It was to be expected that Northwestern (1-3, 0-2) would have a difficult time scoring on No. 8 Wisconsin (4-0, 2-0 Big Ten) on Saturday afternoon. What may not have been accounted for was just how difficult it would be for the Northwestern offense to prevent the Badgers defense from scoring. Wisconsin scored two defensive touchdowns on the Wildcats in a 24-15 game in Big Ten play.
After leading Northwestern just 7-3 at halftime, courtesy of Jonathan Taylor’s touchdown run on the game’s opening possession, Wisconsin’s defense gave some breathing room with a fumble recovery in the end zone. Late in the third quarter, Northwestern quarterback Hunter Johnson was sacked by Eric Burrell and the ball went flying backward into the end zone. Matt Henningsen fell on the loose ball for an easy touchdown and a 14-3 lead.
The Badgers added a field goal early in the fourth quarter and the defense made another big play moments later to put the game well out of reach for a struggling and beat-up Northwestern offense. Aidan Smith entered the game in place of an injured Johnson. After two incompletions, Smith then tossed up a pass under pressure that was easily picked off by Noah Burks, who returned the ball 68 yards for a touchdown.
Johnson did not return to the game for the Wildcats. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald also made questionable decisions to attempt two-point conversions in the fourth quarter, keeping the game just out of reach despite a couple of fourth-quarter scores. There was no report of any injury to Northwestern’s kicker, so this seemed like a case of Fitzgerald simply over thinking the situation.
Wisconsin’s Taylor finished the game with 119 rushing yards on 26 carries and the one touchdown score don the opening drive. Northwestern fared well in keeping him from making too many highlights against them. But sometimes, Wisconsin can by on their defense even though the Wildcats clawed together a bit of a late rally to cut into the lead. In the end, Wisconsin was fortunate the defense scored twice.
With the win, Wisconsin jumps out to a 2-0 start in Big Ten play with home wins against Michigan and the Wildcats. Wisconsin will jump out of conference play next week for a home game against Kent State. After that will be a home game against Michigan State as the Badgers face another opponent from the Big Ten East. Northwestern will be on the road again next week for another division game, this time against Nebraska.
In a Big Ten opener between two top 15 teams, there was no doubt which program is in a better position to compete for a Big Ten title this season. No. 13 Wisconsin (3-0, 1-0 Big Ten) continued their dominant ways against No. 11 Michigan (2-1, 0-1 Big Ten) with a 35-14 victory in Madison, Wisconsin on Saturday afternoon. The shutout streak to start the season by Wisconsin’s defense came to an end late in the third quarter, but the damage had already been done by star running back Jonathan Taylor, who rushed for 203 yards and two touchdowns despite missing the entire second quarter.
Taylor rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter before leaving for the remainder of the half with members of the team’s medical staff. Fortunately, by the time Taylor returned at the start of the second half, Wisconsin had a 28-0 lead and merely had to salt away the final 30 minutes of the game. Having Taylor returned helped that cause. As good of a game he had, there was much more to Wisconsin’s dominating performance. Jack Coan added a pair of rushing touchdowns and was efficient with his passing. The Badgers defense prevented the Wolverines from converting a third-down play (0-for-10). To add to that, Wisconsin’s offense was 3-for-3 on fourth down, including a big one to keep the game’s opening possession alive despite being in their side of the 50-yard line to start the game.
In need of an offensive spark, Michigan changed quarterbacks to begin the second half. After Shea Patterson went 5-of-14 for 87 yards in the first half (68 of which came on the first offensive play of the game for the Wolverines), Dylan McCaffrey took the reigns of the offense to start the second half. That spark never came. McCaffrey would not make it to the end of the third quarter after being removed from the game after taking a blow to the head at the end of a play. Patterson returned to the game to finish Michigan’s best drive of the day with a touchdown pass in the third quarter and he added another one later in the fourth quarter with the game all but officially decided.
For all the talk about Michigan’s offense being different this season, the first three games of the year show the Wolverines simply are nowhere close to being ready to live up to any of the hype.
Perhaps the only negative thing to come out of the game for Wisconsin was a pair of players being ejected form the defense. Safety Eric Burrell was ejected from the game in the second half for a targeting call. Just a few plays later in the third quarter, Reggie Pearson was ejected for an even nastier hit on McCaffrey. Both players will be required to miss the first half of the Northwestern game next week.
Michigan will lick their wounds and try to regroup next week at home against Rutgers.