The Northwestern Wildcats made it close in the end, but the No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers started the conference portion of their schedule off on the right foot with a 33–24 victory at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
A rough first half on offense turned around in the third quarter, with the Badgers ultimately pulling away after 24 unanswered points. Thanks also to a strong defensive effort that included eight sacks, 11 tackles for loss, a game-sealing safety, and two interceptions by Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week Natrell Jamerson, Wisconsin remains unbeaten heading into this weekend’s trip to Nebraska for a primetime showdown.
Our team of writers broke down the good, the bad, and what’s next for Wisconsin.
The Good: What went well for Wisconsin?
Owen Riese: The Badgers got a ton of production from two true freshmen in their first Big Ten game. The future is bright on offense with only two seniors in the starting lineup with Troy Fumagalli hurt.
Ryan Mellenthin: The maturation of UW’s young receivers. Frosh Danny Davis picked up his first career touchdown and sophomore Quintez Cephus nearly broke the century mark with 99 receiving yards, including a 61-yard run-and-catch. A.J. Taylor also hauled in a 33-yard reception on 3rd-and-11, which set up a Rafael Gaglianone field goal.
Neal Olson: Really, the best thing Wisconsin did all game was stay the course. Unusual things tend to happen against Northwestern and this game was no exception. The Badgers are a relatively young team, were unexpectedly without Fumagalli, had not played football in two weeks, and nearly everything that could go wrong in the first half did. In a game that easily could have slipped away for the first loss of the season, they held on for the W.
Kevin O’Connell: The Badgers did a great job keeping running back Justin Jackson in check throughout the game. One of the Big Ten’s most talented running backs, Jackson was never able to find a rhythm and was held to only 25 yards on the ground.
The Bad: Tons of things to learn from. What are a few that stand out?
Owen: Taking care of the football. After Jamerson’s pick-six, it was 31–10 UW. If the Badgers don't turn it over three times in the first half, it might have been 31–0. Turnovers will kill you in big games.
Ryan: All the turnovers, not to mention two fumbles that weren’t lost. Alex Hornibrook also had a near-fumble, but he was ruled down before the ball came out. This game proved that if Wisconsin cannot secure the ball, Big Ten opponents have the ability to stay in the game with the Badgers.
Neal: No reason to be cute here—the turnovers and near-turnovers have got to be cleaned up. Even with the breakout by Jonathan Taylor and the young receivers, this offense is far from being able to overcome multiple turnovers to quality opponents.
Kevin: The turnovers are an obvious problem and I’m sure Paul Chryst and his staff will get on the team for their sloppy play in the first half. But the most alarming problem from this game was the way UW let Northwestern back in the game late in the fourth quarter.
Game Balls: Bring ‘em out, bring ‘em out.
Owen: Garret Dooley. What a game for the senior: 3.5 sacks and causing havoc everywhere. Also D’Cota Dixon with 12 tackles, including the clincher.
Ryan: Dixon and Jamerson. Dixon recorded 12 tackles, including 1.5 sacks and 1.5 tackles for loss, not to mention a safety on Northwestern’s final drive. Jamerson intercepted two passes and returned one for a touchdown.
Neal: Are coaches allowed in this section? Jim (Rex) Leonhard called a masterful game. The two garbage scores Northwestern got were just that—garbage. Up to that point, Leonard’s mix of blitzes and coverage had the Wildcats reeling. As Kevin mentioned earlier, holding Jackson in check is no small feat.
Kevin: I am giving co-game balls to Cephus and Danny Davis. Both have given Wisconsin’s offense a new dimension and are talented deep threats at Hornibrook’s disposal. Cephus’s combination of size (6’1’) and speed were on display during a 61-yard catch on UW’s first drive of the second half, while Davis made a sensational grab in the back of the endzone for his first career touchdown.
Up Next: Nebraska. The Huskers are 3–2 overall but 2–0 in the Big Ten after defeating Rutgers and Illinois. What are the keys to beating them?
Owen: Take care of the football. If the Badgers don't beat themselves, I don't think another team in that game can beat them.
Ryan: Limit turnovers. Wisconsin’s defense is one of the best in the conference and country, but if you continue to give opponents chances against the Badgers, in good field position, it will make it harder for Wisconsin to keep them off the scoreboard.
Neal: Start fast. The worst thing for the Badgers will be to mimic first halves they had against Utah State and Northwestern. Overcoming a slow start at home is much different than on the road, especially at a tradition-rich school like Nebraska. If the Badgers can take control early and squash any signs of hope, they should be just fine.
Kevin: The Badgers need to eliminate big plays against Nebraska. After being susceptible to the deep ball in games against Utah State, FAU, and BYU, the Badgers took a step in the right direction against Northwestern. The Huskers trot out one of the Big Ten’s best wide receivers in Stanley Morgan Jr., who has finished with at least 94 receiving yards in the four games he has played this season. On the road, big plays can shift momentum drastically and it’s imperative that Wisconsin keeps Morgan Jr., and his counterparts in check on Saturday night.