Notebook: Cats contain Clay, control clock to come away with win

Danny Daly

One of the challenges of taking on a power running team like Wisconsin is trying to control the clock. Entering Saturday’s showdown at Ryan Field, the Badgers led the Big Ten in time of possession as well as rushing yards per game.

Fueled by an inspired defensive effort, Northwestern succeeded in its attempts to shorten Wisconsin’s drives. The Badgers had possession for 31:06 against the Wildcats, less than the average for their first 10 contests by more than two minutes.

“Wisconsin is known for running the ball with a lot of power offense and they’re known for eating up the clock, and we held our own,” senior quarterback Mike Kafka said. “We kept the ball in our hands and that helped us.”

Wisconsin boasts the third-best conversion percentage on third downs in the conference, but it moved the chains less than a third of the time in Evanston.

“We needed to get off the field on third down,” coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “For the most part, it looks like we did. We held them to 4-of-13, and 1-of-2 on fourth down. I thought that was going to be critical for our defense to get the ball back for our offense.”

Preventing sophomore running back John Clay from taking over the game was also crucial. Clay, the league leader in touchdowns and rushing yards, carried 23 times for 100 yards, which was below his season average of 112.4 per game. His average of 4.3 yards per carry was also less than his normal mark by almost one full yard.

The Cats didn’t let Clay break many long gains – he had just two rushes of at least 10 yards, and neither was longer than 20.


Sophomore running back Jacob Schmidt usually doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, especially not since backfield mates Stephen Simmons and Scott Concannon have gotten healthy. Still, his impact on Saturday’s game was palpable.

A native of Rhinelander, Wis., Schmidt had extra motivation for facing the Badgers. His first big play came in the middle of the second quarter, when he stepped up and blocked a blitzer to give Kafka enough time to find senior wide receiver Andrew Brewer in the end zone. The 12-yard touchdown pass gave the Cats a 17-14 lead, and they did not trail the rest of the afternoon.

“Jacob is one of those hard-nosed guys from Wisconsin, so it was nice to see him go out and succeed,” Kafka said. “He’s been doing that all year, so it’s no surprise to us. … He does (his job) well.”

On the ensuing kickoff, Schmidt was initially credited with a forcing a fumble that NU recovered, though the play was overturned after further review. He finished with three tackles on special teams and later teamed with true freshman Roderick Goodlow to stuff Wisconsin returner Isaac Anderson at the 5-yard line.

“He’s been one of our best special teams players since he’s been here,” Fitzgerald said. “He looked like a mad man out there today.”

Schmidt is also the second returner on kickoffs, and a penalty negated one nice run past the 30-yard line.


NU’s offensive line has improved dramatically since the beginning of the season. But it shot itself in the foot with five false start penalties, three of which occurred in the second half when the Cats were trying to close out the win.

Normally, it’s the road team that struggles with crowd noise and can’t hear the snap count. That wasn’t the case Saturday, as Wisconsin’s tactics successfully baited NU’s linemen.”Toward the end of the game, some of the Wisconsin guys started barking a little bit, trying to get some of our guys (to jump) offsides,” Kafka said.

The penalties also came at inopportune times. Three were on third down, and two happened on third-and-one.

As a result, it was harder for NU to stay in a rhythm and made critical conversions more difficult.

“We got third-and-one and we get hit with a five-yard penalty, that is going to hurt a drive and a little bit of momentum,” Kafka said. “If we stop hurting ourselves, we’ll be in better shape.”

The penalties didn’t come back to haunt the Cats. After four of the five times they were flagged, they picked up a first down on the following play.[email protected]