It is a yearly tradition. The student section can’t leave after Jump Around because the game is still too close in the fourth quarter. Fans look at each other wondering if this was the same Wisconsin team that was supposed to handle Northwestern with ease. Northwestern makes everyone question everything they thought they knew about the Badgers.
On Saturday, the tradition continued.
Here is what we learned from Wisconsin’s 33-24 win over Northwestern.
Fumagalli really is the difference-maker
Coming into this season, it was common knowledge that tight end Troy Fumagalli was the best player on the offense and possible the best player on the team overall.
Through the first three games of the season, Fumagalli hauled in 15 receptions for 236 yards and three touchdowns. His most important plays consistently came on third downs as he quickly emerged as quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s favorite target, specifically targeting him on underneath routes on the crucial down.
With Fumagalli as a late scratch for the game against Northwestern, Wisconsin struggle to convert on third down. In the first half, Wisconsin was one for five on third downs with Hornibrook throwing two interceptions on third downs.
The overall third down conversion rate wound up being just 33 percent, well short of their season average of 58 percent.
Luckily Fumagalli only has a minor injury and should not miss significant time, but this game showed just how vital Fumagalli is to the offense. His mere presence on the field makes every one better and makes the offense run as a well oiled machine fans have been accustomed to seeing.
Bend, don’t break
Wisconsin struggled on third down, but Northwestern consistently got nothing on third downs.
Leon Jacobs, who game in and game out has proved to be a sure tackle in big moments for the defense, started off the game stifling a third and short opportunity for Northwestern, forcing them to settle for a field goal.
Redshirt freshman Isaiahh Loudermilk, filling in for the injured defensive end Chikwe Obasih, also stepped up early getting a third down sack forcing a Northwestern punt.
The defense got little in the way of help from the offense today and had to start off more than a few drives with their backs against the wall and with Northwestern having great starting field position.
Safeties Natrell Jamerson and D’Cota Dixon made their presence known with the former getting two interceptions (one of them a pick-6!) and a sack on third down and the latter finishing with 10 total tackles, 1.5 sacks and a safety that ended up securing the win for Wisconsin.
Linebacker’s Chris Orr and Garret Dooley would not be left out of the third down bonanza as they each got sacks on big third downs early in the third quarter. Not letting the defensive line leave the game without a sack, senior defensive end Alec James also added a sack on third down.
Dooley also showed out all over in this game finishing with three sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss.
As a whole, Wisconsin totaled five sacks on third downs alone.
Northwestern’s offense was held under control all day by Wisconsin, going 3 for 15 on third downs.
Young quarterback shows resilience
In the first half of the game, Hornibrook had a putrid stat line of 48 yards, two interceptions and a 45 percent completion percentage.
Down by three at halftime, Wisconsin needed to get rolling and offense and Hornibrook had to find his missing rhythm. He did exactly that.
On Wisconsin’s first drive of the second half, Honribrook hit Quintez Cephus on a beautiful 61 yard bomb that set up a touchdown run for running back Jonathan Taylor on the very next play.
He would continue in stride on the next drive for Wisconsin. Honribrook found freshman receiver Danny Davis for a 32 yard pass and followed that up with a strike to Davis in the back of the end zone.
Overall, Hornibrook would finish the game with a 55 percent completion percentage, 197 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
After a much forgettable first half, the second year quarterback showed an ability to be resilient and bounce back. That’s the kind of intangibles that will come in handy as Wisconsin faces tougher and tougher opponents.