Northwestern abandons run game in loss

Northwestern's offense was built around an efficient ground game in nonconference play. It abandoned the run almost immediately against Wisconsin.

The Wildcats were out of their element on Saturday.

Part of that can be chalked up to donning a higher AP ranking than the three-time defending Big Ten champs. Part of that comes from playing at rowdy Camp Randall Stadium. But check the box score to see just how lost Northwestern was in that brutal 35-6 thumping: Stephen Buckley's 19 rushing yards lead the team.

When Kain Colter and Venric Mark went down with lower-body injuries, Northwestern immediately ditched the run. Trevor Siemian threw the ball 34 times, while Buckley, Treyvon Green, Mike Trumpy and Michael Odom — a great benchmark for how out of hand things can get in a Northwestern football game — combined for 10 carries.

The Wildcats handed the ball off just once in the third quarter, when they flopped to 17 total yards and three punts. The Badgers not only physically dominated the Cats' defense, but they dictated the NU offense that dropped 30 on Ohio State just a week ago. There were no in-game adjustments sans-Mark, no effort to return to how the Cats were topping 40 against Cal and Syracuse.

"Obviously a lot of stuff went wrong on offense," Siemian said. "Give a lot of credit to Wisconsin, they were really prepared for us."

Was Wisconsin prepared for Trevor Siemian to account for as many rushing yards as Treyvon Green? Even with Mark limping off the field, Northwestern had a between-the-tackles running back averaging seven yards a carry suited up on the sideline. They barely used him.

We guessed that Northwestern's offensive line might eventually give out against more imposing Big Ten front sevens. We also knew that, good as Tony Jones and Rashad Lawrence have looked at times, the Cats wouldn't be able to beat any opponent of substance as a pass-first, pro-style offense. There's something unnerving about how quickly Northwestern forgot the ground game, and if the Wildcats want to finally secure that first conference win, they'll have to get the run going no matter the stage of the game or the injuries suffered. Predictable bubble screens won't cut it, even against Minnesota next weekend.

"When teams are down, they have to throw the ball a bunch to get back in the game," Siemian said. "It makes things a little more difficult because we become one-dimensional."

Keep in mind that at halftime, it was still only a two-score game. Northwestern came out throwing on every play as if it was in a two-minute offense.

Of all the ugly stats posted Saturday, 25 carries on 44 yards — a 1.8 yard per carry average — is by far the worst. Why Green was barely used remains to be seen, but the answer won't matter going forward. Few teams are as stout against the run as the Badgers are, but when you try to stray from a proven formula under pressure, the outcome is rarely favorable.

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