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Grading Wisconsin’s win against Northwestern

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Finally, a victory in Evanston.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Northwestern Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Field and its haphazardly mowed grass have been a nightmare for the Wisconsin Badgers for nearly two decades, but they finally got the Wildcat off their back Saturday with a 21-7 win in Evanston. Wisconsin ruled the time-of-possession game, holding onto the ball for over 40 minutes. The defense was typically vicious, choking off the Northwestern running game and getting some critical quarterback pressure in the fourth quarter to seal the win.

Here are the unit grades:

Offense: B+

As has been the case for the past few games, the offensive action came in bursts. The quarterback carousel continued as Alex Hornibrook saw the bulk of the playing time with Bart Houston coming in periodically in relief. Both had some decent moments leading to some scores and, more importantly, neither turned the ball over.

Taking advantage of not having to play a nationally-ranked foe for a change, the running game looked stronger than it had in a while. Corey Clement ran for 112 yards and a touchdown. Bradrick Shaw continued to look good in limited usage, racking up 54 yards on 11 carries. Fullback Alec Ingold kept several drives alive and converted a two-point conversion in the fourth to put the Badgers up by 14 points.

Jazz Peavy continued his emergence with 119 combined yards, including a big first-half catch from Houston to set up a field goal and a monster 46-yard end-around touchdown in the second quarter.

Defense: A

The Wildcat running game was bottled up all game, gaining only 39 yards. Northwestern struggled to move the ball much of the first half before a drive that led to an Austin Carr touchdown late in the second quarter. Broken tackles were an issue on that drive, as was Northwestern’s pace.

Otherwise, the Wildcats couldn’t get much going. When they finally made some progress in the fourth quarter, the Badgers came up big with a Conor Sheehy sack and forced fumble, which D’Cota Dixon recovered for a 22-yard return into Northwestern territory. Pressure continued through the fourth, including a sack by T.J. Edwards and a hurry that led to a Clayton Thorson drive-stalling throwaway.

Special Teams: B+

Andrew Endicott missed a first-quarter field goal badly and a tough 51-yard attempt late in the third. He kicked off the scoring with a field goal capping a Houston-led drive midway through the first half and followed it up with another in the third quarter.

Anthony Lotti may have had his best game a Badger. He helped out the defense in the field position game with a couple of nice punts, including a 52-yarder in the third quarter that pinned the Wildcats inside the 5-yard line and a critical kick late in the fourth that stuck like a wedge shot at the 1-yard line.

Peavy contributed a fine punt return early in the third quarter, but otherwise the return game was pretty quiet.

Coaching: A-

The defense, as always, came in well-prepared and disciplined. The offensive play calling was typically creative, though tight end play the long play-action try continue to be missing from the passing game. The Badgers continued their relatively penalty-free season, only giving up one accepted penalty for the game.

Clock management at the end of the first half was not good, as precious seconds burned off after the Badgers got the ball at their own 39-yard line when Northwestern inexplicably pooched the kickoff after Carr’s touchdown.

Overall: A-

It was nice not playing a top-10 opponent for a change. Despite a couple of scary moments, this was a good, complete Badger victory. The now biennial trip to Evanston is always fraught with peril, so it’s great to return home with a decisive win.