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Grading No. 20 Wisconsin’s loss to Northwestern

Badgers stumble in Evanston.

Matt Fleming

It’s shaping up to be a solidly mediocre season.

Missing an opportunity to remain the driver’s seat in the Big Ten West division, No. 20 Wisconsin fell to Northwestern in Evanston on Saturday in a 31-17 loss.

Sophomore quarterback Jack Coan underwhelmed in his first start, taking the place of junior Alex Hornibrook who was ruled out with a concussion.

Here are the unit grades.

Offense: D+

Coan struggled in place of Hornibrook finishing 20-of-31 for 158 yards and a touchdown. Wisconsin took a timeout on the very first play of the game, setting an inauspicious tone for the game.

Sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor failed to break 50 yards on 11 carries. The Badgers lost three fumbles, which Northwestern converted into 17 points.

The offensive game plan appeared to be conservative at times, ostensibly to minimize risk to Coan. When the running game failed to get traction, the Badgers failed to get much going through the air.

Defense: C

In what feels like a scheduled report these past few games, Wisconsin managed three interceptions but the undermanned defense finally cracked in the face of offense’s repeated fumbles. Northwestern ran for 182 yards and added 167 yards through the air.

Special Teams: C-

Wisconsin kickers missed two of three field goals, but we’ll give an extra grading bonus for Rafael Gaglianone who set a school record for field goals. Punter Connor Allen averaged 36.8 yards on four kicks.

Coaching: D+

It felt like another conservative, listless game plan for the offense at times, even taking into consideration Coan’s limitations. Yet another odd play-calling series at the end of the first half (it feels like the Badgers have had three to four already this year) led to a 62-yard field goal miss from Zach Hintze following a Madison Cone interception. A more creative approach may have given Wisconsin a better chance to capitalize on the turnover. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard’s unit has done quite a bit considering how banged up the unit is, but it was not enough.

Overall: D

The back-up quarterback is the most popular guy on the team until he sees the field. Perhaps this will finally convince elements of the fanbase that Coan is still a true sophomore playing on the road in a Big Ten game, compared to a game-experienced Hornibrook. A talented young quarterback, in his first action of the season, was asked to do a hard thing.

Evanston has always been a tough place to play for Wisconsin, so the loss should not be a surprise, particularly with a banged-up defense and sophomore quarterback making his first start.

The Badgers never really seemed to get their legs under them against the Wildcats, which unfortunately has been a recurring theme this season. It’s starting to feel a lot like 2012.