Rapid Reaction: Northwestern 20, No. 17 Wisconsin 14

Zach Moore, Reporter

What went right:

Saturday marked Northwestern’s first home win over a ranked opponent since 2010.

The Wildcats won the turnover battle, forcing four turnovers while protecting the ball on offense, not giving the ball up the entire game.

NU’s defense cut off the Badgers’ passing game. The Cats’ defensive backs were able to locate the ball in the air and break on the ball, denying the deep ball over the top.

The Cats’ defense held Wisconsin quarterbacks to 138 yards passing. Redshirt freshman Godwin Igwebuike had three interceptions, two in the red zone, and senior linebacker Jimmy Hall added a pick of his own.

Overall, the bend-but-don’t-break defense was key to the victory. NU’s defense gave up 284 yards on the ground but tightened up in critical moments.

NU special teams forced the Badgers to start deep in their own territory, with junior punter Chris Gradone supplying coffin-corner punts.

After carrying the ball 16 times for 82 yards in the first half, the Wildcats continued to feed running back Justin Jackson the ball. The freshman finished with 162 yards rushing on 33 carries.

On the Cats’ second touchdown, Jackson pitched the ball to junior receiver Miles Shuler on an end-around. Shuler turned on the jets, getting around the edge quickly and into the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown run.

NU beat the Badgers at their own game. It was the Wildcats’ rushing attack, not the Badgers’, that proved to be the difference in the game. Everyone anticipated Wisconsin being able to run the ball effectively on the Cats, but NU also used the run to its advantage.

Senior quarterback Trevor Siemian managed the game well. The Cats’ offense was predicated on the run, but quick throws by Siemian kept the chains moving. Creative play calling left the Wisconsin defense guessing.

What went wrong:

The opening drive in the third quarter put Wisconsin back in the game.

The key play of the drive was running back Melvin Gordon, breaking out for a 51 yard run through the left side of the Wildcat defense. The Badgers came out in the second half and reestablished the running game. On fourth and one, on the five yard line, Wisconsin went to its workhorse Gordon to pick up the first down. The Badgers punched it in on the next play, handing off to Gordon again.

After getting the ball back with a short field, Wisconsin was finally able to move the ball through the air. Joel Stave was able to locate a wide receiver in the end zone after NU safety Traveon Henry got turned around and could not find the ball.

Overall, Gordon racked up 259 yards on 27 carries.

Although the Wildcats were able to move the ball on offense, they would have liked to come away with touchdowns rather than two field goals on their red zone possessions.

Email: [email protected]northwestern.edu

Read more football coverage on our Gameday blog.