MADISON, Wis. – After watching a comfortable fourth-quarter lead melt away in a matter of minutes, No. 12 Wisconsin needed a big defensive play from Ethan Hemer to fend off FCS school Northern Iowa on Saturday.
The redshirt junior defensive lineman batted down a pass by Panthers quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen on fourth-and-1 in Wisconsin territory, allowing the Badgers to escape with a 26-21 victory over the Panthers – who showed why theyre regarded as one of the top teams in Division Is second tier.
Badgers coach Bret Bielema figured his team might learn more from a close call than a big blowout to start the season.
Youve got to touch a hot stove once, Bielema said. Once you get burned, youre not going to do it again. And hopefully our guys learn, hey, youve got to put people away when we can.
Montee Ball rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown for the Badgers, while new starting quarterback Danny OBrien completed 19 of 23 passes for 219 yards and a pair of touchdowns to Jared Abbrederis in his debut.
I believe we didnt make the statement that we wanted to, Ball said. But I believe this was a great learning experience for us all, because we believe that the mentality (we had) toward the game, we werent attacking the defense like we should have. But its a lot easier to correct your mistakes after a win than a loss.
Kollmorgen threw for 265 yards and three touchdowns.
It was another huge effort against superior competition for the Panthers, who had one-point losses at Iowa in 2009 and at Iowa State last season. Northern Iowa beat Iowa State in 2007.
Without the batted ball, we might still be playing, Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley said. A guy got a hand up, so credit him.
No. 17 NEBRASKA 49, SOUTHERN MISS. 20: In Lincoln, Neb., Taylor Martinez threw for a career-high 354 yards and matched his high with five touchdown passes to lead the Huskers.
Nebraska won its nation-leading 27th straight opener.
Nebraska played the last three quarters without Rex Burkhead. The 1,300-yard rusher last season went out with a sprained ligament in his left knee after opening the scoring with a career-long 57-yard run.
NORTHWESTERN 42, SYRACUSE 41: In Syracuse, N.Y., backup quarterback Trevor Siemian hit Demetrius Fields for a 9-yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds left, and the Wildcats held.
Siemian, subbing for starter Kain Colter, drove the Wildcats 75 yards in 10 plays, taking advantage of a critical personal foul against Syracuse defender Keon Lyn for a late hit out of bounds on the previous play.
The decisive score in the sweltering Carrier Dome came after Ryan Nassib had engineered a stunning comeback for the Orange, throwing for four second-half touchdowns. Nassib finished 44 of 65 for 470 yards.
ILLINOIS 24, WESTERN MICHIGAN 7: In Champaign, Ill., with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase injured, Ashante Williams returned an interception 60 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown to help the Illini hang on.
The Illini opened up a 17-0 lead but their offense stalled when Scheelhaase left the game with an ankle injury late in the third quarter.
IOWA 18, NORTHERN ILLINOIS 17: In Chicago, Damon Bullock ran for 150 yards and scored on a late 23-yard touchdown run to lead the Hawkeyes.
The Hawkeyes were down 17-12 when Bullock ran untouched around the left end to put them ahead by one. That happened after Iowa downed a punt at the Huskies 1.
Rather than take a safety, Northern Illinois punted. Iowa took over on the 24, and Bullock ran it in on third down. The two-point conversation failed, but the Iowa defense held.