Prior to Saturday's game, the Wisconsin Badgers hadn't played at Ryan Field since 2009, so not one player on the UW roster had played there in their collegiate careers. Maybe that would fix the bad, sinking feeling Badgers' fans feel whenever Wisconsin has to face Northwestern?
Nope. Four turnovers and a flurry of other factors contributed to the Badgers' 20-14 loss to the Wildcats. Still, UW has not won at Northwestern since 1999 (a statistic shoved down everyone's throat this past week)..
Each Sunday, four B5Q writers will answer four big questions after each game in a roundtable format. Here's our panel of writers this week:
- Luke Mueller (@Luke_Mueller24), who actually went to the game
- Mike Fiammetta (@MikeFiammetta), editor of Bucky's 5th Quarter
- Louis Bien (@LouisBien), B5Q and SB Nation writer
- Myself (@JakeKocoB5Q), because why not
THE GOOD: What went well for the Wisconsin Badgers against NU Saturday -- I think there's at least two good things that happened?
Luke: Well, not much. My feelings from my seat in the end zone matched the dark clouds and rain. Again, you have to go with Gordon and his career high 259 yards rushing. You can't ask him to do anything more.
Another good thing was Mike Caputo always being where the ball was on defense. He has a motor that never stops.
Finally, I think it was good that Stave came in . I'm not a Stave hater by any means and think he's a serviceable QB. Ultimately it was good to see him get reps. It was also good for the fans calling for him to see what they were really asking for in Stave at QB. I don't know who you throw under center next week but he didn't look like the answer either.
Louis: This one's easy:
1) Melvin Gordon added to the legend with a career day. Three hundred yards was well within reach -- at 9.6 yards per carry, he would have needed just five more touches, and late in the game he was at his most effective. If this team isn't remembered for its success as a TEAM, at least we can dub 2014 as the year when Melvin Gordon was an absolute hoss.
2) Joel Stave made some brutal mistakes, but in the face of what he has suffered his performance Saturday was inspiring. Stave also made the offense function for spurts, and that's more than commendable after having to essentially re-wire his brain off a 10-month layoff.
Jake: The "layup" here is Gordon and the run offense. The 13 personnel worked nicely at times for the offense, with Gordon getting his 61 and 31 yard runs in the second half were out of this grouping. The power runs with senior guard Kyle Costigan pulling are still the bread and butter of this offense. Andersen noted in weeks past how the tight ends needed to block better, and on that 61 yard scamper, Troy Fumagalli kicked out his defender, while both Costigan and Sam Arneson pulled left. Anytime you can get hats on hats at the second level, Gordon has a chance to break one, and he did. The read option look out of 21-shotgun personnel, with Gordon's 58-yard run out of a power look in the first offensive drive for the Badgers was a new wrinkle you haven't seen yet. Corey Clement laid a very nice block to spring the Heisman contender.
Also hats off to Caputo again on defense. In a day where not much went right, he lead the team in tackles with 11.
Mike: I needed to decompress hard after this game, and even blew off the Nebraska-Michigan State game to see Gone Girl, a cool movie based on a book I never read. So my analysis here is Melvin Gordon and Mike Caputo for once again reaching boss status. Also, I agree with Louis on Stave. I've pretty much always been #TeamStave (just like Frank Kaminsky), and I was really happy to see him get onto the field yesterday. Sure, the circumstances were pretty wild, and the leash on McEvoy seemed to have shrunk incredibly. Stave was far from "good," but I think he showed me enough to say he should be the QB moving forward. Mainly, I was just happy to see him work his way back into game shape. There were a fair amount of people who mocked Stave's struggles with "the yips" but how many of those people have thrown a football at this level? How many have done it reliably, and how many would be able to do so again after hitting the kind of mental block Stave did?
THE BAD: How did Northwestern beat Wisconsin? I think this could be a longform article, but write away.
Luke: I couldn't even tell you were to begin, but I'll try.
First, the Badgers again came out sluggish. They are a Jekyll and Hyde type team. You might get the team who showed up in the first half of the LSU game or you may get the team that showed up today.
Next, you have no choice but to talk about the QB play. 4 INTs today is inexcusable. That shouldn't happen at any level of play. Not only were the Badgers picked off 4 times, but they also threw two in the red zone. Both were equally bad!
Third, although the defense played decent, Derek Landisch disappeared and the front 7 allowed the Wildcats to have their way with them at times on the line of scrimmage. They played with little intensity at times and allowed a few big plays, including the pass the Derrick Tindal was burned on after he had sacked the QB on the previous play.
Finally, the coaching staff looked unprepared. [Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks] Coach Ludwig continued his suspect play calling today. Why you allow two QBs to make vital mistakes for you when your (once) Heisman hopeful running back is shredding the defense is beyond me.
On the other side, coach Aranda hardly made a rather immobile QB in a hurry up spread offense try to beat the Badgers with his legs. He rarely blitzed, allowing the Wildcats to have their way on offense.
Louis: Jake, you're the guy who rewinds the game tape every week, so I'll let you handle the long answer. The short answer is that Northwestern beat Wisconsin in just about every damn way possible. The performance of the offensive and defensive lines stood out as the most egregious to me, because they were supposed to be relative strengths. It was telling that so many tackles were made in the second level, and Wisconsin struggled to get a push for the running backs until late. Rob Havenstein and Tyler Marz were soft edges in pass protection.
Jake: To not turn this into a long form article, and you all have made some solid points, so here's some other key trends I saw: bad field position, points off turnovers, and bad tackling. For the first half, their best starting field position? Their own 24. 5 of their 12 drives for the game started at or behind their own 10-yard line. Backing a one-dimensional offense deep in their own territory is always a recipe for success, though Gordon did what he could in the first drive to change field position. Four turnovers -- two interceptions in the red zone -- are inexcusable for a road game, and it led to 10 points by Northwestern. I will not fault Ludwig for the play action call on 1st-and-Goal where Stave threw the interception. That's a great call because Northwestern's stacking 10 in the box there -- it was just a purely terrible decision by Stave not to throw it away when you have three more downs to get the ball across the goal line.
Gary Andersen noted during the post-game press conference that it was the Badgers' worst tackling effort of the year, and though conditions were slick, it wasn't the same sure-tackling team we've seen this year. Perhaps the injury to senior linebacker Marcus Trotter hampered this area of the defense.
Also allowing 203 rushing yards doesn't help. Northwestern spread out the defense into nickel packages, and then was able to utilize personnel with only two defensive linemen in for Wisconsin to their advantage.
The offense -- well -- I'm still wondering why Tanner McEvoy wasn't utilized in his particular skill set. I'm not a coach by any stretch, but more read option, play-action rollouts or designed quarterback runs for the McEvoy could have helped his case. Stave stretched the defense more with more accurate balls to the third level of the defense, but they still don't have any viable deep threats to haul in your contested catches like the past few seasons.
Judging by everyone's discussions, it was more a game the Badgers lost, rather than the Wildcats winning -- not to take anything away from NU.
Mike: I'm the fourth wheel here, so all I've got is, this gameplan, man. It's legitimate to believe Andy Ludwig's on the hotseat now, right? My big thing is that Clement just isn't utilized nearly as much. Understandably, the offense doesn't want to burn out Gordon with 40 carries a game. Good; I don't want that, either. But as long as this passing game continues to blow, why not run the ball 50 damn times a game, and go 30/20 with Gordon/Clement?
B5Q Game Balls: Who's your MVP from Saturday's Game?
Luke: Northwestern's defense. Pat Fitzgerald and staff. Hell, I don't know. The Badgers don't really deserve a game ball, but you have to give Gordon credit. Not every day you get to witness a top tier RB rush for a career high.
Louis: M E L V I N G O R D O N ... (and the safety with the funky name for Northwestern I guess.)
The harder question is who is 2nd MVP after Gordon. Let's go Michael Caputo for making several stops to keep Justin Jackson from going yard. Beyond that, I can't think of any other candidates.
Jake: Obvious one's Gordon, and I'd say Caputo with the defensive game ball. 11 tackles and leading the team for the season. He's made several of those type of tackles this season already (USF's Marlon Mack almost broke one last week out of 22 personnel that Caputo saved by his shoelaces). Both are obviously on their way to high All-Big Ten honors.
Also, MVPs to you the fans, for watching this game.
Mike: Northwestern's secondary? For Wisconsin, Gordon and maybe Alex Erickson for continually being the wide receiver for Wisconsin.
LOOKING AHEAD: What to expect vs. Illinois
Luke: who knows?! Depends on which Badgers team shows up. I expect the game to be a LOT closer than people think. That may only be 17 points (sorry, haven't looked at the spread) but don't think I see the Badgers blowing anyone out anymore. How can you with QBs making crucial - drIve killing mistakes and an OC who loves to throw, even when he's up big or the team needs to keep the ball on the ground.
Louis: I expect Wisconsin to unleash hellfire. Purdue was 95th in the country in rushing yards per game entering its bout against Illinois. It picked up a season-high 349 yards at 7.8 yards per carry on Saturday. Illinois gave up four runs of 44 yards -- one by four different players. I really think this might be the game Mevlin Gordon busts through the 300-yard barrier, becoming the first Wisconsin back to do so since Anthony Davis in 2002.
Jake: ^This, but I'l display my prediction for Illinois' defense taking on an angry Gordon, a two-headed quarterback monster (that's my prediction) and Badgers' offense in meme form:
Mike: Ha! Mr. T's a hard act to follow. I'd like to think there's a 60-point game coming from Wisconsin and a 250-yard effort from Gordon, but I'm not sure we can rationally predict that at this point. The persistent cynic in me says Wisconsin wins, but at least two more interceptions are thrown and the hotseat only gets hotter for Ludwig.