Rapid Recap: Northwestern 31, Wisconsin 17


Allie Goulding/Daily Senior Staffer

Clayton Thorson celebrates a touchdown. Thorson and the Wildcats secured a landmark win Saturday against Wisconsin.

Ben Pope, Gameday Editor

Northwestern played its most complete game of the season and made a huge statement in the Big Ten race with a 31-17 win over Wisconsin on Saturday at Ryan Field.

Up against the defending back-to-back West division champions, the Wildcats (5-3, 5-1 Big Ten) overcame a slow start and looked the superior team for the remainder of the day. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but it was significantly better than the sloppy Badgers (5-3, 3-2), and the victory kept NU in control of its own destiny in search of a Big Ten Championship game berth.

The Cats’ running attack, which looked completely inept for a several-week stretch earlier this season, outdueled the Badgers’ Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor; true freshman Isaiah Bowser led the way with 117 yards and a touchdown, and the team cumulatively rushed for over 180 yards. Senior quarterback Clayton Thorson made some mistakes, throwing three interceptions, but also made some big plays — three completions for 24 or more yards — to stretch the field.

An early interception spotted Wisconsin an easy touchdown for the opening score, but the vast majority of the remainder of the first half was played within the Badgers’ half. Thorson punched in two short-distance rushing touchdowns to give the hosts the lead they ultimately never relinquished, but Wisconsin added a field goal and entered halftime very much in the game, trailing only 14-10.

Nonetheless, 17 unanswered NU points to start the second half, highlighted by an acrobatic touchdown snare by sophomore Kyric McGowan, broke the game wide open. Wisconsin regrouped to make a tepid late push, but a fourth-down stop with four minutes left sealed the win.


1. The defense put together a stellar performance. Wisconsin’s offense was undoubtedly hindered by the absence of starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook — replacement Jack Coan entered the day with five career attempts, and managed only 158 passing yards and an ugly, inexplicable fumble. But even Taylor found very little room to operate: his 46 total yards marked the first time he hasn’t reached triple-digit yardage this season. NU seemingly beat Wisconsin at its own game as they consistently loaded the box, dominated the trenches and kept the visitor’s attack contained all day.

2. Northwestern is ready to make Isaiah Bowser its new bell cow. The true freshman took advantage of an incredibly injury-depleted running backs room last week against Rutgers, rushing 24 times for 108 yards after entering the day with two career carries. This week, even with senior Solomon Vault back, the Cats officially burned Bowser’s redshirt eligibility and rode the bruising back a whopping 34 times. Bowser isn’t the fastest runner, but he plays a confident, physical and reliable style. He can now be safely considered the team’s primary back of the future (and present, at least until John Moten returns).

3. The Wildcats have a very legitimate shot at the division title. Saturday’s victory not only moves NU to 5-1 in the Big Ten and maintains their position in first place in the West division, but also upends the team that was previously considered this year’s favorite. A road matchup against Iowa two weeks from today now looms enormous, as the Hawkeyes stand at 3-1 in the conference (entering a tough game against Penn State this afternoon) and are by far the toughest Big Ten opponent remaining on the Cats’ schedule.

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