What a difference a win makes for the University of Wisconsin football team.
While another blowout home victory, this one by a 62-17 margin over Purdue on Saturday, didn't cure all that ails the Badgers, it was a big step in the right direction.
The losses to Michigan State and Ohio State were the first back-to-back defeats for UW since losing to Ohio State and Iowa midway through the 2009 season.
"It's just nice to get rewarded for a lot of hard work," UW coach Bret Bielema said after the game. "We put a lot into those last two weeks. It's a hard profession, it's a hard job. If you don't win you don't get the reward at the end of the week you've worked so hard to get."
It was a day when the Big Ten Conference featured two big upsets, with Nebraska losing 28-25 at home to Northwestern and Michigan losing 24-16 at Iowa.
Two other heavy favorites, Ohio State and Michigan State, struggled to beat bottom-feeders Indiana and Minnesota, respectively.
None of those outcomes helped the 16th-ranked Badgers (7-2 overall, 3-2 Big Ten), who travel to face Minnesota (2-7, 1-4) this week. But they did illuminate how much could happen in the next three weeks before division races are decided.
Penn State tops the Leaders Division at 5-0 -- two games ahead of the Badgers -- and had a bye over the weekend, but endured the most turmoil with an ugly molestation scandal involving a former assistant coach.
The Nittany Lions have a brutal remaining schedule: at home against Nebraska this week, then at Ohio State and UW.
If Penn State loses at least two games and Ohio State loses one, the Badgers would earn a spot in the Big Ten title game by winning out.
"You look at the scores and I think what it makes you think of as a coach is the parity in college football right now," UW defensive line coach Charlie Partridge said Sunday. "Everything is pretty equal. You've got to be ready to play every week, regardless of what the record of the opponent may be."
The coaches shouldn't have any trouble getting the Badgers to focus on the Golden Gophers, who gave Michigan State all it could handle, only to lose 31-24 .
Minnesota upset Iowa 22-21 a week earlier.
"I think everyone sees some marked improvement," Partridge said of the Gophers. "Everyone is well aware how well they played Michigan State. I don't foresee our kids underestimating this game at all. It's always a hard fought game with Minnesota. They'll be ready to go."
The Badgers continue to have problems on defense and special teams. The defense allowed three plays of 30-plus yards while surrendering 17 points in the first half against Purdue. The first was a 30-yard touchdown pass on a busted coverage by safety Shelton Johnson.
"There were a couple plays in the first half we wish we were a little cleaner on, without a doubt," Partridge said.
The kickoff coverage team allowed returns of 49, 74 and 40 yards by Raheem Mostert.
"We've got to get it corrected," Bielema said. "There's a big emphasis on personnel. We're so banged up right now on the defensive side of the ball, we lose our depth. It gets difficult."
The Badgers lost senior free safety Aaron Henry to a sprained right ankle in the second quarter. Even though Henry vowed afterward to Bielema he would be ready this week, he was taken off in a cart and could not put any weight on the foot.
Johnson moved from strong to free safety and Dezmen Southward came in at strong safety, affecting two positions. Southward is also on the kickoff coverage team, so that could be an issue if he has to start.
The defense is already down two starters due to foot injuries to cornerback Devin Smith and defensive end David Gilbert. Another starter, defensive end Louis Nzegwu, is also banged up.
As coaches do, Bielema and Purdue's Danny Hope commiserated over injuries before the game.
"For teams like us, we have very good football players," Bielema said. "It's just a lot of times we lack depth. It's kind of a chain reaction when you lose a player at one position. It's a domino effect, how it affects special teams, how it affects your sub packages. It really gets difficult as the season goes on."