Football: Wisconsin defense shuts down Wildcats in 35-7 beatdown


Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

A Wisconsin defender sacks senior quarterback Andrew Marty. The Badgers’ defense finished the afternoon with 12 tackles for a loss, four interceptions and three sacks in a 35-7 rout.

John Riker, Sports Editor


MADISON, Wis. — With Northwestern up against a three-touchdown deficit in the second quarter against No. 18 Wisconsin, the Wildcats dialed up a screen to sophomore running back Evan Hull.

Instead of advancing further into Badger territory, the play backfired. Wisconsin safety John Torchio broke into the backfield and tackled Hull the instant the ball hit his hands for a six-yard loss.

The play wasn’t the most consequential in the nationally televised battle of Big Ten West rivals or the most devastating to the Cats’ offense, but it underscored the seemingly telepathic anticipation and alarming physicality of a Wisconsin defense that physically dominated NU. The Badgers (7-3, 5-2 Big Ten) finished the chilly November afternoon with 12 tackles for a loss, four interceptions, three sacks and forced a fumble and a missed field goal. Most importantly, they didn’t surrender an offensive point to the Cats (3-7, 1-6) in a 35-7 blowout.

“Once again, the defense played outstanding,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “Defensively, we had a number of takeaways and we took advantage of those.”

NU had its way on its first offensive possession, a 19-play drive that took nearly eight minutes and 82 yards and featured major gains through the air and on the ground. After a fourth-and-4 conversion set the Cats up in the Wisconsin red zone, senior quarterback Andrew Marty chose to test one-on-one coverage along the sideline and was intercepted by Badgers cornerback Caesar Williams.

After the interception, Wisconsin’s defense — which leads the Big Ten in both scoring and yardage — adopted an entirely different complexion. The Cats’ last four drives of the first half totaled -2 yards in 12 plays, all while the Badgers’ offense unloaded with three touchdowns in a span of ten minutes.

“That first drive, we had a really good rhythm,” graduate wide receiver Stephon Robinson Jr. said. “Right after that, we couldn’t catch that same rhythm. We had a hard time getting that aesthetic back.”

An NU offensive line that lost senior center Sam Gerak to an upper body injury and left guard Josh Priebe to a lower body injury couldn’t stop Wisconsin defenders from infiltrating the backfield.

The hard-hitting Badger front seven shut down the Cats’ end-around plays and kept NU’s rush game stagnant, holding Hull to 21 yards on 12 carries. Wisconsin linebackers Jack Sanborn and Leo Chanel made their presence felt in the Cats’ backfield, each racking up three tackles for a loss.

“They were running a chase-and-scrape scheme that they’ve done in the past and it looked like that created four or five of those (tackles for a loss),” NU coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Then we had some missed targets, it looked like.”

Fitzgerald emphasized NU’s offensive inefficiency on the first two downs as a reason behind the unit’s rocky showing. The average third down distance on NU’s third down attempts? 9.2 yards.

Even the Cats’ biggest offensive play — a 68-yard gain consisting of a 19-yard run by graduate running back Andrew Clair and a 49-yard recovery and run by Robinson Jr. — was enabled by a punchout by Badger linebacker Nick Herbig. A 32-yard missed field goal by graduate kicker Charlie Kuhbander prevented NU from taking advantage. The Cats’ only points came on a 49-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by junior defensive back A.J. Hampton, Jr.

Turnovers, the thorn that thwarted NU’s first drive, sealed the win for Wisconsin. The Badgers intercepted three passes in the second half, two off Marty and one off sophomore quarterback Ryan Hilinski in relief, to close the door on a Cats comeback.

NU entered Saturday’s game knowing the challenge it faced, from the stature of the Wisconsin defense to the strengths of hard-charging linebackers and, as Robinson called them, “safeties flying down with no remorse.” But as Saturday proved, the Cats’ knowledge did not lead to success in slowing the Badgers’ relentless attack.

“They’ve got a pretty good defense,” Fitzgerald said. “They’re number one in the country for a reason.”

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