Northwestern vs. Wisconsin: 10 Things We Learned from the Badgers' Win
Wisconsin couldn't have asked for a better way to celebrate homecoming, absolutely clobbering the visiting Northwestern Wildcats by a score of 35-6.
After the first quarter, the Badgers did a better job of protecting the ball and imposed their will on Northwestern, dominating the battle in the trenches on both sides of the football. Both James White and Melvin Gordon topped the century mark in rushing yards, and quarterback Joel Stave threw for 241 yards and three touchdowns.
Northwestern was able to force three more turnovers to add to its Big Ten-best takeaway number, but it only resulted in six points—the only six points the Wildcats would score all afternoon.
The loss will almost surely knock Northwestern out of the Top 25, while Wisconsin could be looking at a re-entry. For as lopsided as this game was over the final three quarters, there are still 10 things we managed to pick up from the Badgers' win.
Same Old Northwestern
Coming in as the No. 19 team in the country, it quickly became clear why Northwestern was a 10.5-point underdog entering Saturday's game, per Covers.com.
Its style of play just doesn't match up with Wisconsin, a team that just ran the ball down Northwestern's throat throughout the game. The Wildcats offensive line was also completely overmatched, as the Badgers racked up seven sacks and only allowed 241 yards of total offense.
Injuries to dual-threat quarterback Kain Colter, who had the most success moving Northwestern down the field, and tailback Venric Mark certainly didn't help Northwestern's cause, but it's hard to say their presence would have had much of an impact on the result.
Just like the team in 2010 that allowed 70 points to Wisconsin, this Wildcats squad was no match for the Badgers, and that may have had something to do with what happened in Evanston, Ill., just one week ago.
The Badgers Can Move the Ball Without Abbrederis
In the second quarter, it was learned that wide receiver Jared Abbrederis would not return after suffering a head injury. It was difficult to tell when exactly the injury occurred, but the game was still close when he exited it.
That meant Stave would be forced to turn to other options in the passing game. Just about everyone contributed in Abbrederis' absence, as Stave found eight different receivers and threw two touchdown passes—one to Derek Watt and one to Jacob Pedersen.
Abbrederis was well on his way to having another career day, as he still managed 74 receiving yards and a touchdown in just over a quarter of action. But he was also responsible for two of Wisconsin's three turnovers.
Northwestern is a ranked team, so for Wisconsin to still find a way to move the ball through the air without Abbrederis was nothing to scoff at.
Melvin Gordon (and the Jet Sweep) Is Back
Sophomore tailback Melvin Gordon was going to make it a point to bounce back from a knee injury and a lackluster performance against Ohio State. He did just that, rushing 22 times for 172 yards and a touchdown against Northwestern.
That showing included a 71-yard touchdown run off the left end of the line when Gordon came around on a jet sweep, a play he is becoming infamous for breaking for big gains. Despite putting together such a dominating performance, Gordon's yards-per-carry average will actually take a hit after Saturday, and if you take away Gordon's touchdown run, he barely reached 100 yards rushing.
But you could tell Gordon was running with a purpose against the Wildcats, and he still deserves to be taken seriously as a Heisman contender.
Joel Stave Is Still a Work in Progress
Entering Week 7, Northwestern had the worst pass defense in the Big Ten in terms of yardage. However, the Wildcats had 11 interceptions coming into Camp Randall Stadium, and they added two more to that total against the Badgers.
Granted, one of those passes was bobbled by Abbrederis and then picked off, but the second one came on a two-minute drive and eventually led to a Northwestern field goal at the end of the first half. That wasn't the only mistake from Stave, who missed several throws and wound up going 17-of-28 for 241 yards on the day.
Stave did show some elusiveness and mobility, which helped keep some plays alive. He also threw a couple of excellent deep balls. He just hasn't quite put it all together, but he hasn't done anything to cost the Badgers a game in 2013, or really during his college career.
The Wisconsin Defense Is Fast
To put it boldly, the Northwestern offense looked like it was moving in slow motion compared to the Wisconsin defense.
Without bringing additional pressure on a majority of the snaps, the Badgers still managed to get after Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian at least a dozen times, and the result was seven sacks on the afternoon. Entering the game, Wisconsin had seven sacks through the first five games of the season.
In fact, seven different players recorded a sack for the Badgers, and of course, linebacker Chris Borland led the way in tackles with 10. Some of the quarterback sacks can be credited to the secondary, which smothered Northwestern's receivers all game long.
There's something about the 3-4 defense that allows Wisconsin to be more active and throw different looks at the offense, and it worked to near perfection against the Wildcats.
Kyle French Isn't the Answer at Kicker
How a university of Wisconsin's caliber is unable to find a competent place kicker is truly a mystery. Fresh off a short miss against Ohio State, Kyle French once again failed to punch in a field goal from a manageable distance against Northwestern.
Backup Jack Russell took over from there, but he was only asked to kick a few extra points. Even though French isn't the answer for Wisconsin, there might not be an answer on the entire roster. Well, maybe Chris Borland, because that guy can just about do it all on a football field.
Perhaps Russell just needs some extended time at kicker, but he has yet to make a field goal in three chances during his two-year collegiate career. It would be one thing if French and Russell were missing from 50-plus, but these are field goals that any FBS-level kicker is expected to make.
Sojourn Shelton Is Hit or Miss
It didn't take long for true freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton to make his presence known.
Not even a minute into the game, Shelton picked off Northwestern's Kain Colter on an ill-advised pass back toward the middle of the field. That's now a team-leading three interceptions for Shelton, but the success hasn't come without the growing pains.
Shelton's dropped INT at Ohio State back on Sept. 28 was extremely costly, and once again against Northwestern, he had a lapse in judgement when he allowed a receiver to get behind him with the Badgers in prevent defense.
A 46-yard pass play set up a Wildcats field goal at the end of the first half to make it a two-possession game and give Northwestern momentum heading into halftime. The Badgers' play on defense, specifically Shelton's, at the end of the first half in back-to-back weeks is concerning, but that's just something Wisconsin will have to accept, as Shelton is an exceptional talent who is still learning the ropes.
Tanner McEvoy Aids the Secondary
You might have noticed that quarterback-turned-safety Tanner McEvoy cracked the two deep at safety this week. Not only that, but McEvoy also received the start alongside Dezmen Southward at safety against Northwestern.
McEvoy saw extended playing time against Ohio State two weeks ago, and that appeared to have a positive influence on the defense. Head coach Gary Andersen rolled with McEvoy once again, and it was no coincidence that the Wildcats couldn't even muster one touchdown.
While the front seven garnered a lot of the attention for racking up seven sacks on the afternoon, that was largely due to the excellent coverage at the back end of Wisconsin's defense. McEvoy was an integral part of that coverage, and it's pretty remarkable how quickly he's caught on to his new position.
In all, the Badgers only allowed 163 passing yards, and McEvoy was tied for the third-most tackles on the team with four.
The Wisconsin Front 7 Is One of the Best
Not only is the Wisconsin front seven one of the best in the Big Ten, but its also one of the best in all of college football.
The injury to Venric Mark obviously didn't help, but not one Northwestern rusher reached 20 yards against Wisconsin. The Wildcats only managed 44 rushing yards in all, and entering the game, Wisconsin was allowing just under 100 rushing yards per game.
Not only did the Badgers completely shut down Northwestern's run game, but as we mentioned before, they also sacked the quarterback seven times, the highest single-game mark in 10 years. Going back to the presence of McEvoy in the secondary, usual starting safety Michael Caputo was able to shift to linebacker and have a positive impact.
You couldn't ask for a better leader than linebacker Chris Borland, and on the line, nose tackle Beau Allen can also expect to play on Sundays. He was a key cog in the Badgers defense, plugging up the middle while also getting pressure on the quarterback.
The Big Ten Title Isn't Lost Yet
The loss at Ohio State may be all it takes to knock Wisconsin off the Big Ten pedestal, but the fact of the matter is that it's only Week 7, and there's plenty of football left to be played.
By defeating Northwestern, the Badgers kept their title hopes alive. Should they have lost, that would have meant the Buckeyes would need to lose three conference games, which simply isn't going to happen, considering the level of competition the Big Ten presents.
Yes, Ohio State will still need to lose two more games, and it cleared a major hurdle by coming out of Evanston, Ill., with a victory. But the Buckeyes have looked far from invincible so far this season, and games against Penn State and Michigan still loom on the schedule.
The odds certainly aren't in Wisconsin's favor, but in college football, you can never say never.