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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


UW edges out NIU

There’s a fine line between confidence and overconfidence. The Wisconsin Badgers made that adage explicitly clear Saturday against the Northern Illinois Huskies.

Overconfidence against an inferior NIU team landed UW in a 21-24 hole late in the fourth quarter, but a calm, collected Badger offensive unit, aided by three key penalties, marched down the field to score the winning touchdown with 1:21 remaining.

The UW defense, which was porous all day but seemed to come up with big plays when it needed them most, forced the Huskies into a turnover on downs, sealing UW’s 24-21 victory.

“I’m very pleased with the win, but to be honest with you, I really feel that Northern Illinois outplayed us on both sides of the ball,” head coach Barry Alvarez said. “They had us on our heels all day. I feel very fortunate to walk out of there with a win, but we did win, so I have give our kids a lot of credit.”

After UW carried a 17-15 lead into the fourth quarter, NIU tailback Michael “Burner” Turner ran all over Wisconsin on the Huskies’ second drive of the stanza. Turner carried the ball five times for 33 yards in leading NIU into the end zone, giving the Huskies a 21-17 lead with 5:55 remaining in the game.

UW’s next drive stalled, and the Badgers were forced to punt, but the UW defense stopped the Huskies, forcing a three and out. With only 2:35 remaining, the Badgers had one last shot at moving the ball downfield.

Kicking from his own end zone, Jimmy Erwin’s booming kick sent UW’s Jim Leonhard back to his own 25, and it appeared the Badgers’ stagnant offense would need to move 75 yards downfield in order to score, but the play was called back due to a holding penalty on NIU.

The penalty was the first of three that would allow the Badgers to get in position to score. Erwin’s next kick wasn’t nearly as deep, and Leonhard returned it to the 50 to set up UW’s final drive.

Bollinger hit David Braun for eight yards along the sideline on first down, and Bollinger’s keeper up the middle for eight more gave UW a first down on the NIU 34-yard line. After running for no gain on first down, Bollinger’s pass on second down found Jonathan Orr over the middle, but the ball popped out of the freshman receiver’s hands, setting up third and ten.

UW’s third down play seemed to be botched from the start as Bollinger couldn’t handle Al Johnson’s snap, but the senior QB managed to pick up the ball and get off a pass to Anthony Davis over the middle. Davis couldn’t come up with the catch, but a pass interference penalty gave the Badgers a first down at the NIU 32-yard line.

On first down, Bollinger dropped back and found David Braun along the right sideline for an 18-yard gain, giving Wisconsin a first down at the NIU 14-yard line. Braun, a senior who has seen limited action throughout his career with UW and had only caught eight passes before Saturday, set career highs with four catches and 56 receiving yards.

Braun came up big again on first down from the NIU 14-yard line. Bollinger’s pass to the senior was incomplete but Braun drew yet another pass interference call against NIU, and UW ended up with the ball on the two-yard line.

On first and goal, Bollinger faked the ball to Anthony Davis and kept it, heading straight up the middle and into the end zone to give the Badgers a 24-21 lead.
UW needed a defensive stand against a dangerous NIU passing attack to seal the victory, and defensive tackle Darius Jones and corner Scott Starks provided all the defense UW would need.

On first down, Jones sacked NIU signal-caller Josh Haldi for a five-yard loss. On second down, Haldi tried to find Sam Hurd, his favorite target, but Scott Starks blanketed the Hurd, forcing an incompletion.

On third down, Jones came up huge again, crashing through the NIU line before grabbing Haldi and throwing him to the turf for another five-yard loss. Starks broke up another Haldi pass on fourth down, and Bollinger only had to take a knee to seal the victory.

UW’s final drive masked the offensive unit’s sub-par play throughout the game. Davis, a preseason All-American candidate, only rushed for 58 yards on 14 carries, although he did find the end zone in the third quarter. The offensive line failed to produce its normally oversized hole for Davis and did not allow Bollinger much protection. The senior QB was on the run all day, as he was sacked ten times and was hit hard to the turf at least five other times.

The UW defense didn’t have much of an answer to NIU’s unheralded offense, allowing 455 total yards, including 160 on the ground to the dangerous Turner. Freshman wideout Hurd had his way most of the day with B.J. Tucker, gaining 161 yards on eight catches, getting easy yards when Tucker gave him a cushion and beating the UW defense over the top twice.

“I wouldn’t say we are a good team right now,” Alvarez said. “But any good team that I’ve played with, there’s some games that you play poorly, and you’re lucky to walk off the field. It happens. I’m not saying we’re a good team, I just know we’ve got four wins right now.
“Our kids know that they didn’t play well, and I think they’ll tell you that. I think they knew what they had to do to win, and we were able to execute it [at the end of the game.]”

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