[Update 8:33 p.m. CT -- Added some additional information on point No. 4 about the catch ruling and NCAA rules]
Another stagnant offensive performance, coupled with turnovers and some overturned touchdowns on controversial calls, negated a Senior Day victory for the Wisconsin Badgers (8-3, 5-2) in their 13-7 loss to the Northwestern Wildcats (9-2, 5-2) on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
1. Offensive troubles, part one: Turnovers doom Badgers. Turning over the ball five times will not win you a game. That may be the most "Captain Obvious" statement here. Fumbles by Joel Stave, Alex Erickson and Tanner McEvoy, along with the two Stave interceptions, halted any momentum on the offensive end. Stave should have seen the linebacker over the middle in the fourth quarter, but he was also under pressure all afternoon which caused one interception and the fumbles. Which leads me to point No. 2...
2. Offensive troubles, part two: Wisconsin's offensive line continues to go through learning process during 2015 season. The starting five were manhandled by Northwestern's front seven in the first two quarters, giving up three sacks -- six overall for the game -- which contributed to the Badgers recording -26 yards on the ground overall. Stave never felt comfortable in the pocket, though the protection got better at times in the second half, which allowed the offense to gain some momentum.
Even with junior running back Corey Clement returning, he was held to 24 yards and 2.4 yards per carry. The pure pass rush of the Northwestern defense, coupled with lack of consistent push in the running game sorely hurt Wisconsin.
On a positive note...
3. Remember this Badgers' defense. Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda's squad continues to impress, giving up only 209 yards total to the Wildcats. At times, like in the Iowa game, the Northwestern offensive line really gained some push, with running back Justin Jackson gaining 139 yards at four yards per clip, but when turnover after turnover piled on the defense to bail them out, outside linebackers Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert -- who combined for 27 tackles, 4.5 for loss -- and others stepped up. Wisconsin's defense grounded the Wildcats' offense to the tune of six three-and-outs total in the game and only 61 yards in the second half.
In each of the last three years, Aranda's transformed the Wisconsin defense into an attacking front and one of the nation's best.
BONUS thing we learned
4. Not one play will ultimately decide a game, but referees can influence a game, greatly. In essence, three touchdowns were overturned by the referees. We'll save the targeting/not targeting call that was may have been missed in the first half for another time.
Erickson's punt return for a touchdown, I can understand the call and think it's the right call. By the eye test, obviously he's not trying to perform an invalid fair catch signal (more like "GET AWAY FROM THE BALL!"), but it seems like his motion follows the definition of the signal.
Official NCAA ruling of a fair catch, FYI. pic.twitter.com/yY7jkqJzpk— Bucky's 5th Quarter (@B5Q) November 21, 2015
Those asking about the invalid fair catch signal Wisconsin, that is a correct call. The get-away signal is invalid by rule.— Mike Pereira (@MikePereira) November 21, 2015
Chryst: OK with the punt return call. Said any signal means the ball can't be advance.— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) November 22, 2015
The Fumagalli touchdown that was called back, correct. The ball was at the one when his knee touched the ground.
Let's talk about the third one, that touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore receiver Jazz Peavy. Judging by the replay seen below, Peavy had multiple feet in bounds and secured the ball.
This was the Wisconsin TD that was overturned pic.twitter.com/5sAA7qzj9W— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) November 21, 2015
When they showed the other angle, it did appear Peavy lost control of the ball while falling to the ground -- but then why weren't his first two feet touching in the end zone count? Was he in the process of falling already, or maybe did the referee think he didn't have full control of the ball in those two steps? Fox Sports Wisconsin's Dave Heller sums up some quick thoughts on the play in a very good fashion:
My 2 cents: Jazz Peavy had control on 1st, 2nd and 3rd steps. Bobbled it briefly on 4th step. Should have been a TD, IMO. #Badgers— Dave Heller (@dave_heller) November 22, 2015
But the refs, for some reason, discounted steps 1 and 2 and seem to consider 3 and 4 as 1 and 2. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ #Badgers— Dave Heller (@dave_heller) November 22, 2015
One more: Peavy caught the ball almost in the middle of end zone & ended up out of bounds. He wasn't controlling the entire way? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯— Dave Heller (@dave_heller) November 22, 2015
ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg elaborated on the ruling:
Got clarification on the two main replay reversal TDs in Northwestern-Wisconsin. 1) On punt return, Alex... https://t.co/syuObxivYA— Adam Rittenberg (@ESPNRittenberg) November 22, 2015
In that explanation he notes on the catch:
A receiver going to the ground must maintain full control when he eventually goes out of bounds. Replay determined Jazz Peavy was bobbling ball as his body went out of bounds.
NCAA rule says player must maintain control of ball throughout catch, even in end zone. However, doesn't say if that applies to 4th step— Dave Heller (@dave_heller) November 22, 2015
By this rule, a player could catch a ball at far left of end zone, run all the way to the right side, lose control and not be a catch.— Dave Heller (@dave_heller) November 22, 2015
The Badgers deserved to lose with committing five turnovers and having no running game, but they also deserved to win because of the defense's performance in holding Northwestern to 13 points and the offense rallying for one last drive that could have been for the win.