EVANSTON, IL. — Coming into today, the 20th-ranked Wisconsin Badgers (5-3 overall, 3-2 in Big Ten) controlled their destiny in the Big Ten West. Now, they find themselves in third place after taking a 17-31 loss to the first-place Northwestern Wildcats (5-3 overall, 5-1 in Big Ten). The loss snapped a 16-game winning streak within the division for Wisconsin.
Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook was declared out Friday evening with a concussion, giving sophomore Jack Coan the starting gig. Coan completed 20 of 31 passes for 158 yards and one touchdown while losing two fumbles. One of those fumbles came within the Badgers’ 10-yard line, the other on a sloppy handoff to running back Jonathan Taylor. The offensive struggles started as soon as the offense took the field, as the backup quarterback needed to use the team’s first timeout before even running their first play. The New York native did have some good moments, however. Coan and the Badgers’ offense seemed to find a rhythm in the final two minutes of the first half, putting together nine-play, 50-yard drive to kick a field goal and cut their deficit to four points.
Jonathan Taylor finished with 11 carries for 46 yards. He finished as Wisconsin’s second-leading rusher – for the first time in his tenure at Wisconsin — behind Garrett Groshek’s seven carries for 68 yards. It was to be expected that the Badgers would run the ball more often than pass. The first six offensive plays were run plays, and when the Badgers’ defense held the Wildcats’ offense on Wisconsin’s one-yard line, the Badgers ran the ball on five consecutive plays. The fifth of those plays was where the mistakes began to make the difference against Wisconsin. Jonathan Taylor fumbled, leading to a Northwestern touchdown to give the Wildcats the lead.
Another miscue for the Badgers occurred when the defense held the Wildcats to a three-and-out early in the third quarter. On the ensuing punt, a Badger roughed Northwestern’s punter and gave new life to the Wildcat’s offense. The drive would extend seven plays and eventually lead to a touchdown.
Overall, the Badgers drew five penalties for 54 yards and turned the ball over three times.
The Wildcats looked more like the Badgers than the Badgers did today. Northwestern’s offense rushed 49 times for 182 yards and possessed the ball for over 33 minutes of the game. The majority of those yards came from Isaiah Bowser, who rushed 34 times for 117 yards and one touchdown.
The Wisconsin defense played well overall today. They intercepted three passes and they didn’t give up a first down on either of Northwestern’s fourth-down attempts. They did, however, give up some big plays, like a 32-yard pass to Northwestern’s Bennett Skowronek and a 24-yard pass to Kyric McGowan.
One bright spot for Wisconsin was that kicker Rafael Gaglianone nailed his 66th career field goal to set a school record for most field goals made. Gaglianone had been tied with Todd Gregoire at 65 field goals made for quite some time.
This loss makes the race in the Big Ten West fairly tight. Northwestern sits alone at the top with a 5-1 record in the conference. Iowa sits in second with a 3-1 record (at the time of writing their game against Penn State hadn’t concluded). Now Wisconsin sits in third with a 3-2 record in the conference. The Badgers have the head-to-head against Iowa, but now need some help if they want to get back to Indianapolis.
The Wisconsin Badgers will look to bounce back next week in Camp Randall against a Rutgers team that has yet to win a game in the Big Ten.