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Grading Wisconsin’s puzzling 24-15 win over Northwestern

The defense was excellent, and everything else was frustrating.

@B5QPhotos; Matt Fleming

Rubric - Wisconsin Football Unit Grades

Grade Description - accounting for degree of difficulty
Grade Description - accounting for degree of difficulty
A Excellent: Top-5 level performance
B Very good: Top-tier Big Ten performance
C Acceptable: Average for the Big Ten
D Unacceptable: Below average for the Big Ten
F Failure: Rutgers level performance
N/A Insufficient evidence for a grade

The Wisconsin Badgers earned a baffling 24-15 victory over the Northwestern Wildcats earlier today. The defense was lights-out, holding the Wildcats to 3.1 yards per play. The Wildcats returned the favor with a strong defensive effort of their own, holding the Badgers to 4.0 yards per play.

This was a bit of a gut-check game for the Badgers. The Big Ten season is going to throw some adversity the Badgers way. Fortunately, Wisconsin was able to limp away with a victory.

As you can expect, the grades are a bit lower this week. I am not too terribly worried at the moment, but I will be if some of the issues persist.

Offense: D

O-line: D+


Wisconsin’s defense scored more points than its offense. Need I say more?

If I do, let’s go point by point. Northwestern’s pass defense strategy seemed to be the polar opposite of Michigan’s strategy last week. The Wildcats played more zone and picked its moments to blitz.

Jack Coan was off today. Northwestern’s defense was determined to keep Wisconsin in front of them and come up to make the tackles. When that happens, the quarterback has to hit the short passes quickly and on target so the receivers can quickly transition downfield and earn some yards after the catch.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Coan really struggled to consistently hit the open guy. He looked completely different than he did the first three games of this season, and he looked more like his performances last year against Penn State and Northwestern.

I was not bothered at all by his interception; sure, it was under-thrown, but a deep interception is the best type of turnover.

Jonathan Taylor broke 100 yards against Northwestern for the first time, but he did not get too much help from his offensive line. It was rare that Taylor had any room at all.

Speaking of the offensive line, the pass protection was generally okay, but Northwestern didn’t bring much heat. When it did, however, it payed off.

The wide receivers struggled to get open and find the soft spots in the zone. If they did, it didn’t matter because Coan couldn’t find them. And when Coan did find them, they were well short of the marker.

Defense: A-

Pass rush: A+
Pass coverage: B+
Run defense: B+


The Badgers’ defense continues to be tenacious and wreak havoc. The only times it struggled today were after special teams blunders and at the very end of the game.

The whole defense is playing extremely well, and it even got to the point where I was glad Paul Chryst was punting so I could see the defense play some more.

Bonus points for nobody getting ejected!

Special Teams: D

Kicking: B+
Punting: C
Returning: F
Coverage: B


Hello to everyone who immediately scrolled down to special teams first!

Let’s get some of the good out of the way. The Badgers did a fine job in kick coverage, Anthony Lotti was fine, and Collin Larsh hit a medium-distance field goal!

Oh, and don’t forget that Zach Hintze can still hit touchbacks after 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. I say the Badgers should do a full-blown choreographed celebration after every score; Hintze can render the penalty moot.

@B5QPhotos; Matt Fleming

Now the bad, which was very, very bad.

The return game started strong with a 44-yarder by Aron Cruickshank. It was terrible after that. Jack Dunn took a serious step back in this game. He made a poor decision with a fair catch at the seven-yard line, he muffed a punt, and the receiving team failed once again to recover an onside kick attempt.

@B5QPhotos; Matt Fleming

Therefore, my first “F” of the year goes to the return game.

Coaching: C

Strategy: C
Adjustments: C
Play-calling: C


The defensive coaching was excellent, but the offensive coaching was quite poor. Frankly, neither offense could figure out the other defense.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

I hate the decision to punt from the Northwestern 36. I know the offense had struggled, but you only net 16 yards on a mediocre punt while you could gain points by converting.

Overall grade: C+

Unit Grades: C+
Big plays: B
Game Control: D
Penalties & Discipline: C+


This is a dynamic C+ grade. In some aspects, the Badgers excelled, but the Wildcats exposed some issues on offense. Further, worries about special teams as a liability remain.

Overall, Wisconsin turned in its first performance that questions its ability to win the Big Ten.

Champions do have these types of games, but they also bounce back from them. The next two home games will tell us a lot about the future of this team, and, frankly, the Badgers could benefit from this wake-up call and refocus on the critical games head.

Bonus grades

Kato Kaelin’s Grades: D

Listen, you don’t just throw grades out like that! You need to take a few hours to decompress, reflect, and meditate. Then, you need to write a 1000+ word post on it.

Oh, who am I kidding, Kato. You’re a valuable member of the twitter-verse.

Wisconsin’s pants: C-

I just don’t quite get it. It didn’t look like Wisconsin out there. I feel like it distracted from the jerseys and helmet which were pretty good.

I did, however, like how people took additional digs people took at Michigan thanks to the khaki-colored slacks.

Pace of play: F

It took three and a half hours to watch 19 punts.

Demanding Graham Mertz: A+

I love it, and I’m here for it. I smile at every tweet and every shout from the stands.

While I wouldn’t agree, it’s one of the best memes Wisconsin has going for itself. A week ago, I was given critical feedback for saying Coan was “very good” instead of “excellent,” and it’s nice to see that the honeymoon is over for Coan.

What can I do to be the backup quarterback at Wisconsin? I could use some more love.

(Author’s note: apologies to those viewing this on mobile. You may have more luck reading the table directly from the source.)

2019 Wisconsin Football Grade Book

Category Mich NW MSU @ Ill. @ OSU Iowa @ Neb Purdue @ Minn B1G Championship Rose Bowl
Category Mich NW MSU @ Ill. @ OSU Iowa @ Neb Purdue @ Minn B1G Championship Rose Bowl
Overall A- C+ A+ D- B- B- C B- A- B- C-
Unit Grade Composite A C+ A D B- B- C+ B B+ B- C+
Big Plays A- B A D C+ B- C B A C D
Game Control B D A+ F N/A C D- C A D D
Penalties & Discipline C- C+ A F C+ D C+ C- A B+ N/A
Offense A D A D+ C+ B B+ B+ A- B- C+
QB B D A D N/A C C- B- A B- C
OL A+ D+ A D- C+ B- A- B B+ B- C+
RB / FB A+ B B+ C N/A A A A B B+ B-
WR / TE B D A B N/A B+ B+ A A B C
Defense A A- A+ D- B C+ D+ C B B- B+
Pass rush A- A+ A+ D+ B C+ C+ C+ B+ B B+
Pass coverage B+ B+ A+ F B C- D+ D B- C+ A-
Run defense A+ B+ A+ F B B F B+ A+ B- B+
Special Teams C+ D B- C+ B C- B+ A+ B+ F A- & F
Kicking C- B+ B C B C- B A+ B D+ D+
Punting B C C B- B C- B- N/A C- F F
Returning C+ F B C+ B C- A N/A A D A+
Coverage C- B C C+ B N/A B N/A B+ D N/A
Coaching A C A F N/A B- C- C+ A B- N/A
Strategy A+ C A D N/A B- D+ C B+ B N/A
Adjustments B C N/A F N/A B C B A F N/A
Play Calling A C A F N/A B- C B- A+ B N/A