Rapid Recap: No. 8 Wisconsin 24, Northwestern 15

Benjamin Rosenberg, Web Editor


MADISON, Wis. — Northwestern’s defense can only bail out the Wildcats’ inept offense so many times.

Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, NU (1-3, 0-2 Big Ten) held No. 8 Wisconsin (4-0, 2-0) to under 300 yards of total offense, but the Cats failed to find the end zone until the fourth quarter and lost, 24-15.

The game was a defensive struggle throughout the first half, at least after Wisconsin marched down the field on its first series. The Badgers converted two third downs and then scored on fourth down, with Jonathan Taylor bursting up the middle for a 13-yard touchdown.

NU caught a huge break on its second possession, when Wisconsin committed a facemask penalty on a Cats punt that allowed the drive to continue. The next three plays went for 31, 12 and 25 yards, respectively, and NU ended up with a field goal.

Things turned in a big way late in the third. Riley Lees appeared to have returned a punt deep into Wisconsin territory, but due to an illegal block penalty, NU started inside its own 20. One play later, Johnson was blasted in the backfield and lost the ball, and Matt Henningsen recovered in the end zone to put the Badgers up 14-3.

Early in the fourth quarter, Johnson was hit hard upon completing a pass and left the game with an injury. Aidan Smith replaced him and threw an interception on his third pass, which Noah Burks returned for Wisconsin’s second defensive touchdown of the day.

The Cats made things interesting late. Following a muffed punt, Drake Anderson ran in a four-yard touchdown with 8:45 left, and then Smith found JJ Jefferson in the end zone with 4:10 to play. But NU failed on both its two-point conversion attempts and never could make it a one-score game.


1. Hunter Johnson continued to look rusty — before he got hurt. The play calling certainly hasn’t helped, but Johnson completed just 10 of 21 passes for 59 yards. He also didn’t get many chances to throw until the fourth quarter, as the Cats opted to run on 30 of their 45 offensive plays in quarters one through three, but when called upon, Johnson failed to answer the bell.

2. The defense had a game plan, and for the most part, it worked. Like most teams do, NU loaded the box against Taylor and company, and while the Badgers’ superstar back ran for 119 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries, most of Wisconsin’s other weapons were limited. Junior safety Travis Whillock and junior defensive end Samdup Miller played particularly well, and junior safety JR Pace came up with a big interception.

3. A return trip to Indianapolis seems like a pipe dream. With the Cats starting 0-2 in conference play for the second time in three years, NU faces a massive uphill battle if it wants to repeat in the Big Ten West. The Badgers are already 2-0 in Big Ten play and own the tiebreaker over the Cats, who have to play Nebraska, Ohio State and Iowa in their next three games. Forget about the Big Ten title game; NU could be looking at a 1-6 record by the end of October.

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