“This was a great game to test how we respond to adversity,” said senior leader Chris Orr.
The Badgers came into the matchup averaging 48.3 PPG and could do no wrong in the first three weeks. After a ten-play, 54 yard drive that was capped off by yet another Jonathan Taylor rushing touchdown,
Wisconsin looked like they would once again have their way but this time against a Big Ten West rival.
That could not be further from the truth as the Wisconsin offense struggled to get anything going the rest of the afternoon.
Outside of the ten-play, 54-yard drive to open the day they only moved the ball for 84 yards for the rest of the first half and did not put up any more points to go to the break up 7-3.
For the rest of the game, they had only managed to put up a mere 3 more points.
A crowd of 76,825 saw an ugly defensive battle between the defending Big Ten West defending champs and the top ten Badgers. Northwestern came in 1-2 overall (0-1 Big Ten) while the Badgers were 3-0 overall (1-0 Big Ten). `
The ten total points the offense put up were not enough to seal the win but lucky for them they have the best defense in the country on the other side.
The defense found the end zone twice in the second half to seal the game and cement an ugly, physical Big Ten win.
“They really did save us today. They really did take that game over” said Junior running back Garrett Groshek.
Matt Henningsen landed on the ball off of a beautifully timed blitz from safety Eric Burrell.
“He’s just a touchdown magnet now,” senior linebacker Chris Orr said.
The score was Henningsen’s second and he now finds himself tied for second for touchdowns, behind, of course, Jonathan Taylor.
The second score came in more magnificent fashion. Noah Burks made a spectacular grab off of a tipped pass. Zach Baun, who has gotten off to an incredible start, made the play getting to backup Aidan Smith. Noah Burks broke three tackles on his way to getting in for the score.
The pick-six would put the Badgers up 24-3 with eleven and a half minutes left to play.
“We want to be like the monsters of the midway, we want to be the no-name defense of the Dolphins. Probably more so the no-name defense because we want to be a selfless defense, we want everyone to get a piece” Chris Orr said when asked about the identity of the defense.
Those are lofty goals and units to compare yourselves to but through four games they have been dominant. Against Northwestern they got to the quarterback five times, forced three turnovers, allowed just 255 yards and kept Northwestern to just 5-20 on third-down conversions.
They continued to show their depth with starters Reggie Pearson and Eric Burrell out for the first half coming off of targeting penalties against Michigan.
Down two key guys, the defense did not miss a beat.
Junior Collin Wilder and redshirt freshman John Torchio stepped in seamlessly. Wilder had five tackles, one and a half tackles for loss and a sack while Torchio did not allow anything over the top.
In a tough conference “it’s going to take that throughout the season… we’re going to need everyone” head coach Paul Chryst said.
A 24-3 advantage is a comfortable lead, right ? Well the special teams wanted to make it interesting.
After going up 21, the Wisconsin defense had to stay on the field for three straight drives after a muffed punt and successful onside kick. Naturally, the fatigued defense gave up a touchdown.
The Wildcats would punch it in once more with four minutes left after the offense only moved the ball four yards on three plays. Two failed two-point conversions meant the Badgers would still be up two possessions but it could have easily been a seven-point game if they had taken the extra point both times.
“I don’t even want to know what type of game we’d be in,” Chris Orr said when asked what type of game it would have been if they hadn’t gotten those two scores on defense.
“We owe them one” quarterback Jack Coan said.
All will be forgiven because of the win but Coan struggled for the first time all year. He only threw for 113 yards and threw his first interception of the year. The interception came on a deep ball to Cephus where he tried to give him a chance to make a play.
Jonathan Taylor was also sluggish compared to his usual self. In his previous two meetings with Northwestern, he had gone a combined 30 carries for 126 yards which is good for 4.2 yards per carry.
He broke through the hundred yard mark against Northwestern for the first time on Saturday going 119 yards and scoring for the 11th time in this young season. Though he had a pretty good game, it took him 26 carries to break through and he never had a signature moment in the game.
Coming into the game, the star running back needed 66 yards to pass Anthony Davis for fourth on the all-time rushing yards list in Wisconsin history. He now finds himself just 185 yards back of Melvin Gordon for third and just 310 yards behind Montee Ball for second.
He should easily land firmly in second in all-time rushing yards by the end of the year which is a tremendous feat considering Wisconsin’s running back history.
After a long kick return from sophomore Aron Cruikshank, the special teams unit wasn’t good, to say the least. They had allowed an onside kick for the second straight week, could not secure a punt, and a facemask penalty on a first-quarter punt kept the drive alive which resulted in Northwestern’s first points of the day.
The lapses on special teams will be something to watch the rest of the way.
The Badgers continue their homestand next week when they welcome Kent State to Camp Randall as the offense looks to get back on a roll.
Senior wide receiver A.J. Taylor labeled the performance as uncharacteristic; That’s not us and we’ll get back to playing Wisconsin football pretty soon. “ Taylor and the offense will have the chance to do so against a defense that gave up 55 points two weeks ago.