Plenty of miscues cost Wisconsin in home finale against Northwestern

BadgerNation breaks down what went right, what went wrong and hands out grades in Wisconsin's 13-7 loss to Northwestern.

QUARTERBACKS

A large portion of the fan base want me to put ‘F’ here and move on, but it’s more complicated than that for me with quarterback Joel Stave. Yes, the senior’s stat line is another dud in a critical game: 22-for-34, 229 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and two fumbles (one lost).

However Stave got nothing from his offensive line in terms of protection and once again had no running game, forcing him to be a gunslinger to keep Wisconsin afloat. That’s not his game.

When he finally got some time, Stave led the offense 64 yards down the field in five plays, hitting Jazz Peavy for completions of 16 and 42 along the way, to set up the lone UW touchdown. The 42-yard pass to Peavy was perfectly thrown and executed. Stave also shined in the two minute drill, as he went 5-for-7 for 73 yards down to the 1-yard line.

Stave did telegraph an interception midway through the fourth quarter that led to Northwestern bleeding 3:56 off the clock and adding three points on the board, impressive considering the Wildcats’ seven plays went zero yards.He also held on to the ball way too long on second-and-goal from the 1, resulting in a 10-yard sack, a head injury and a mad scramble to try and get one more play off. He should know better.

Stave deserves a fair share of the blame with this loss but I’m not putting it all on him … and neither should any Wisconsin fan.

Grade: C-

RUNNING BACK

Corey Clement can’t even save this mess. The junior tailback wanted to come back to help send the seniors out on the right note and managed only 24 yards on 10 carries. What makes that number even sadder is Clement led the team in rushing by 18 yards.

Wisconsin three tailbacks combined for 32 yards on 17 carries. Thrown in the minus-56 yards Stave had and the team finished with minus-26 yards total, the worst performance since 2006.

The only two positives from the group was Clement scoring the team’s only rushing touchdown – a 9-yard run that was scored by his instincts and shiftiness to bounce the play to the outside and Dare Ogunbowale being aware enough to spike the ball after Stave was dazed on third down in the final seconds.

Other than that, it was a rough day at the office.

Grade: D

RECEIVERS

The emergence of Jazz Peavy has to be encouraging for Wisconsin moving forward, as the redshirt sophomore caught five passes for 88 yards. Peavy’s 42-yard catch over the shoulder was one of the better catches of the season. It’s a shame that the last play went against him, as it would have put a capper on a terrific day.

Tanner McEvoy had 57 yards on five catches (both career highs), including an athletic 23-yard catch where he did a 180 spin, jumped and hauled in the back-shoulder throw. It’s athleticism that we thought we’d be seeing all season from McEvoy at the receiver spot. Two plays later, McEvoy getting stripped of the football for the game’s second turnover may be one of the reasons why we haven’t seen him.

The play of those two made up for Alex Erickson having a quiet day because of Northwestern’s coverage (3 for 27) and spot production from Ogunbowale (3 for 12), Troy Fumagalli (2 for 28), George Rushing (1 for 10) and Austin Traylor (1 for 7).

Grade: B

OFFENSIVE LINE

Simply put, this line is below average at best when it faces an average defensive front. You can imagine how they look when they face an above-average defensive line.

That point has been hammered home the last two games with Maryland and Northwestern delivering shot after shot on the quarterback. Officially the line gave up five sacks, 11 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries.

Unofficially, their lack of protection cost UW dearly on a handful of turnovers, including Stave’s first interception when pressure hit him as the throw was being made and the fumble in the final quarter. Dean Lowry beat right tackle Beau Benzschawel with a simple speed to get his hands on Stave and then Tyler Lancaster, who broke free when guard Micah Kapoi couldn’t sustain his block, jarred the ball loose at the UW 37. It was a mess.

There are many surprising things about the problems the line continues to face. For starters, Northwestern was getting to the quarterback with straight rushes, attacking the outside shoulder or making inside moves.

Secondly, senior left tackle Tyler Marz continues to see his draft stock plummet as he consistently gets beat on the outside, something one would expect of a first-year starter in Benzschawel and not a three-year starter. Marz’s man was responsible for the sack that knocked Stave out of the game.

The interior of the line was a problem, too. Walker Williams was destroyed by Lowry in the first half that led to a sack, shoving the redshirt junior back deep into the backfield and into Stave’s face. Williams (injury) was replaced in the second half by Logan Schmidt.

These are just a couple examples, as there are many more we can pick a part, but you get the point.

Wisconsin is last in the Big Ten in rushing in conference games, barely averaging over 100 yards per game. This line is a big reason why. Don’t agree? Why do you think Wisconsin chose to throw the ball twice at the 1-yard line with the game on the line?

Grade: F

DEFENSIVE LINE

Northwestern forced five Wisconsin turnovers, giving them the ball at the UW 19, its 47 and then UW’s 30, 37 and 20. Thanks to the Badgers’ defense, especially the front, the Wildcats managed a touchdown, a missed field goal, a missed field goal, a punt and a field goal.

Alec James and Chikwe Obasih delivered fine performances with seven tackles a piece and Conor Sheehy added five. All three of those registered career highs.

Justin Jackson and Northwestern’s running game is one of the better units in the conference, but the Badgers’ front limited the group to 149 yards on 50 attempts.

The group didn’t generate any sacks or tackles for loss but they opened up plenty of lanes for the linebackers.

Grade: A-

LINEBACKERS

Across the board, Wisconsin linebackers might have delivered their best performance as a unit. Vince Biegel and Joe Schobert proved why they should be considered the best one-two punch at OLB in the conference. Biegel filled the stat sheet with a career-high 14 tackles and delivered a big third-down sack when out muscling resistance on the left side. It was the drive that followed UW’s lone touchdown. It was back-to-back drives that finally ignited some life into the stadium.

Biegel made the key tackle on third-and-7 on Northwestern’s final drive to allow UW to use its final timeout and get the ball back to the offense. Even more impressive was that Biegel took side steps to the inside on the read-option to stop the tailback, only to quickly correct to the ball carrier and make the stop xxx yards short of the marker.

He did however commit a late hit personal foul penalty, giving Northwestern an extra 15 yards down to the UW 22 that made the field goal before half much easier.

Joe Schobert tied his career high with 13 tackles (also had a team-best three tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries). Jack Cichy had a career-high 11 tackles but had an interception that could have changed the game hit right off his hands. UW had a zero in the turnover column.

Not to be left out, T.J. Edwards had eight tackles and a tackle for loss. Like I said, this was an impressive performance. Only thing that knocks it down was the penalty and no forced turnovers.

Grade: A-

SECONDARY

It’s hard to knock a group that gave up 60 passing yards – marking it the third Big Ten game this season the Badgers held a unit to less than 100 yards (Iowa and Rutgers). Throwing the ball wasn’t Northwestern’s strength entering the game – near the bottom of every passing category in the Big Ten – and Clayton Thorson didn’t crack UW, finishing 9-for-20. Thorson completed only one of his five attempts in the fourth quarter, but the one he did was a 14-yard back breaker on third-and-13.

Only one play given up over 15 yards by this group, which played the second half without Derrick Tindal, but no real memorable plays either.

Grade: B

SPECIAL TEAMS

Drew Meyer’s first punt was a 30-yard clunker but rebounded nicely to average 42.6 yards on his seven punts on a touch kicking day. He didn’t put one inside the 20, but his hang time prevented any returns by Northwestern. The Badgers also neutralized returner Solomon Vault. Granted UW had only two kickoffs, but Vault only had one return of 16. Miles Shuler had a 22-yard return when Jack Russell kicked away from Vault

Erickson's best return, 78 yards for an apparent touchdown, was correctly wiped out by the officials. Trying to make something happen, Erickson lost his instinct and tried to do too much on the next punt, resulting in a muff and a turnover.

Grade: C+


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