Looking to continue the momentum from their Homecoming victory over Illinois last weekend, Wisconsin traveled to a place where they haven’t had much luck over the past decade or more: Ryan Field in Evanston.
Eventually, the Badgers would fall by a score of 31-17 on Saturday afternoon.
Aside from starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s absence, things started auspiciously, as the Badgers burned a timeout before the first play of the game was ran to avoid a delay of game penalty. While things started well for Wisconsin, as a Ryan Connelly tipped pass caromed to reserve safety Evan Bondoc, who was making his second consecutive start in place of senior captain D’Cota Dixon. The Badgers would take advantage of the short field, and plunge into the end zone with fullback Alex Ingold to go up 7-0.
That would be the most optimistic period of the game for Wisconsin, as the offense’s one dimensionality would allow Northwestern to take the lead. The Wildcats were up at half 14-10, with UW adding a field goal by Rafael Gaglianone—now the leading field goal kicker in UW history—making his 66th kick of his career.
In the second half, first-time starter Jack Coan would accumulate more stats, but was really just used to check the ball down and allow his receivers to operate after the catch. While admittedly the game plan was pretty conservative, Coan didn’t display the ability to be accurate on his chances down the field, A few missed opportunities to tight end Jake Ferguson down the field, and an underthrown deep ball to Danny Davis were a few misses the Badgers needed to connect on to aid a defense that was bending as much and as far as it possibly could before it broke.
The defense, who was already missing three starters in the secondary, also featured a beat up and re-injured Olive Sagapolu, who left the game in the fourth quarter. Northwestern did little to threaten the defense, but kept chipping away with over thirty carries from freshman Isaiah Bowser.
The Badgers defense picked off Clayton Thorson—thought by some to be an NFL prospect—three times. Wisconsin turned it over three times as well, and simply weren’t able to gain much momentum throughout the second half.
It wasn’t fun, for anyone involved, that’s for sure.
Here’s what we learned:
Maybe, just maybe, Alex Hornibrook isn’t the sole issue with the offense
Now this is said mostly tongue-in-cheek, but the sentiment over the past year and a half from some Badgers fans has mostly been, “Anyone HAS to be better than Hornibrook, right!?”. Well,,, not so fast, my friend.
I often compare Hornibrook to Joel Stave, and while that will garner some groans and moans from the audience, there are a lot of parallels between the two. While fans are often frustrated by their seemingly capped potential (UDFA quarterbacks in the NFL), they do a ton of little things to benefit the offense and keep everyone on schedule as leaders which are often very overlooked. Look no further than the first play of the day, which didn’t get ran before a timeout had to be called due to Coan’s inexperience with the play clock.
This is by no means a shot at Coan, who honestly played like a kid who was making his first collegiate start. But there are a lot of things that need improvement with the Badgers right now, and Alex Hornibrook isn’t the only one. However, he is the answer; for the time being anyways.
The defense just has to get healthy
Murphy’s Law could be used to describe the Badgers’ defense right now. As I mentioned earlier, Wisconsin is at their second and third options at some positions already, and those options are being targeted by opposing offenses.
While there isn’t a ton Wisconsin can do about this, the silver lining is that the a lot of young players, and Evan Bondoc, are getting a lot of playing time and are expediting their development. While this is a bit of a trying time for the UW defense right now, this will benefit the depth and talent moving forward for the unit.
Wisconsin is beating themselves more often than not this season
Wisconsin is having a challenging season thus far, but a lot of its errors have been self-induced. True freshman linebacker Jack Sanborn cost Wisconsin a stop with a toughing the punter penalty that led to a Northwestern touchdown, and cornerback Faion Hicks cost UW an NU turnover on downs. Phenom running back Jonathan Taylor had two fumbles, one of which wasn’t completely on him. Wisconsin simply isn’t talented or good enough this season to give the other team added opportunities.
As head coach Paul Chryst often reminds fans, the kids aren’t screwing up on purpose. Please keep that in mind before you rush to the internet to criticize the play of 18-22 year olds. I promise, no one is more disappointed in their performance yesterday than the players are.