MADISON, Wis. — First of all, thanks very much for the huge check, Wisconsin. That $450,000 will help the entire Northern Iowa athletics department.
And thank you, Badgers, for allowing a group of scrappy FCS underdogs to discover just what kind of football team it has. The answer is good, good enough anyway to take the Big Ten behemoths to the wire.
You nearly saw 80,000 people simultaneously hyperventilate Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium. In fact, it took a deflected fourth-down pass near midfield in the final three minutes for No. 12 Wisconsin to secure a 26-21 win.
“We proved what kind of team we are, what kind of team we’ve got,” said UNI linebacker Tim Clark. “We’ve got a group of guys that will fight. Those are the kind of guys I want on my team.”
“Coach (Mark) Farley said for us to come out and prove that we belonged,” said quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen. “We did that today.”
The red-shirt freshman from Oklahoma threw for 265 yards, just about leading his club back from a 26-7 hole in the fourth quarter. He connected with running back David Johnson on a pair of long touchdown passes (55 and 31 yards) to suddenly, shockingly get UNI within a possession.
They were the same play: a wheel route out of the backfield and down the sideline that Wisconsin failed to cover both times.
“They must not have figured it out, and I’m glad they didn’t,” Johnson said. “They were identical plays. We realized they were trying to match me up with a linebacker, so we tried to get me open with that.”
After a defensive stop, UNI took over at its 25 with 7:24 left. Kollmorgen — whose team didn’t get past midfield until late in the third quarter — completed passes that moved the football to the Wisconsin 41, but found pressure on 4th and 1 and had a throw over the middle tipped away incomplete by defensive tackle Ethen Hamer.
With UNI down to one timeout, Wisconsin officially put it away on Montee Ball’s 5-yard run for first down with under a minute left.
“It’s an eye opener,” Ball said. “An eye opener for us all.”
The Heisman Trophy candidate had to work for his 120 yards rushing, taking 32 carries to get to that total against an almost entirely new front seven defensively for UNI. The Panthers tackled well all day and never let Ball get away.
Wisconsin owned nearly a 20-minute edge in time of possession but UNI’s late flurry made it only a 387-306 yardage edge. Quarterback Danny O’Brien (the transfer from Maryland) completed 19 of 23 passes for 219 yards and two TDs, including a 53-yard strike to Jared Abbrederis early in the fourth to seemingly put UNI away.
“We had a lot to learn today,” Farley said. “I don’t think we had much of an idea what we had coming in here. But I think we have a lot better idea what kind of football team we have walking out.”
“I think we all did well as a team,” Kollmorgen said. “We didn’t get what we wanted, but we can’t leave here with our heads down.”