Sept. 1, 2012
After turning off the microphone as the analyst for the Badger Radio Network, UWBadgers.com Insider Mike Lucas offers some final thoughts on No. 12 Wisconsin's 26-21 win over Northern Iowa Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- One thing you can learn from a game like Saturday's 26-21 win over Northern Iowa is to never take anything for granted, especially the comeback potential of any opponent -- regardless of the subdivision.
When it was 26-7 after the Badgers struck on a big play from Danny O'Brien to Jared Abbrederis, I'm sure a lot of people felt the game was over. But, in situations like this -- first games -- you have to develop not only a personality, but a killer instinct. We saw how quickly momentum can swing on big plays. Twice, Northern Iowa was able to create a one-on-one matchup with its running back, David Johnson, and a linebacker. Both times it struck for touchdowns.
This was symptomatic of the defense last year, where the Badgers' body of work was awfully good, but big plays came back to haunt them. In this game, through three quarters, Northern Iowa had 131 yards of total offense. On the next two possessions, the Panthers had 149 yards.
This speaks again to how quickly momentum can swing and how important it is to never assume or take anything for granted, even a big lead -- or relatively big lead -- on your home turf.
O'Brien impresses in debut
People wondered about the efficiency of Danny O'Brien. Before the start of Saturday's game, if you looked at the numbers, you figured that he would be far more efficient within the Badgers' offense than he was at Maryland. That was the case with Russell Wilson.
In Wilson's three years at NC State, he completed 58 percent of his passes. He completed 78 percent last year at UW. In his two years at Maryland, O'Brien completed 57 percent of his passes and today was 19-for-23 with two drops from receivers.
I thought O'Brien mechanically handled the game and situations well. He probably will tell everyone that he could've done better and there were some mental things or reads that he could've executed better. But, this is also a first game for O'Brien, despite his 17 career starts. This is a different team that is still trying to build its personality.
I thought he made some plays and he'll make more plays. To keep drives alive, this offense has to find ways to make those plays on third down. That was the storyline last year when the Badgers led the country in converting on third down.
They might have to do it a little bit differently this year though, because they don't have the running ability of a Russell Wilson. Few teams do. But, that is not to say that they won't find other ways to move the chains in those situations.
Steady Ball gets job done
The next time we see Montee Ball, we'll see a more vintage Montee Ball than we saw today. In the fourth quarter, especially on that final possession for Wisconsin, I thought he returned to form and got into the flow of things. He was seeing things better and feeling the game. Montee would be the first one to tell you that the most important dimension for a running back is to feel the game.
It was to be expected that he would have to knock off some rust early.
Learning experiences can be really painful if you don't win. This type of learning experience, and it's not cliché, is something that the coaching staff and the players can use to their advantage to get ready for Oregon State.
I think, after looking at film, they'll see areas where they can make tweaks or corrections and be more efficient on both sides of the ball next week. The old adage, which I believe is true, is that you make your greatest strides as a team, whether it be physically on the field or in your mental approach, in game two.
Having this experience today probably bodes well for everybody that didn't feel like they played up to their level of expectation.