MADISON, WIS. - The No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers (4-0 overall, 2-0 B1G) outlasted Northwestern (1-3 overall, 0-2 B1G), 24-15, in a hotly contested defensive showdown.
Wisconsin struggled to find their footing offensively against the Wildcats. Wisconsin was out-gained for the first time this season, 255-243.
“Certainly, it’s a sound scheme,” said head coach Paul Chryst of the Wildcats defense. “They did a good job of getting their safeties involved and a couple of times we picked it up and some times we didn’t, I think they do a good job and have some really good players.”
However, despite its struggles, Wisconsin started off the game, as they have every game this season, with a Jonathan Taylor touchdown run. Taylor took the carry into the end zone from 13 yards out, with Wisconsin in the Hippo formation, on fourth and two.
Coming into the game, Northwestern was one of only two Big Ten teams to have never allowed Taylor to eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark. As a freshman, Taylor rushed for 80 yards against the Wildcats and he rushed for only 46 yards in last season’s 31-17 loss. The 46 yards were Taylor’s second-lowest rushing total in a game in his collegiate career.
“Last year we didn’t come out with the win, so I wasn’t happy about that,” Taylor said. “Freshman year we came out with the win and that all that matters. We know it’s going to be a tough game each time we play against those guys, they’re a smart program, tough program.”
Ohio State is the only other Big Ten school to have not allowed Taylor to go over 100 yards. In Taylor’s only game against the Buckeyes, he rushed for 41 yards.
However, Taylor eclipsed the century mark in the win over Northwestern. This was the ninth-straight game that Taylor has been over 100 yards.
He finished the game with 119 yards on 26 carries and one score.
Taylor also became Wisconsin’s 4th all-time leading rusher (4,689) in only his 31st career game.
With Wisconsin’s offensive troubles, the defense got involved in the scoring.
Eric Burrell, who sat out the first half due to a targeting penalty against Michigan, made his presence felt, coming in on a blitz and hitting Northwestern quarterback Hunter Johnson as he was about to throw the ball.
The hit by Burrell knocked it loose and defensive lineman Matt Henningsen fell on it in the end zone. The touchdown was Henningsen’s second score of the season. He also recovered a fumble for a score in the opener, against USF.
Wisconsin’s defense then added a second score, when Noah Burks returned an interception 68 yards to the house.
Wildcats backup quarterback Aidan Smith, who entered when Hunter Johnson left with an injury three plays prior, was hit by Zach Baun as he was throwing the ball, causing the pass to be intercepted by Burks.
Northwestern scored their first touchdown of the day, following a Jack Dunn fumbled punt return. The Wildcats took advantage with a 5-play, 31-yard scoring drive, capped off by a Drake Anderson touchdown run.
Following the score, Northwestern recovered an onside kick, and looked to be in business once again, but the Wisconsin defense came through once more, as Chris Orr sacked Smith, forcing a fumble, that was recovered by Mike Maskalunas.
Northwestern would add one more score, to cap off an 80-yard drive. Smith found JJ Jefferson in the back of the end zone for a 15-yard score.
Collin Wilder all but secured the victory for Wisconsin when he sacked Smith on Northwestern’s final drive, forcing them into a fourth and nineteen.
The Wildcats turned the ball over on downs and Wisconsin then ran out the clock to move to 4-0 on the season.
Wilder’s sack, was the fifth of the game for the Badger defense, who held Northwestern to a 25 percent conversion rate on third down (5-20) and forced three turnovers. With their win over Northwestern, Wisconsin is now allowing 7.25 points per game on the season.
“I think that they’re playing together, and they’re playing off each other,” said Chryst. “Jimmy (Leonhard) and our defensive staff are putting a good plan together, but the guys are executing it and playing and they know each week they’re going to be tested different.”
Wisconsin’s next opponent, Kent State (2-2 overall, 1-0 MAC) has averaged 27.75 points per game on the season, but has been outscored 128-111 en route to a .500 record.
Wisconsin and Kent State will kick off at 11 am, next Saturday, Oct. 5.