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No. 20 Wisconsin stumbles, fumbles in 31-17 loss to Northwestern


Wisconsin v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

EVANSTON, ILL.—With big mistakes and key injuries surmounting, the No. 20 Wisconsin Badgers fell to Northwestern 31-17 at Ryan Field on Saturday.

Three turnovers, all on fumbles, plus a major special teams error allowed Northwestern (5-3, 5-1 Big Ten) to pull away against Wisconsin (5-3, 3-2).

NU gained 349 yards on the afternoon, with quarterback Clayton Thorson scoring two touchdowns on the ground while passing for one through the air.

Second-year quarterback Jack Coan started his first career game in place of the injured Alex Hornibrook (concussion). Wisconsin could not get anything going offensively, however, gaining only 323 yards on the afternoon. Running back Jonathan Taylor ran for only 46 yards on 11 carries with a long of 10.

Coan finished the game 20-of-31 for 158 yards with a touchdown. Inside linebackers Ryan Connelly and T.J. Edwards recorded 14 and 13 tackles, respectively.

The game started off well at first. On Northwestern’s first offensive drive, quarterback Clayton Thorson threw a third-down pass that was deflected by Connelly. Safety Evan Bondoc made a finger tip interception just before it hit the ground to force Wisconsin’s first turnover of the game.

Wisconsin capitalized thereafter, going 29 yards in five plays—complete with a Coan shovel pass—for its first touchdown. On a variation of UW’s “Jumbo formation,” fullback Alec Ingold scored from four yards out in bulldozing fashion. With Rafael Gaglianone’s extra point, the Badgers went out to an early 7-0 lead.

Northwestern answered on its next drive, however, going 75 yards in 15 plays. Thorson snuck it in from a yard out to tie the score at 7-7 with 2:21 remaining in the first quarter. NU came into the game rushing for just over 78 yards per contest; on this drive, the Wildcats accumulated 36 yards on nine carries.

For the game, Northwestern gained 182 yards rushing on 49 attempts (3.7 yards per carry).

In the second quarter, Northwestern drove down the field, and thanks to an overturned call on a 32-yard reception to Bennett Skowronek and a 21-yard run set up 1st-and-Goal from the UW 6.

Like the Iowa game, Jim Leonhard’s defense held on a fourth down stand. Thorson could not get into the end zone, and Wisconsin took over.

The Wildcats would score in the second quarter, though, after a Wisconsin fumble allowed Northwestern to get the ball at the UW 15. The defense held again until a fourth down pass interference penalty against cornerback Faion Hicks opened up a fresh set of downs. After a NU holding call, Wisconsin held until a 3rd-and-Goal from the five-yard line, when Thorson scrambled and eluded both Andrew Van Ginkel and Connelly to dive into the end zone. The extra point made it a 14-7 NU lead.

Coan and Co. pushed down the field on Wisconsin’s next series, going 50 yards and resulting in a Gaglianone 36-yard field goal. That kick broke the school record for field goals made in a career (66), snapping the tie between the redshirt senior and Todd Gregoire.

In the third quarter, Northwestern struck with its third touchdown of the day after capitalizing on a significant mistake by true freshman Jack Sanborn. After Wisconsin held NU, officials called Sanborn with a roughing the punter penalty—giving the Wildcats another opportunity to take advantage of, and they did.

Thorson and the NU offense moved down the field, and the quarterback found Kyric McGowan for a 24-yard touchdown pass and a 21-10 lead.

After Jonathan Taylor fumbled for what is officially the second time for the day inside UW territory, Northwestern added a 26-yard field goal from Charlie Kuhbander to make it 24-10 with 2:39 left in the third quarter.

The turnover bug showed up again, this time from Coan himself deep inside Wisconsin territory. Fumbling twice on the play, the quarterback scrambled but coughed up the ball with the Wildcats recovering. Running back Isaiah Bowser pushed it through from two yards out early in the fourth quarter to make it 31-10.

Though it allowed 31 points, Wisconsin’s defense also recorded three turnovers—all on interceptions from Thorson. His third of the game went straight into the hands of Zack Baun, who set up UW’s offense in good field position at the NU 29. Five plays later, Coan found wide receiver Kendric Pryor for a 10-yard touchdown pass to make it 31-17 with eight minutes remaining in the game.

Wisconsin could not find the end zone again, as Northwestern held UW on its last offensive possession.

Already without Hornibrook, defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk and safeties D’Cota Dixon and Scott Nelson prior to the contest, Wisconsin saw left tackle Cole Van Lanen and nose tackle Olive Sagapolu shaken up during the game as well.