Quarterback Matt Schabert said in a radio interview prior to the game that he could scramble. And scramble he did, leading the Badgers in rushing yards with 57. But Schabert's attempts proved to be futile against a defense that allowed only 135 total yards rushing and one touchdown, a 30-yard run by sophomore running back Dwayne Smith.
Schabert earned his first career start after Jim Sorgi suffered a knee injury against a team that, prior to this game, allowed 427.3 yards per game, the most in the Big Ten. Schabert, who has made big plays in pressure situations against Ohio State and Purdue, had every reason to prove his mettle against a team at the bottom of the Big Ten.
He instead faced a Northwestern team that was celebrating Homecoming fired up with a stronger desire to win while playing a lethargic team that had trouble playing a consistent game.
"We never really could establish anything and offensively,
we couldn't put anything together consistently. On defense, we missed a lot of
tackles. We just didn't play really well," head coach Barry Alvarez said.
Wisconsin's running game,
typically among the most prolific in the conference, faced a run defense that
had allowed 185.7 average yards per game, 10th in the Big Ten, but
proved unusually stingy today.
"I think that they really decided they wanted to try to stop the run," Schabert said. "They're bringing guys down a lot, they brought the safeties down in the run game…. They came out and they wanted to pound on us all day and I think that's pretty much why the run wasn't too effective."
Northwestern's passing game, which allowed 241.6 yards per game, gave up only 193 to the Badgers. Most of Schabert's passes were of the short variety, as he completed only two passes for 15 yards or more. He was 20 for 36 including a long of 30 yards.
"I think the way their defense was playing, they didn't want to give us anything deep. We'll take it, we'll just keep them underneath but we have to complete them. You can't just go out there and start winging it all around," Schabert said. "I think that that was definitely a game plan thing for them was, they wanted to play a lot of cover three and keep their guys back and try not give us too many home runs."
"I think that it was tough because we kept putting ourselves in third-and-longs. To do that all day, you're really not going to have that great of a success on third downs," Schabert said. "It's put on the quarterback and it was my fault because I should have made a lot more throws on third down."
Although Schabert is critical of his performance, coaches and players believe he played well but there is certainly room for improvement.
"I thought Matt did okay. I thought he managed the game. I thought he brought the ball down, had some decent runs," Alvarez said.
"I thought he made good decisions overall and managed the game as well as we could have expected," offensive coordinator Brian White said.
"I know he did all he could today," junior safety Jim Leonhard said. "I'm not going to question whether he went out and performed as well as he could."
Schabert faced his first road test only 30 miles from his hometown of Elgin, Ill., where he was fourth in the state in passing yards and third in touchdowns. Schabert said he, surprisingly, was not nervous prior to the game.
"I was relaxed. I really didn't let that get to me. It was just another game and for some reason, I was really calm, I don't know why," Schabert said. "We had more family and friends here. It was good seeing them in the stands—I wish I would have played a little better for them and had a little better day but they'll still love you if you don't."