Wide receiver Isaac Anderson caught a pass for a touchdown and ran for another, and Wisconsin held off a late N. Illinois rally to escape with a 28-20 victory Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium.
New starting quarterback Scott Tolzien threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Anderson on the first offensive play for the Badgers (1-0).
The Badgers led 28-6 going into the fourth quarter, but a pair of late touchdowns by the Huskies (0-1), plus a two-point conversion, cut the lead to 8 with 2:47 remaining. N. Illinois recovered an onside kick but couldn't convert on fourth-and-3 at Wisconsin's 36-yard line.
It was another shaky victory for a Big Ten team over a non-BCS conference opponent on the first weekend of play.
The Huskies, of the Mid-American Conference, drove for a touchdown, capped by Chad Spann's 1-yard scoring run with 8:29 remaining. N. Illinois then missed a two-point conversion attempt.
But Tolzien threw an interception deep in Badgers territory and N. Illinois scored again. The Huskies' drive was kept alive when officials ruled that quarterback Chandler Harnish's forward progress was halted before he lost the ball on third-and-goal, and the Huskies also benefited from a pass interference call in the end zone on the next play. Spann then scored on a 2-yard run.
Spann also recovered the onside kick, giving the Huskies a chance to tie on a touchdown and two-point conversion in the final 2:46. But safety Chris Maragos broke up a pass on fourth-and-3 to seal the win for Wisconsin.
N. Illinois struggled to stop Wisconsin without last year's defensive star, Larry English, who was selected in the first round of the NFL draft by the San Diego Chargers.
Tolzien was 15 of 20 for 257 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, occasionally alternating with redshirt freshman Curt Phillips. Running back John Clay scored a pair of third-quarter touchdowns for the Badgers.
On the Badgers' first play from scrimmage, Tolzien found Anderson wide open down the right sideline for an 80-yard touchdown. On their next possession, Tolzien hit Anderson with passes on back-to-back plays before handing off to him on an end-around play that caught the Huskies' defense napping. Anderson dodged a last-ditch tackle attempt on the left sideline for a 23-yard touchdown run and a 14-3 Wisconsin lead.