MADISON, Wisconsin (Ticker) -- Northern Illinois repeatedly knocked down Brooks Bollinger, but the Huskies could not knock out the Wisconsin quarterback.
Bollinger, who was sacked 10 times, scored on a two-yard touchdown run with 1:21 remaining, his second touchdown of the game, as the 18th-ranked Badgers survived a major scare with a 24-21 victory.
"I think we just know how to win games," Wisconsin wide receiver David Braun said. "I think today showed it. No one is going to say we played a great game, but somehow we won the game and in the end that is all that counts."
Wisconsin's winning driving was aided by two critical pass interference penalties. On 3rd-and-10 from the Northern Illinois 34, linebacker Larry Williams was called for interference after bumping running back Anthony Davis from behind, giving Wisconsin (4-0) a first down at the 29.
After Bollinger found Braun for a 15-yard completion, safety Justin Dole collided with Braun and was flagged for another interference penalty, resulting in a first-and-goal at the 2.
Bollinger went up the middle on the next play, giving the Badgers a victory in a game in which they were outplayed.
"I'm not going to talk about the officiating," Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak said. "I never criticize officials because simply they are closer than I am, so I don't know. But there were some awful bad timing on some of those penalties."
Wisconsin was outgained, 455-275, and its running game was virtually non-existent as the Badgers managed just 68 yards on the ground. Davis, the Big Ten Conference's leading rusher, was held to 49 yards on 14 carries.
It marks the third time the Badgers have started 4-0 under Barry Alvarez. On the two previous occasions, 1993 and 1998, they went on to win the Big Ten title.
"I'm very pleased with the win," Alvarez said. "To be honest with you, I really felt Northern Illinois outplayed us on both sides of the ball. I felt we were on our heels all day."
"It's hard to know we are a running team and we had a real tough time running," Wisconsin fullback Matt Bernstein said. "That is something we are going to have to work on in practice this week and we will be back to where we were."
Bollinger improved to 26-7 as a starter at Wisconsin and needs just one win to tie the school record held by Mike Samuel and Darrell Bevell.
Wisconsin overcame a big game by Michael Turner, who replaced star Thomas Hammock and rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries for the Huskies (1-2). Turner scored on TD runs of three and one yards in the fourth quarter as Northern Illinois rallied from an eight-point deficit to take a 21-17 lead with 5:55 remaining.
Hammock rushed for 176 yards in Northern Illinois' season-opening 42-41 victory over Wake Forest, but was kept out of last week's loss to South Florida due to a possible heart condition and is sidelined indefinitely.
"We went in there without six kids that started against Wake Forest," Novak said. "Six of them. Two of them were captains. We should have won the football game. They played good enough to win. You bet they did."
Northern Illinois stayed in the game despite committing four turnovers.
After Steve Azar's third goal of the game pulled the Huskies within 10-9 early in the third quarter, Jim Leonhard's NCAA-leading fourth interception of the season gave Wisconsin a first down at the Huskies 14. That set up Davis' nine-yard TD run that made it 17-9 with 5:56 left in the third quarter.
However, the Badgers went three-and-out on their next three series and the Huskies rallied behind the running of Turner, who gained just 112 yards in Northern Illinois' first two contests.
The Huskies drove 79 yards on six plays to close within 17-15 on Turner's TD run on the first play of the fourth quarter. The conversion pass failed.
Following Wisconsin's third straight punt, Northern Illinois marched 90 yards on just seven plays to take the lead on Turner's three-yard scamper.
Azar's 37-yard field goal pulled Northern Illinois within 7-6 with 33 seconds left in the first half, but Scott Campbell converted a 29-yarder as time expired to give Wisconsin a 10-6 lead at the half.