Getting a break from the schedule makers, Wisconsin survived its three non-conference home games and was able to take care of two middle-of-the-pack Big Ten teams to bury any doubt of how talented this young team is.
But after its countless self-inflicted wounds made the Badgers fall short in their first big-time match-up of the season, Wisconsin will need to regroup in the next 72 hours to fix what past season's more experienced teams failed to adapt to.
In 2007, Wisconsin, riding a nation's best 14-game winning streak into Champagne, succumbed to the powerful running of Rashard Mendenhall and the once-talented Juice Williams for its first loss of the season. As it turned out, the Illini beat UW twice, as the Badgers came out flat the next week in Happy Valley in a 31-point blasting by Penn State, pushing the Badgers out of title contention.
Last season was worse on both accords. Not only did UW not recover from its first loss of the season, the ever-famous Michigan Meltdown, it didn't recover until late October. Combine the loss in Ann Arbor with the last-second defeat at home to Ohio State, the Badgers were outscored 86-23 by Penn State and Iowa the following weeks, starting the conference slate a gut-wrenching 0-4.
Now, the Badgers have to figure out a way to bounce back from a game they should have won to face an Iowa team that isn't going to show pity.
"It's huge," said sophomore tackle J.J. Watt. "It's going to tell us a lot about our team and the kind of chemistry we have. Coming off a loss like this, nobody can be happy, but we have to put it behind us because it's Iowa week. Iowa is not going to be an easy game. Our team is going to come together."
It's going to be an important week for quarterback Scott Tolzien, as the junior, facing a heavy pressure for the first time, was able to help an offense earn 368 yards against the Big Ten's best defense, but he threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns that killed drives.
"We got confidence in him," senior Chris Maragos said of Tolzien. "We told him that we had his back and he knows that."
Added Watt: "This team has chemistry unlike I have ever seen in college football. That's going to help us through this and make us play smarter than ever." That's the goal all around for this Wisconsin unit. Offensively, UW has to be smart with its gambles and smart on the field, as the offense's six penalties forced UW into too many long down-and-distance situations. Defensively, UW needs to not have its annual lapse, which allowed an average quarterback to gain 88 of his 132 yards to score the unit's only touchdown.
And special teams, well, Wisconsin needs to figure out what needs to changed, as poor kickoff and kickoff return coverage is unfortunately what the Badgers are becoming known for.
Will Wisconsin also be known as a team that lets a tough loss fester and cause more damage a week later? We'll know that answer by 2 p.m. Saturday.
"(This loss), I think it's going to light the fire under them and I am going to make sure it does," Maragos said. "We just need to do it. We'll go back to the drawing board, get ready for Iowa and give them our best shot.
"I am excited about this team. I wouldn't want to be with any other guys, any other unit, because of the way they compete, they never stop. They are guys that are willing to put the work in, and that's what this team is all about."