MADISON - As they took the field for the final home game of the season, the University of Wisconsin already knew that its remote chance of advancing to a fourth Big Ten title games in five years was squashed.
It turned out not to matter in the end what anyone else did, because the Badgers couldn't take care of business themselves.
Save for a flash of brilliance at the start of the third quarter and a furious late rally that came up short, Wisconsin’s offense delivered no punch and offered little help to its defense in a 13-7 defeat to No.20 Northwestern at Camp Randall Stadium.
Iowa had already clinched a share of the Big Ten West title with a 40-20 win over Purdue and clinched its spot in the Big Ten championship game by virtue of its 10-6 win over Wisconsin Oct.3. It didn’t matter due to UW’s inability to move the football or maintain possession.
The Badgers (8-3, 5-2 Big Ten) committed five turnovers (three fumbles), had 203 yards of total offense and ran for minus-26 rushing yards.
The horrendous showing was foreshadowed right away. None of UW’s four drives had a play start in Northwestern territory. Worse yet two ended in turnovers, an interception at the Wisconsin 19 and a forced fumble against Tanner McEvoy that was returned to the UW 43.
It only got worse, as a comedy errors ensued that included passes slipping out of Joel Stave’s hand, the running game going nowhere and the offensive line getting crushed off the snap of the ball. At halftime Wisconsin had minus-19 rushing yards, including minus-46 from Stave.
The Badgers were outgained by 83 yards, ran only three plays in Northwestern territory and turnovers and poor punts allowed the Wildcats (9-2, 5-2) to start three plays in UW territory. Yet, somehow, UW only trailed 10-0 at halftime.
Wisconsin appeared like a different team after halftime, taking its opening drive 63 yards in five plays for a touchdown and supposedly getting a 78-yard punt return by senior Alex Erickson to take the lead. After an official conference, however, it was ruled that Erickson gave an invalid fair catch signal – later deemed the correct call - and the ball was spotted at the UW 22.
Instead of finally playing in front, UW punted five plays later and didn’t threaten until the final drive. UW marched 73 yards down to the 1-yard yard only to have a 24-yard touchdown pass ruled a 23-yard catch to the 1-yard line and a Jazz Peavy 1-yard touchdown overruled because he did not complete the process of the catch.
Stave took a sack on the ensuing second-down play, Dare Ogunbowale was forced to spike the ball when Stave suffered an apparent concussion and Bart Houston’s attempt on fourth-and-11 fell incomplete.
Wisconsin closes its regular season against Minnesota (5-6, 2-5) next Saturday in Minneapolis.
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3 plays, 19 yards, 1:13 TOP, 9:12 left
Justin Jackson 8-yard run (Jack Mitchell kick)
Key Play: Joel Stave never had a chance. Right tackle Beau Benzschawel was badly beaten off the line of scrimmage, resulting in a hit on the quarterback as he threw the pass and the ball getting batted up in the air at the line of scrimmage. Cornerback Nick VanHoose nabbed the pick, setting up the superb field position.
8 plays, 63 yards, 2:21 TOP, 0:00 left
FG Jack Mitchell 35
Key Play: With the offense nonexistent, the last thing Wisconsin's defense could afford to was give Northwestern's offense free yards. A 6-yard quarterback scramble by quarterback Clayton Thorson was bad enough on third-and-5, but the 15-yard penalty on Jack Cichy for a late hit out of bounds compounded the problem, putting the ball on the UW 23.
5 plays, 64 yards, 2:17 TOP, 8:24 left
Corey Clement 9-yard run (Rafael Gaglianone kick)
Key Play: Finally getting some protection in the pocket, Stave delivered a perfect pass to Jazz Peavy on a corner route, and the redshirt sophomore delivered an over-the-shoulder catch for 42 yards down to the Northwestern 6.
7 plays, 0 yards, 3:48 TOP, 4:00 left
FG Jack Mitchell 37
Key Play: Trying to make a play deep in his own territory, Joel Stave - as he tends to do - telegraphed an interception to Anthony Walker on third-and-11, giving the Wildcats the ball on the UW 20.
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