Nov. 12, 2016
Whew. It took four games and 17 years, but finally the Badgers were able to prevail in a game in Evanston, Illinois. The Badgers ran for 190 yards as Wisconsin was able to come out with a 21-7 win over the Northwestern Wildcats. With the win, the Badgers improve to 7-2 and have a clear path to Indianapolis. Northwestern falls to 4-5 and its division championship hopes are all but over. After having a game-winning touchdown taken away from him against the Cats last year in Madison, Jazz Peavy had a great game, catching four passes for 73 yards and ran a jet sweep 46 yards to the house for the first touchdown of the day. Knowing all the good Badgers teams that came into Evanston and walked out a loser, Wisconsin fans knew this game would be a fight all the way. Bucky was able to force a huge turnover early in the fourth quarter and Wisconsin turned that into eight points to essentially wrap up the game. The Badgers wrapped up the gauntlet to start the Big Ten season at 4-2 and have firmly put themselves in position to take control of the Big Ten West.
Once again, Wisconsin was able to run the ball effectively. You knew when Corey Clement ran for eight yards each on back-to-back carries to start the game, Bucky was going to have some success on the ground. They rushed the ball more effectively than the stats show. Wisconsin ran for 190 yards on 57 carries for a yards per carry average of just 3.3. Three of those “carries” were three plays at the end of the game where Wisconsin was trying to run out the clock and Bart Houston ran for a loss of 37 yards in three plays. If you take away those three plays, the Badgers ran for 227 yards on 54 carries, a 4.2 yard average. Clement had another 100-yard rushing game, and Bradrick Shaw continued his strong play. The freshman had 54 yards on 11 carries. Peavy also added a 46-yard touchdown run on the jet sweep. In the following two drives following Clement’s touchdown to put the Badgers up by two scores, Wisconsin was just trying to run clock and ran five yards in six plays. The Badgers were able to run the ball well. This was the fourth consecutive game with at least 160 yards rushing and it would have been the third game in that stretch with at least 200 if not for the shenanigans by Houston at the end. The vast improvement from the offensive line bodes well for the rest of the schedule against teams ranked 84th, 121st and 17th in the nation in rush defense.
For as bad as freshman punter Anthony Lotti has been this season, he was that good against the Wildcats. Lotti had seven punts and his average doesn’t wow you (37.3) until you realize that he put an incredible six of his seven punts inside the 20, including two inside the five. He also had a career-long 53-yard punt. Wisconsin will need this Lotti to show up the rest of the season, and career. That is just one part of the impressive special teams the Badgers played in Evanston, with the exception of Andrew Endicott. However, after missing a short field goal early in the game, Endicott came onto the field two possessions later and drilled a 40-yard field goal to put the Badgers on the board. Peavy also made an impact on special teams. With Wisconsin’s offense certainly not dynamic, any time Peavy makes a big return to set up Bucky with great field position, it is huge. Peavy’s 24-yard return early in the second half helped set up the Badgers for a short field goal to put Wisconsin in front 13-7. Northwestern was in the top 10 coming in at kick returning, but was stymied Saturday. P.J. Rosowski kicked a touchback on four of his five kickoffs and on the only kickoff returned by the Cats, Flynn Nagel returned it for 17 yards, but Northwestern was called for a holding on the play. The special teams gets a game ball in this one.
I already mentioned him above, but I think he deserves his own paragraph. He called this game personal after having a game-winning touchdown taken away from him last year, and Peavy played like it. He contributed not only in the pass game, but the run game and return game as well. He really got Wisconsin started when he took a jet sweep 46 yards to the house to give Bucky a 10-0 lead midway through the second quarter. He had two punt returns for 25 yards, including the 24-yard return to set up a field goal. Lastly, he caught four passes for 73 yards.
And finally, the defense was tremendous once again. I sound like a broken record. The Badgers came in with their major goal being to stop the run and did just that. Wisconsin does a great job at forcing opponents to become one-dimensional. Bucky allowed a 28-yard run by Justin Jackson, but other than that run, the Badgers stoned Northwestern’s run game. Jackson came into the game second in rushing in the Big Ten and was held to 42 yards yards on 13 carries. Clayton Thorson, who has really come on and played well, had 277 yards, but threw the ball 52 times to get those 277 yards. Thorson just threw the fifth touchdown pass against the Badgers in 2016. No matter who plays, the defense still is dominant.
The only real negative for me was the quarterback play. The defense was sensational once again outside of the final drive for Northwestern of the first half. Alex Hornibrook did what he has done throughout his time as a starter. He was 11-of-19 for 92 yards, while Houston was 2-of-3 for 51 yards. Houston led his team to 11 points, despite not having the kind of playing time Hornibrook has. The two-quarterback system is working so far, but Hornibrook’s confidence may be shaken.
Wisconsin has ended the gauntlet of the schedule at 7-2, and now end with two of the bottom teams of the division as well as rival Minnesota to end the season. The Badgers control their own destiny in the Big Ten West, as well as a possible trip to the College Football Playoff.