Sept. 3, 2012
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin defensive tackle Warren Herring had every right to feel the way that he was feeling.
“My heart was racing,’’ he said. “This was fourth down and you have to make a play.’’
Herring was not the only player feeling that sense of urgency on the defense Saturday.
“It was a collaborative effort,’’ he suggested.
On fourth-and-1 from the UW 41, Herring got pressure on Northern Iowa quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen and defensive tackle Ethan Hemer deflected his pass attempt for a critical defensive stop.
“That’s a gut-check time,’’ said Badger quarterback Danny O’Brien. “You have to give credit to the defense for stopping their momentum on that fourth down to win the game essentially.’’
Northern Iowa’s final possession came on the heels of a three-and-out by the UW offense.
“You never want that to happen,’’ O’Brien said of putting the defense back on the field to protect the 26-21 lead. “But to see how they responded the way they did was really big.’’
You won’t find Herring’s name in the tackle stats. But you’ll remember his impact on that play.
“I wanted to prove to everyone that I can compete,’’ said Herring, a converted defensive end and redshirt sophomore from Fairview Heights, Ill., and Belleville East High School.
“I know Coach Partridge knows that,’’ he said of his personal motivation with position coach Charlie Partridge. “And he put me in that situation for a reason.’’
Partridge wanted to get pressure up the middle on Kollmorgen, and Herring obliged.
“They slid away from me (with their protection),’’ Herring said, “and the guard (left guard Dan Kruger) came down. I worked outside and countered back in.
“Our DBs held the quarterback from throwing it (quickly), giving time for the rush. Coach P has been teaching us a technique -- getting our shoulders in the crease and our hips square.
“I slid in there and got the pressure and Hemer got his hands up and tipped the ball.’’
That put the onus on the UW offense to close out the game with 2 minutes and 46 seconds left. Before the first snap, tailback Montee Ball had a message for his teammates in the huddle.
“Let’s kill the clock,’’ he said, “and get out of here alive.’’
Ball then strung together runs of 13, 5, 1 and 5 yards to secure the first victory of the season.
“It was most definitely a learning experience,’’ said Ball, “and just like Coach B (Bret Bielema) said, maybe it’s a good thing this happened because we can all open our eyes.’’
O’Brien had his opened by the overall environment in Camp Randall Stadium.
“I had to calm myself down just from being excited,’’ said O’Brien, the Maryland transfer. “I’m not used to being a part of a home game with this kind of crowd behind you.
“It was unbelievable and something that I will remember for the rest of my life.’’
O’Brien won’t soon forget a few other things from his Badgers debut.
“There were probably a few plays that stuck with me that you can’t have at quarterback,’’ said O’Brien, who completed 19-of-23 passes for 219-yards and touchdowns. That included two drops.
“I had a low throw to Woz (tight end Brian Wozniak) that I kind of rushed early. I wish that we could have converted on that third down. But we got three out of it.’’
The throw to Wozniak came on a third-and-3 from the Northern Iowa 15. Had the catch been made, the Badgers would have had a first-and-goal inside the 10 on their first series of the game.
Who knows how the ebb and flow of the half might have changed with an early touchdown?
Sophomore placekicker Kyle French, at the very least, made sure the offense came away with points and capped the 14-play drive with a 32-yard field goal.
“The pressure was on me at the start of the game,’’ said French, who also converted on a 35-yard field goal in the second quarter. “My main thing was that I just needed to execute.’’
The Badgers controlled the ball for 23:25 in the first half, running 42 plays to 15 for UNI.
“That’s Wisconsin football,’’ said Bielema. “But one of the things we always try to stress is trying to create touchdowns, not field goals, in the red zone.’’
In the second half, the Badgers jumped out to leads of 19-0 and 26-7. But the Panthers countered each time. “We need to keep our foot on the gas,’’ Ball said.
Considering how much practice time he had missed during training camp, there was the suspicion that Ball might struggle to get up to “game speed’’ and that was the case early on.
“I was a little rusty getting back and getting tackled; it was a challenge,’’ he said. “You have to get a feel for the game; a feel for who people are tackling and jumping around blocks.’’
In the fourth quarter, it appeared that Ball was getting that “feeling’’ back.
“By then, I felt a lot more comfortable with the way the game was going,’’ said Ball, who finished with 32 rushes for 120 yards and a touchdown. He also had three catches for 31 yards.
“I can’t wait to attack this film, and see where I can better myself.’’
The least productive game of Ball’s record-breaking 2011 season was the opener against UNLV. He was held to 63 yards on 10 carries. Was there any relief in getting over the first hurdle of 2012?
“Yeah, there was just to see what we’re capable of doing,’’ Ball said. “We made a bunch of mistakes but a lot of teams across the nation are doing the same thing; correcting mistakes.
“I still believe we have the weapons that can put points on the board -- a lot more points than we did today. But we’re all still learning. The bottom line is that we got the win.’’
O’Brien was of the same opinion.
“It’s a lot easier to learn from it,’’ he said, “when you win rather than when you lose.’’
In the end, it comes down to executing the little things; winning the one-on-one matchups.
“You never know,’’ O’Brien said, “what play can win or lose a game for you.’’
Herring and Hemer combined to produce one of those game-saving, if not game-winning plays.