Looking to bounce back after an embarrassing loss last week to the Indiana Hoosiers, the Wisconsin Badgers came back to Camp Randall Stadium, only to be handed their third straight loss by the Northwestern Wildcats. The final score was 24 - 10.
The Badgers received the ball to begin the game and started fairly strong, as a 35-yard bomb to Vinny Anthony put them deep in Northwestern territory, although Wisconsin couldn’t cap the drive with a touchdown.
Instead, the explosive play set up a 33-yard field goal from Nathaniel Vakos. These were the first and last points for the Badgers in the first half.
The Wildcats offense was picking apart the Badgers defense at will, mixing up the pass and run to drive the ball down the field and score. Senior Ben Bryant led the Wildcats on back-to-back-to-back touchdown drives, and was perfect on third down, with Northwestern converting each of their first 10 third downs.
Unable to get off on third down, the game got out of hand early. Two of the Wildcats three first-half touchdowns came off blitzes on 3rd & Long where the Badgers sent heavy pressure.
This tactic had worked early in the season for the Badgers, but the Wildcats’ offensive line picked up these blitzes well and gave Bryant just enough time to find his open receivers.
The run defense also looked like they lost a step, allowing more than 100 yards on the ground in the first half. Northwestern’s running back duo of Cam Porter and Joseph Himon broke out multiple runs of 10+ yards and were able to get first downs on crucial short third down situations.
While the Wildcats’ offense was running over the Badgers, the Wisconsin offense could not get anything going. Braelon Allen, in his limited time, only had 3 carries for only 3 yards.
The big thing we saw the Wildcats do is make Phil Longo’s offense one dimensional. The non-existent run game made it hard for the Badgers to get into a good rhythm and continue drives. The Badgers finished the half with 131 yards through the air and a mere 14 total rushing yards.
The continuing issue of drops was also a constant factor in this game. In the middle of the second, with the Badgers in Northwestern territory, top wideout Will Pauling dropped a crucial pass on second down that would have given the Badgers a first down and put them closer to the endzone.
Instead, the drive ended with a missed field 40-yard goal by Nathanial Vakos and zero points. These types of miscues this late in the season can not be happening, especially with bowl eligibility so close in reach.
Contrary to the first half, the second half Badgers defense was ruthless. They limited the Wildcats to only 38 yards of total offense. On the first two drives, they tallied negative yards and set the offense with great starting field position.
Hunter Wohler and Jordan Turner led their team from the front, tallying 10 and 9 tackles, respectively.
Even with the great starting field position in the third quarter, the Badgers could not get the ball in the endzone. On their first drive, starting at their opponent’s 48-yard line, they were able to drive the ball down the Northwestern 8-yard line, but were turned down on 4th and 4.
The second drive also started well, but a penalty and sack on third down pushed the Badgers to a 4th and 19, leading to a punt.
Simple mental miscues is what really let the offense down today, as three major holding calls on Jack Nelson and a huge fumble early in the 4th by Tanner Mordecai caused solid drives to be cut short.
It was not all bad however, as the Badgers offense was able to put a solid 13-play, 70-yard drive in garbage time to end the game and score their first touchdown.
This drive featured the play calling and execution we are used to, and it ended with a strong 3-yard run from Jackson Acker for the score.
While the game looked bad on the scoreboard and on the stat sheet, the Badgers did not do that bad. Fixing up the mental miscues and limiting them as much as possible will a go way in setting the team up for success in the next two games as well as next year.
The bright spots and potential of this team are clearly visible. Given another year under Luke Fickell and his staff, the Badgers football team has bright days ahead of it, even if Saturday was a low point for the season.