yards on UW's first offensive play, Frederick, making his first start at center in his first game in uniform, helped make junior Scott Tolzien's first start under center a success.
"This was an experience, something that you live with forever," Frederick said. "Coach Bielema always talked about how you will remember the first snap forever. That was a great first play for the memory bank."
With junior John Moffitt not slated to return until next week after straining his pectoral muscle before fall camp, Frederick became the fourth true freshman to start a game on UW's offensive line and first to start a season opener. If that wasn't memorable enough, his first play should serve as a solid memory.
Helping to seal off the pocket, Frederick saw Tolzien spot Anderson slip behind the single coverage, deliver the perfect pass and watch UW's speedy receiver complete the 80-yard catch-and-run play for the touchdown.
"As soon as Isaac ran down the sideline with the ball, the nerves were gone," Frederick laughed. "That play really helped me sink into the game a little more."
Whether it was the run or the pass, UW's offensive line was solid all four quarters. The Badgers offense racked up 433 total yards, including blocking the way for three UW rushing touchdowns.
"Up front, I thought we did a great job working towards the people we were supposed to," Frederick said. "Northern Illinois didn't bring a lot of pressure, but we picked up who we needed to. Not just the line, but the backs and the tight ends did a great picking up everybody."
Although Moffitt is expected back in the starting lineup, Bielema eluded to Frederick being apart of the offense as the season continues on. With Frederick approaching each game with the simple mindset (to go out and do the same thing he did in camp), the lineman from Walworth Big Foot can expect more Camp Randall memories.
"For me, there were a lot of personal victories, and I think that was good," Frederick said. "There were no fumbles between me and the quarterback, which is the most important. I had a few big mistakes, but nothing that I can't fix."
Preparing with a "Hangover"
Asked if he had trouble sleeping the night before his first start, Tolzien said he popped in a movie at the hotel with his roommate Lance Kendricks which took the edge off.
"We watched The Hangover. It was a movie of choice that we agreed on and it was pretty good," he said.
And speaking of hangover, Tolzien made it clear he and Kendricks got in bed before curfew.
"I got my 10 hours of sleep," he laughed.
The plan obviously worked, as Bielema said in his post-game interview that Tolzien earned the right to start next week's game against Fresno State.
Carimi battling a cold
If 10 hours wasn't enough, Gabe Carimi said he got 13 hours of sleep Friday night. The offensive tackle, who suffered a knee injury in camp, said his leg wasn't bothering him Saturday, but he was suffering from a cold.
"I had the shivers and was sweating profusely. It was one of those nights where I was constantly pulling the covers over me and then off again," he said.
Carimi didn't show any signs of fatigue on the field though and overall he was happy with the offensive line's play.
"It seems like we did a pretty decent job. Maybe we were a little hesitent because we had some new guys in there, but overall I think we did a good job," he said.
Extra Points: One of the key stats Saturday night was third down conversions. UW converted 7-of-12 third downs while NIU went 3-for-12 ... Aaron Henry didn't exactly look like the star cornerback we saw two years ago before he tore his ACL. Henry missed a crucial tackle in the first quarter that resulted in a 47-yard run for Me'co Brown. He also committed two pass interference penalties, although one was called back because the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage ... Wondering why the Huskies made a comeback? After UW held the ball for 12:11 in the third quarter, the Badgers only had possession for 4:05 in the fourth ... After catching three passesin the first quarter -- including the 80-yard touchdown to open the game-- and scoring on a 23-yard touchdown run to open the second quarter, Issac Anderson didn't touch the ball the rest of the game.
Adam Hoge of Bucky's 5th Quarter contributed to this report.