This was supposed to be the calm before the storm.
Someone forgot to tell the Wildcats.
Northwestern's much-maligned defense contained the Badgers offense from start to finish and the Wildcats offense took advantage of big games from its tailback tandem in 16-7 victory.
The loss effectively drops Wisconsin (3-2 Big Ten, 6-3 overall) out of the Big Ten title race. Even with the bye week approaching the Badgers will have plenty of regrouping to do before taking on Minnesota, Michigan State and Iowa to close out the season.
"It's big," Wisconsin receiver Lee Evans said of the bye week. "We need this week to regroup and put things in perspective. We can still do a lot with this season."
Northwestern (2-2, 4-2), meanwhile, has now won two consecutive games in conference play and recorded its first home victory of the season.
With about five minutes remaining in the third quarter, the Wildcats pulled a trick out of the bag. Facing fourth and six at the Wisconsin 23, Northwestern sent its field goal unit into the game. The Wildcats acted as if they were setting up for the field goal, but just before the snap sent fullback Lezi Gilles in motion behind kicker Brian Huffman. Northwestern then snapped the ball directly to receiver/holder Eric Batis, who handed the ball forward to running back Noah Herron. As the rest of the Wildcats made their way to the left, Herron cruised around the right side and picked up 20 yards. Two plays later, running back Jason Wright plunged into the end zone, giving Northwestern a 16-7 lead.
"We ran it a few times in my career," Northwestern coach Randy Walker said. "It's probably out the window now, you can only dust it off every few years. I'm the world's greatest plagiarist. We took it from Ball State. They did it to somebody and I went, man...we just took it off the tape. We started doing it and it's got a high rate of success. It's really hard. It's a distraction. How much time do you spend on field goal block? None. It's really tough on defenses....I said going into the game, we were going to use four downs."
"What did I see? I saw a fumble or its called a bum-a-roosky or whatever you want to call it," Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez said. "We anticipated some tricks in the kicking game. We had our field team out there to play it. ... I didn't think that was the turning point. I never felt like we had momentum the entire game."
Herron and Wright were constant thorns in the Badgers collective side. Wright scored both Northwestern touchdowns the first a 53-yard reception, giving him 15 for the season. Herron ran for 104 yards on 11 carries and caught three passes.
Wisconsin's offense, meanwhile, could not get started. The Badgers only crossed the Wildcat 35 three times Saturday, struggling to string together first downs and sustain drives. Tellingly, the Badgers tailbacks only ran for 71 yards against a defense that entered the game allowing 185.7 yards per contest.
Northwestern controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Wildcats tallied more rushing yards (245) in one game Saturday than Wisconsin had allowed total (244) in four previous Big Ten games.
The Badgers also suffered from two missed field goals. Regular kicker Mike Allen re-aggravated the groin strain that kept him out of the season's first three games and was replaced by Scott Campbell, who missed from 36 and 40 yards out.
"It's frustrating when you move the ball down in a tough defensive game and you can't capitalize," Alvarez said. "It's very frustrating. It's frustrating for the guys on the field. It's very unsettling for the coaches as far as making the decision when you get back down there again: do you try it? Do you go for it? Do you roll the dice or do you just try to go on fourth down?"
NU-Jason Wright 53 pass from Brett Basanez at 3:42 (kick blocked). Four plays,
80 yards, 1:06. Northwestern 6, Wisconsin 0.
UW-Dwayne Smith 18 run at 6:55 (Scott Campbell kick). Seven plays, 52 yards, 2:49. Wisconsin 7, Northwestern 6.
NU-Brian Huffman 25 field goal at 1:44. Twelve plays, 82 yards, 6:55. Northwestern 9, Wisconsin 7.
NU-Wright 1 run at 2:08 (Huffman kick). (Eleven plays, 80 yards, 4:20). Northwestern 16, Wisconsin 7.