The No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers (2-1) faltered in Evanston, losing 17-7 to No. 19 Northwestern (5-0). For the first time in the 2020 season, the Wisconsin offense was challenged and they struggled to exert their will on their opposition.
After gaining 430 yards in the opener and 468 last week, Wisconsin only amassed 366 yards of total offense against Northwestern, but turned the ball over five times after only turning the ball over once in its first two games. Four of the Badgers turnovers, came in the first half alone against Northwestern and led to what would be an insurmountable lead.
Three of the first half turnovers belonged to quarterback Graham Mertz (one fumble, two interceptions). Mertz finished the game 23-of-41 for 230 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.
However, the Wisconsin defense remained a point of strength, despite multiple suspect penalties and calls by the officiating crew. Wisconsin held Northwestern to 263 total yards, including just 24 rushing yards. Northwestern was also only 2-of-15 on third down. The Badgers were penalized eight times for 69 yards, while Northwestern was only penalized once for five yards.
On Northwestern’s opening drive, Wisconsin was called for two separate (editor’s note: questionable) defensive pass interference penalties in the end zone. The first came on a Peyton Ramsey pass into the end zone where his intended receiver, John Raine, fell down with Scott Nelson on coverage.
Following an incompletion to Raine on third and goal, Wisconsin looked as though it would be holding Northwestern to a field goal attempt, but once again Wisconsin was penalized for pass interference giving Northwestern a fresh set of downs. Following the incompletion the referee, who penalized Rachad Wildgoose, took a moment to throw the flag. A play later, Ramsey completed a two-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Mangieri.
Ramsey passed for 203 yards and was 23-of-44 with two touchdowns.
Following a Garrett Groshek fumble, Wisconsin forced a fumble of their own on a first-and-goal run by Isaiah Bowser, following a Riley Lees completion to Ramaud Chiaokiao-Bowman on a reverse which setup Northwester at the Wisconsin one-yard line. The fumble was recovered by Spencer Lytle in the end zone for a touchback.
Following the turnover, Wisconsin did just as it has the previous two games and turned the opposition’s opening turnover into points. Mertz capped off the six-play, 80-yard drive with a 49-yard touchdown pass to Chimere Dike.
Dike, who scored his first career touchdown, and other young receivers were forced into the spotlight against the Wildcats as it was announced prior to the start of the game that Wisconsin would be without its starting receivers, Danny Davis III and Kendric Pryor. Tight end Jake Ferguson caught seven passes for 58 yards, leading the short-benched receiving corps.
On the ground for Wisconsin, freshman running back Jalen Berger had another strong showing for the Badgers, rushing 15 times for 93 yards.
The Wisconsin defense held its own, forcing a missed field goal and a punt, following Wisconsin’s next two turnovers. However, with the first half coming to an end, Ramsey led Northwestern on a seven-play, 72-yard scoring drive, following Mertz’s second interception of the game. The drive was aided by a pass that was originally ruled incomplete and overturned as complete following a review.
Ramsey closed the drive, with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Chiaokiao-Bowman. Chiaokiao-Bowman who scored three times against Purdue last week, finished the game with four receptions for 95 yards and the one score.
Wisconsin had a chance to get back on the board, following a combined nine drives ending in punts in the third quarter, but Wisconsin opted to go for it on fourth-and-6 and ended up turning the ball over on downs, as Mertz was sacked.
Northwestern then extended its lead to double digits, on a Charlie Kuhbander, 32-yard field goal. Following the field goal, Mertz threw his third interception of the game, all-but sealing the victory for Northwestern.
With the loss, Wisconsin falls into second place in the B1G West, with just three weeks left in the regular season. Wisconsin will host Minnesota (2-3) next Saturday.