MADISON, Wis. – A close loss for Northern Illinois, an exciting game, both teams exiting the field feeling pretty good about themselves.
That sounds right. That was the expected result from Saturday's 28-20 Wisconsin victory against NIU in front of 80,532 fans at Camp Randall Stadium.
How it got there was paint-by-numbers with all the wrong colors. I'm still trying to piece it together.
Wisconsin apparently has entered the current era of college football, opening up the game with an 80-yard touchdown pass from first-time starter Scott Tolzien to a wide-open Isaac Anderson.
"We really didn't know what to expect with it being the first game of the season," NIU linebacker Cory Hanson said. "They're traditionally a run team so maybe they did surprise us, catch us by a surprise by opening up the game with a pass. But it's nothing we weren't ready for. It was a blown coverage."
It was bizarre to watch, like if The Rolling Stones suddenly played Lil' Wayne. Scott Tolzien couldn't pick out Scott Tolzien in a police lineup. He was supposed to benefit from Wisconsin running backs Zach Brown and John Clay, not the other way around.
It was a forgivable mistake for the first play of Wisconsin's season given its reputation. But with the exception of a blitz by cornerback Patrick George in the second quarter that forced an interception to Hanson, the NIU defense made Tolzien look good.
Tolzien threw passes all over the field and wracked up yards on an NIU secondary low on experience. They made it easy on Tolzien by giving him huge windows that allowed his receivers to sit down in and gain big chunks of yards.
That's a problem that NIU needs to correct if it wants to have a successful season in the pass-happy Mid-American Conference.
Then there was the comeback itself. Hanson set it up with an interception one play after a Chad Spann touchdown, continuing what the linebacker has done all throughout camp in what I believe is a sign of things to come for his season.
The Huskies marched down the field and, on third-and-goal, Harnish was sacked and it appeared to some he fumbled. I don't know if he did or not, but the referees deemed the play wasn't even reviewable.
NIU was left with a fourth-and-goal on the Badgers' 6, only to be handed a gift of a pass interference penalty on a ball that was uncatchable.
Who else had flashbacks to 2002 in Madison? When NIU fans will go to their graves saying they got hosed on, of course, pass interference calls late in the game.
On top of that, NIU had a chance after an onside kick recovery to tie up the game.
I don't know what I just saw, but I know it was fun to watch. There are mistakes to fix for both teams. Playcalls are an issue. Execution is another one. Running back Me'co Brown's health is potentially a big one. A game like this leaves a lot to dissect.
But, for an opening-night game, I'm going to enjoy this scenic route to madness.
Daily Chronicle NIU beat writer John Sahly can be reached at email@example.com.