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Bucky’s 5th Quarter’s Fifth Quarter: Thoughts on Wisconsin’s loss to Northwestern

More breakdowns after a rough contest in Evanston.

Matt Fleming

Football is a team sport, and you heard it from Michael Deiter on Saturday after Wisconsin’s 31-17 loss to Northwestern that it takes 11 guys every single play to be consistent.

B5Q highlighted the offense’s inconsistencies on Saturday night. We know with every play, finer, minute details to the untrained (see: most casual fans) eyes can make a difference between an 88-yard touchdown run or a loss of three. Maybe there’s a hint of hyperbole for a result of my example, but you understand.

With that, every play is an opportunity to make something happen. I won’t go through all 65 Wisconsin or 79 Northwestern plays, or all the special teams snaps. However, there were some key moments where the game could have changed in a different way.

On this Sunday, let’s take a look at a few:

The three turnovers

We discussed them already in the story linked above, but Wisconsin’s defense forced three takeaways that led to 14 points. That should be plenty to help UW on the road to pick up a victory in a normal setting, but its offense coughed up the ball three times that led to 17 Northwestern points. This is a captain obvious point, but had to be stated.

Fourth down pass interference on Faion Hicks

After the first Wisconsin turnover with the fumbled exchange between Jack Coan and Jonathan Taylor, its defense—in yet another “sudden change” situation—forced a 4th-and-2 from its own seven-yard line.

When Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson rolled out right, it seemed like the play was read correctly by the defense where the flat was covered, though the player at the second level appeared open for a second. Thorson threw the ball, and redshirt freshman cornerback Faion Hicks sprinted back after initially looking—from what it looked like, though we did not speak with him after the game—like he was sucked in. He made up enough ground on the play, but did not look back for the ball and was called for the pass interference.

Again, it is so much easier said than done to get into position to turn your head around for an interception after trying to scramble back into the end zone—and the pass was one where it could have been picked off—but the penalty gave NU a new set of downs and ultimately scored a few plays later on Thorson’s scramble.

Jack Sanborn’s roughing the punter penalty

It was another second half special teams penalty this season that proved costly for the Badgers this season.

Against Michigan, Wisconsin was called for a roughing the long snapper penalty that ultimately led to a Wolverine touchdown that made it a seemingly distant two-score game in Ann Arbor.

On Saturday after Wisconsin’s defense forced a three-and-out five minutes into the third quarter, the mistake by Sanborn—the former four-star prep standout and current true freshman contributor—cost the team not only the possession but also led to another touchdown to put NU up 21-10.

I asked redshirt senior captain, inside linebacker T.J. Edwards, about the penalties by both Sanborn and Hicks and how he talks to them afterwards about those mistakes.

“I think both just guys who were trying to make plays. Jack trying to change the game with a punt, and Faion trying to make a play on the ball,” Edwards said. “It’s a tough deal right there. Both of those guys were throwing it out there and sometimes it doesn’t go your way, so it is what it is, but I think they do a good job of just responding and bouncing back.”

Other penalties

Early in the fourth quarter, a holding call on true freshman fullback John Chenal during a solid punt return from Jack Dunn pushed Wisconsin back to UW’s 8-yard line. Backed up near his own goal line instead of around the 40, Coan fumbled twice on the next play that was recovered by NU—who then went on to score the next touchdown.

Not quite as consequential, but a hold on fullback Mason Stokke after an Aron Cruickshank kickoff return also forced Wisconsin to start deep in its territory in the second half.

In the fourth quarter with Wisconsin driving into Northwestern territory, redshirt junior left tackle Jon Dietzen was called for a personal foul that stunted offensive momentum, with the Badgers eventually turning it over on downs.

Game balls

Ryan Connelly and T.J. Edwards

The duo combined for 27 tackles on the day (14 and 13, respectively), and again showed they anchor this defense. Connelly, the former walk-on, rated out the highest according to Pro Football Focus out of players for the game.

What’s next

Tuesday: Bucky’s 5th Podcast at Bierock (Wisconsin basketball preview!)

The Wisconsin State Journal’s Jim Polzin joins me on Tuesday night at Bierock (2911 N. Sherman Ave. in Madison) at 7 p.m. to preview the 2018-19 men’s basketball season. Should be a great time. Send us some of your questions, or just stop by and ask when you’re there.

Friday: Wisconsin men’s basketball exhibition game vs. UW-Oshkosh on Friday

On Friday, some preseason basketball will whet your appetite for next Tuesday’s season opener against Coppin State. We’ll be getting some previews up this week and upcoming weekend for Greg Gard and his squad.