After consecutive Big Ten Championships, it wasn't the start Wisconsin Head Coach Bret Bielema and the Badgers envisioned to their 2012 campaign, and search for a third-straight trip to a BCS bowl game.
No. 12 Wisconsin hung on to narrowly defeat FCS Northern Iowa 26-21, but the lessons learned following this game may have been more crucial than anything the Badgers could have learned in a what was expected to be blowout.
"Any win is a good win," Bielema said following the game. "But on the same account, what we learned today is probably one of the most beneficial teaching tools we could ever secure.
"To me, we get a lot better out of this than a 42-0 blowout. I don't see what that gets. You've got to touch the hot stove once. Once you get burned, you realize you're not going to do it again. Hopefully our guys learn you've got to put people away when we can.
"On the flip side, our guys, for probably three quarters of the game, played very good football. They played clean, not turning the ball over."
Wisconsin has now been victorious in 15 consecutive season openers, pushing their home winning streak to 17 games.
The Badgers also improved their record to 11-0 against FCS foes under Bielema, but this one did not come easy.
"I thought they were probably the best FCS team we've ever faced," said Bielema. "I could see that before we even played them today."
For much of the game Wisconsin's offense struggled to generate points. The Badgers managed 387 yards of total offense and were consistently shut down in the run game.
"I think Matt had a good game plan," Bielema stated. "I know we had a couple stints and we thought that we'd be able to run the football a little bit and obviously we weren't able to do that.
"I was happy to come into halftime and see that we were up 46 snaps to their 15. That's Wisconsin football, if we snap the ball 80 to 90 times offensively, it usually means we're playing our kind of football."
Ball did reach the end zone once, with a 1-yard run early in the third quarter to push Wisconsin's lead to 19-0. Still the Panthers kept Wisconsin's Heisman candidate in check throughout.
"100 percent credit goes to UNI," Bielema said. "They were putting a lot of people down in there. They did a lot of things out on the perimeter to make sure we couldn't get our outside run game going.
"If I was playing ourselves, I wouldn't let us run the football either. I'd put 12 in the box if they'd let us."
One player who didn't struggle was Junior Quarterback Danny O'Brien. Making his first start as a Wisconsin Badger, O'Brien was 19-23 passing, for 219 yards, and two touchdown tosses.
"For a first time quarterback to throw up those kind of numbers, I thought was very impressive," said Bielema. "I like the fact he didn't turn the ball over.
"Coach Canada, like every other coordinator I've ever met --they want perfection, but overall he made some great decisions."
After jumping out to a 19-0 lead, and then again at 26-7, Northern Iowa would not go away. The Panthers used two big plays to cut Wisconsin's lead to 26-21 with 7:24 remaining, and even had a chance to win the game.
Northern Iowa Quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen twice found running back David Johnson out of the backfield for touchdown passes of 55 and 31 yards respectively.
"It was the same play," Bielema explained. "There was a mistake made by one of our best players and he'll be able to take that in coaching and move forward.
"I'm going to hear it in the staff meeting, 'You take away these five plays and we played a great game,' well you can't. That doesn't happen in college football."
Wisconsin extended their streak of winning non-conference home games to 33 and will head to Oregon State next Saturday to take on the Beavers.