This week the Badgers travel to face Minnesota (5-1, 2-1), which checks in at No. 22 in both polls.
The top-ranked Big Ten team is Penn State (6-0, 3-0). The Nittany Lions are No. 8 in the AP and No. 10 according to the coaches.
Badger signal caller John Stocco is not known for his scrambling ability, but he stepped up in the pocket and ran frequently Saturday. Discounting NU's two sacks, Stocco ran seven times for 37 yards. All told he was credited with nine rushes for 26 yards, a career high in rushing yards for the second-year starter. Stocco's previous best was 20 yards on one run against Temple earlier this season.
NU's Brett Basanez is accustomed to running the football from the quarterback position, and he did so effectively again Saturday, with 69 rushing yards and a touchdown on 12 attempts, giving him 208 rushing yards in five games this season.
Playing keep away
Not wanting to give Brandon Williams an opportunity to return kickoffs, Northwestern kickoff specialist Amado Villarreal popped up most of his kickoffs short. As a result, the Badgers "ends" on the kick return team fielded seven of Villarreal's nine kickoffs. Dywon Rowan called for and made a fair catch on three of them, and returned two for 17 yards. Jarvis Minton returned two for zero yards.
The opening kickoff was hit toward Williams' personal protector, Zach Hampton, who returned it 22 yards to the UW 33.
The only time Williams had a chance to return a kickoff was following an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty midway through the fourth quarter, which forced Villarreal to kickoff from the 20. Williams fielded that kickoff at the 16 and returned it 39 yards to the Wildcat 45. The Badgers, however, were forced to punt on that possession.
UW's average starting field position following the eight kickoffs Williams did not return was its 32.
The Wildcats only punted three times; Williams had two punt returns for 19 yards.
"I expect teams to do that," Williams said of the short kickoffs. "You know it's funny cause after the game when the kicker and the punter come up to you and tell you, you know, ‘We didn't want to kick you any balls.' So, I was like, ‘Yeah, good job guys,' cause (they) didn't definitely kick it to me. And the one that they kicked to me I almost — I was going to get out on that one."
Wildcats spring big return
All season long Williams has provided the Badgers with big plays in the kick and punt return game. Saturday, however, the biggest special teams play belonged to Northwestern.
After a Brian Calhoun touchdown run drew Wisconsin within 30-27 with 1:15 left in the third quarter, Northwestern kick returner Gerard Hamlett took Taylor Mehlhaff's kickoff at the 5 and dashed 81 yards before Hampton stopped him at the UW 14.
Wildcat tailback Tyrell Sutton scored from 14 yards out two plays later.
"I don't know exactly what happened," Hampton said of the coverage on Hamlett's return. "It just comes down to guys competing out there. I think maybe they were a little lax maybe thinking with the wind behind our back Taylor was going to kick it out of the end zone. And, you know, he didn't at that point, so maybe just guys not coming down as hard as they should."
DeBauche continues to shine
Sophomore punter Ken DeBauche continued his remarkable season Saturday, and is quietly one of the Badgers' most valuable players.
Saturday, DeBauche set up the Badgers' first touchdown with a fantastic pooch punt that pinned the Wildcats down at their 1-yard line.
Sprinter Zach Hampton actually lost track of the football and stopped several yards upfield from its eventual destination. But DeBauche's 46-yard punt bounced at the 1 and stayed in play, allowing Hampton to recover and help down the ball.
Northwestern followed with a three-and-out and a 40-yard punt, which UW's Williams returned 16 yards to the NU 31. Four plays later quarterback John Stocco found receiver Jonathan Orr for a 15-yard touchdown pass.
DeBauche punted three times for a 46.7-yard average Saturday, and placed two punts inside the 20. In six games this season, he has placed 12 of 25 punts inside the 20 and he boasts a 46.6 yards per punt average, third highest in the country.