It was ugly at times, but everything turned out right for Wisconsin in the end on Saturday as the Badgers upended Northwestern 33–24.
Let’s take a look at the unit grades:
A rough first half had the Badgers on the wrong end of a 10–7 deficit at the break. In his first action since setting a school record for completion percentage in a game, sophomore Alex Hornibrook looked off-kilter at times, throwing two interceptions and managing just 197 yards on 11-of-20 passing.
True freshman running back Jonathan Taylor continued his hot start, scoring two touchdowns in his first Big Ten action. With tight end Troy Fumagalli out with a leg injury, sophomore receiver Quintez Cephus (99 yards) and freshman receiver Danny Davis III (50 yards and a touchdown) picked up the slack in a big way in the receiving corps.
The Badgers’ defense went wild against the Wildcats. Safety Natrell Jamerson had two interceptions, including a pick-six. Senior linebacker Garret Dooley had three sacks and wrecked havoc on the line. The defense finished the day with eight sacks, two picks, and a safety to go along with Jamerson’s touchdown.
Despite a larger time of possession and 20 first downs (to Wisconsin’s 13), Northwestern only managed 244 total yards. The defense kept the Badgers in the game until the offense finally managed to get going.
Special Teams: B+
Special teams was solid. Kicker Rafael Gaglianone make all his tries. Punter Anthony Lotti looked good, averaging 40.8 yards on six kicks with a long of 52 yards. Nick Nelson had a 17-yard punt return but was otherwise kept in check, as was the kick return game.
For the second time in four games, Wisconsin was able to shake off a sluggish start and make the right halftime adjustments. Head coach Paul Chryst continued to prove to be the anti-Bielema; it’s nice to see Wisconsin be the team that makes strong second-half team adjustments for a change. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard’s ball-hawking defense was opportunistic and ruthlessly efficient at times.
A win is a win and the second half was (mostly) fun, but the first half inched into nightmare territory. Hornibrook has a ways to go to be more efficient and things got a little too exciting at the end. But the defense was fierce and Wisconsin remains the team to beat in the Big Ten West.
Student section: Incomplete
The student section looked to be about three-quarters full at the end of the first half. We’ll assume that everyone was stuck in line getting their tickets checked.
Simply for mentioning Joel Nellis and Jake Kocorowski’s book, Walk-On This Way (now available on Amazon).