Panic is defined by Wikipedia as “a sudden sensation of fear which is so strong as to dominate or prevent reason and logical thinking, replacing it with overwhelming feelings of anxiety and frantic agitation.” Coming off back to back Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl appearances, Wisconsin had little reason to panic. However, the Badgers started this season with a frightening near loss to FCS foe Northern Iowa, which Coach Bielema referred to as a lesson learned without the consequence of a loss. The lesson was not learned as the offense limped through a 10-7 upset loss to Oregon State the following week, dropping Wisconsin from the rankings. Last year’s offense could have scored on many NFL defenses, and this year, the endzone is as frequently visited as Mars. Perhaps reason and logical thinking were compromised as Bielema fired the offensive line coach in hopes to right the ship quickly. Utah State would be the first test.
For Badger fans today, the ideal autumn Saturday afternoon offered some relief to the panic they have suffered the past two weeks. With kickoff being at 7pm, fans were able to enjoy the farmer’s market around the state capitol, a comfortable walk down State Street, and a pleasant lunch at Memorial Union on the terrace overlooking Lake Mendota. We did all these things including taking an afternoon snooze on Bascom Hill. All these activities helped to temporarily relieve the “anxiety and frantic agitation” that saturated thoughts surrounding this night’s impending contest. On the other side of campus, Union South was packed tight with fans to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Badger Bash, a pregame band concert led by legendary band director Mike Leckrone – just another distraction from what was about to unfold on the gridiron. So much uncertainty clouded the minds of the Wisconsin faithful as they began to cram Camp Randall. The feeling at the stadium could only be described as uncomfortable and strange as no one knew for certain what to expect. The unexpected occurred right away as a squirrel interrupted the opening kickoff and had to be chased away before play could get underway. Wisconsin’s offense looked squirrely all through the first half as the Aggies led 14-3, and the biggest concern revolved around whether or not the Badgers could score…against anyone.
Scoring 3 points is abysmal compared to the freakish 60, 70, and even 80 point offensive outbursts displayed by Badger offenses the past two years. How could they score enough to surpass a now confident Utah State team? An 82 yard punt return for a UW TD would help to answer that question, and despite a reinvigorated crowd, Wisconsin’s offense still had yet to dent the endzone. “Heisman candidate” Montee Ball would fight through another struggle, but notch a 17 yard touchdown run helping the Badgers to take the lead 16-14 (missed extra point – insert frustration here). Wisconsin’s defense blanketed Utah State the entire second half until late in the game when a prayer of a throw would set the Aggies up with a short field goal opportunity with eleven seconds remaining. A 17 game home winning streak and utter embarrasment were on the line. No one left, but anticipating a ugly loss, everyone had their belongings in hand ready to bolt for the exits. The kick sailed up…and off to the right causing the entire stadium to cheer in relief followed by a slow and quiet march out of the gates knowing that Wisconsin dodged another huge bullet. Aggie players wore the heartbreak on their faces as they came over to acknowledge the Utah State fans that traveled to Madison. For the Badgers, that strange feeling that started the game never really evaporated. For a while, “panic” may have to be the new normal in cheeseland.