CHICAGO - Bret Bielema knew Dave Doeren, his defensive coordinator at this time a season ago, was an aggressive minded head coach at Northern Illinois.
But the onside kick the first year coach pulled against Bielema and his No. 7 ranked Badgers following NIU's first score of the ball game surprised the sixth-year head coach.
"I know that Dave has that in his bag," Bielema said following his team's 49-7 win. "He likes those pop kicks. Our guys were on it but the ball kept bouncing around like a hot potato. We even had some guys run into each other.
"Then Jacob Pedersen came out with it from the bottom of the pile."
Doeren, coaching in just his third game with NIU, told his players that he was planning on attempting an onside kick following his team's first score. So when Jasmin Hopkins scored from three yards out to square the game at seven late in the first, he wasn't about to rescind that declaration.
"I told our players that I was going to coach to win," Doeren said. "If we got it, we'd go score again and get some momentum going. I really felt that our chance today was to get our speed going and get their big guys tired on defense. Had we gotten that surprise onside and marched downfield, got them tired and scored, it's a different ball game."
That nearly happened.
If it weren't for an alert and strong-handed Pedersen, NIU would have recovered the surprise dribbler and in turn, would have had all the momentum in the world following their decisive five-play, 67-yard touchdown drive.
But alas, Pedersen somehow wrangled the ball and Russell Wilson and company stormed down the field and asserted itself as the dominator in this particular matchup.
"I kind of hit the first guy I saw," Pedersen explained. "And the ball started bouncing around. Once I got it I wrapped it up with two hands and said, 'Don't let go.'"
Bielema, knowing how special teams play can swing a game, thought that was a critical juncture in Saturday's game.
"You can't just point to one point in the game," Bielema said. "But that was a big momentum play because we recovered, scored a touchdown and got the score back to where we wanted it."
The rest was history.
UW, led by a red-hot Wilson, scored 49 points and racked up better than 600 yards of total offense. It's defense, led by sure tacklers Chris Borland and Marcus Cromartie limited what had been a potent NIU offense to just seven points and 237 yards of total offense.
Though it's tough to project how the game may have played out had the onside kick gone NIU's way, it's easy to point out how the Badgers overturned that momentum upon falling on that loose ball.
"I think that could have been a huge game changer if we got the ball back with momentum," NIU senior quarterback Chandler Harnish said. "Once they got up by two scores, on offense we couldn't get going. It was tough. You have to take advantage of every opportunity.
"Every time they got the ball they seemed to drive down the field and give themselves a chance to score."