Welcome to another edition of the B5Q roundtable, where the points don’t count and we always fire Drew Hamm.
The No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers defeated the feisty Northwestern Wildcats 21-7 on Saturday afternoon at Ryan Field, the first time UW has won in Evanston since 1999.
With Nebraska’s 62-3 loss to Ohio State, Wisconsin (7-2, 4-2 Big Ten) is in the driver’s seat for the Big Ten West title if it wins out the remainder of the regular season. To break down the huge win, we welcomed some of our writers to talk about the good, the bad and who deserved their game balls.
The Good: How did Wisconsin win for the first time in Evanston since the 1999 season (and did it include an old priest and a young priest)?
Owen Riese: Well, Wisconsin won how Wisconsin wins. They controlled the time of possession, ran the call and played suffocating defense. They started running with Corey Clement out of shotgun, which adds some versatility to the offense, and Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston were able to avoid the big mistake. Defensively, they put a stranglehold on Justin Jackson, who ran pretty successfully a year ago in Madison. The pass rush wasn't constant, but it finally got home late in the game and made all the difference.
Jon Beidelschies: Easy—the power of Chryst compelled them. They fought hellfire with hellfire in the form of Justin Wilcox’s defense. With the exception of Northwestern’s touchdown drive late in the first half, the D had the Wildcats locked down all day long. It was funny, just around the time when the Twitterverse was complaining about the lack of pressure on Clayton Thorson, nose tackle Conor Sheehy wrecked some havoc with a strip sack, probably the biggest defensive play of the game.
Kevin O’Connell: This game was a classic Badgers win, as they relied upon their defense that continues to be lights-out and a steady, run-heavy offense. Paul Chryst was smart to rely on Clement, who ran for 106 yards on 32 carries and allowed Wisconsin to win the time-of-possession battle by over 20 minutes. They mentioned it on the broadcast, but Wisconsin’s ability to convert on third down and keep their stout defense fresh was crucial in their quest to slow down Thorson and the Northwestern offense.
The Bad: What didn’t go well at Ryan Field?
Owen: Kicking continues to be a sore spot for the Badgers. Senior placekicker Andrew Endicott missed two more field goals, albeit one from 50-plus yards away. The kicking game has yet to bite the Badgers in the behind, but it's something that will have to be more steady when the games get a bit more competitive come later in the season.
Jon: Where has the play-action pass gone? And the screen? And the tight end in the passing game? I’m not sure if it’s a function of pass protection or quarterback comfort or whether those are the plays that opposing defenses are keying on (I’ll leave that up to Owen’s more nuanced eyes), but those staples of the Chryst offense have been strangely missing the past few weeks and were nearly absent on Saturday. I think if this team is going to be competitive against top teams in a potential Big Ten Championship Game or high-end bowl, they are going to have to rediscover those old chestnuts.
Kevin: I’ll piggyback off Jon a little bit and go with the lack of production from Troy Fumagalli. I expected this to be a game the redshirt junior would shine in, but instead he was largely invisible, finishing with only two catches for 18 yards. It’s not something to be overly concerned about but rather just a reminder that Fumagalli is going to need to be a key piece in the offense down the stretch in some games where the Badgers should be able to throw the ball.
Game Ball: Who’s your MVP for the game?
Owen: I'm gonna go with Anthony Lotti. The true freshman punter was excellent against Northwestern, and finally showed the consistent promise he was billed with coming into Madison. If he can continue to become more consistent, he's another weapon for field position for the Badgers.
Jon: Yeah, this was definitely Lotti’s best game at Wisconsin—you can see why he was so heavily recruited. That punt that stuck at the 2-yard line was filthy, but my game ball goes to Peavy. He had 119 yards of total offense and his touchdown was one of the more fun plays I’ve seen a Wisconsin receiver make. He also had a big catch for 32 yards from Bart Houston to help set up a field goal. Peavy has emerged as a one of the more explosive weapons on an offense that has been pretty bereft of them this season.
Kevin: Lotti and Peavy are great choices and were obviously a huge part of securing the win in Evanston, but I’ll go with Mr. Reliable, Corey Clement. He fought for every yard in this game, consistently ran for positive yards, and put Hornibrook in a position to convert on third-and-short on a number of occasions. As Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon have been in years past, Clement is the backbone of Wisconsin’s offense and has been a reliable and consistent back all season.
Next Up: Illinois. Homecoming week for the Badgers, and what are the keys against an Illini squad that defeated Michigan State on Saturday?
Owen: RUN THE BALL. Illinois has two pass rushers, especially Duwuane Smoot, who are legitimate NFL prospects. Pairing them with defensive tackle Chunky Clements, Wisconsin has to look to stay away from third-and-longs. Defensively, Illinois likes to spread you out, so a premium will be put on open-field tackling.
Jon: Man, Sparty is in dire straights this year. I would like to see the Badgers jump on Illinois quickly. The defense has had a lot of pressure on it the past few weeks and it would be nice if the offense could put some points up early. The Illini are giving up nearly 30 points a game and averaging around 23 per game on offense. If Wisconsin can get up double-digits in the first half, I don’t think this Illinois team is going to be able to catch up.
Kevin: The Badgers have done a pretty good job of limiting turnovers this year and that needs to continue against Illinois. The only way Wisconsin loses this game is if Hornibrook throws a couple interceptions or a fumble or two swings momentum and gives the Illini a short field. T.J. Watt, Vince Biegel and co., should suffocate an Illinois offense that is ranked 102nd in points per game and 122nd in yards per game. So it’s up to the offense to move the ball and limit mistakes against an Illini defense that, as Owen mentioned, has some impressive talent up front.