The optimism is oozing out of my head at an alarming rate. Way too much of it at a way too early time.
Still, I was one of very few to have a good feeling about this 2009 Badgers squad and even though there was plenty to pick on in the fourth quarter, almost all of the major areas of concern saw steady play and questions answered.
- Scott Tolzien - The redshirt junior was crisp and confident all night long. He completed 75 percent of his passes and only made two bad decisions. One resulted in the fourth quarter interception the led to an NIU touchdown. Tolzien gave himself a solid "B" grade after the game. Still plenty to work on.
- Pass blocking - Tolzien was rarely hurried and did not get sacked the entire night. For an offensive line playing without two key starters, it was a pretty good night -- at least on passing plays.
- Front seven - Most fans probably had no idea who most of these guys were but everyone was flying around the field the entire night. Defensive end J.J. Watt lived up to the hype with 4.5 tackles and half a sack while O'Brien Schofield had 2.5 tackles for loss and finished with 5.5 tackles on the night. He also had was should have been the biggest defensive play of the night when he sacked Chandler Harnish, forced a fumble and recovered it all in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately Harnish was ruled down because forward progress was stopped, even though the ball came loose the instant Schofield made contact.
- Run blocking/running game - As good as the pass blocking was, John Clay and Zach Brown didn't have many holes to run through Saturday night. With that said, Clay didn't seem to have the breakaway speed we saw last year and Bielema admitted after the game that Brown was playing through a leg injury suffered 10 days before the game. The two RBs combined for only 96 yards on the ground.
- David Gilreath - Gilreath returned all the punts and kicks Saturday but wasn't able to do much. He did too much lateral running instead of moving up the field and he appeared to miss two golden opportunies in the first half when his teammates opened up huge running lanes on two kickoff returns. Gilreath also failed to catch a pass.
- Old habits - Just when it looked like a blowout was in store, the Badgers returned to their late-game habits that killed them in 2008. The defense got tired, a couple penalties sustained NIU drives and the special teams allowed NIU to convert an on-side kick.
- Adam Hoge
1-0 is no longer just a mantra. It is the Badgers' record after one non-conference game in Camp Randall Stadium. This one was not nearly as close as the 28-20 score might suggest. Wisconsin held a 22-point lead in the fourth quarter and Northern Illinois needed a couple fluky conversions on third-and-long, a series of bad calls, an interception, an onside kick recovery and a two-point conversion just to make it close. While it would have been nice to see the Badgers close more strongly and win their opener by double digits, the defense stepped up when it mattered - something that was a problem a year ago - and there were encouraging signs all over the field.
Scott Tolzien looked positively Stocco-esque at the quarterback position and I mean that in a very good way. He was crisp, accurate, efficient and, with one exception, made great decisions. He also delivered a couple nice throws under heavy pressure and did not look like a guy making his first collegiate start. Curt Phillips did not look nearly as poised. I love that the coaching staff allowed both quarterbacks a legitimate chance to show their stuff in a regular season game. I wrote earlier that I felt it was the best way to answer the quarterbacking question this season and I think Tolzien clearly demonstrated that he is the guy. The rest of the offense looked very comfortable with Tolzien running its pro-style attack and, while Fresno State will prove a bigger challenge than NIU, I look forward to seeing what they are able to do.
- Jake Harris