Notes: A Rare Cough Up

Having been solid holding onto the football since the Wofford mess, sophomore John Clay knew the burden was going to be on his shoulders in the fourth quarter. With a late fumble, however, the Badgers lost their chance to salvage a Big Ten road victory.

EVANSTON, Ill. - The leading rusher in the Big Ten Conference and considered the front runner to be the conference's Offensive Player of the Year, sophomore running back John Clay knew that with UW only needing a field goal to win, the final 10 minutes were going to be his time to shine.

"I take pride in that," Clay said. "My teammates count on me and they put it on my shoulders. I accept that challenge."

Clay had responded to the challenge of being the team's spotlight running back all season. Including his one-yard touchdown in the second quarter, his 13th touchdowns put him into a tie for 10th on UW's single-season rushing list, with three of those scores being recognized as game-winning scores.

Nobody on UW's sideline could predict an outcome different than the Badgers pounding the football into field goal range for the winning score.

"I just knew we were going to run the ball, run the clock out until the final couple seconds and kick the winning field," UW senior linebacker Jae McFadden said. "I just knew we had this game won."

What happened though has been a rarity during conference play, a Clay fumble, which came on third-and-1 at the NU 46, allowing Northwestern to hang on for a 33-31 victory.

"It hurts a lot," Clay said. "We were right there, knocking at the door and we had a mistake. We gave them the momentum."

Clay finished with 23 carries for 100 yards, his fourth straight 100-yard game and seventh of the season, but Wisconsin finished with only 99 total rushing yards, second-lowest of the season.

Fumbles were a problem earlier in the season for Clay, highlighted by his three fumble game against Wofford in week 3. Since then, Clay had fumbled only once, which happened against Purdue on a play that he recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.

Clay didn't the Wofford game impact his season, a season in which he has rushed for 1,224 yards, and won't let up in UW's final two games.

"My guess is No.32 will take this one to heart," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "It will be a growing experience for him."

Gilreath Finally Breaks Drought

After his stellar freshman season, junior David Gilreath said it was only going to be a matter of time before he was finally able to take a kickoff or punt for a touchdown.

It took him much longer, and more frustration, than he wanted, but Gilreath finally got there, returning a punt 68 yards punt for a touchdown in the third quarter to pull the Badgers within 27-24.

"It was a big time (in the game), we were down 10," Gilreath said. "It got everybody up and going. Our part of the crowd got into it, too."

The return couldn't have been easier for Gilreath, who got great blocks from David Gilbert and Adam Hampton on the return after making Northwestern's Kyle Petty miss at the UW 37. All the speedster had to do after that was put a move on punter Stefan Demos, which was the easiest thing about the run back.

"I was more tired from getting slapped on the head and jumped on," Gilreath said. "I didn't sit down for about five minutes because they were slapping me on the head, jumping around."

It was a welcome relief for Gilreath, who has been battling stress fractures in both feet throughout most of the season, so much so that he, at points, lost his kickoff and punt return jobs.

"I just want an opportunity to show (the coaches) I can still do it," Gilreath said.

The punt return was the first non-blocked punt return for a touchdown for Wisconsin since Brandon Williams returned one 63 yards against Indiana on 2005.

Not So Special

One of the players that replaced Gilreath on kickoff return was Isaac Anderson, who might not get the chance any longer.

On a second-quarter kickoff, the ball hit Anderson at the 1-yard line and rolled into the end zone. Not knowing he could down the football, Anderson chose to pick up the ball and run instead of taking a knee for a touchback, only getting to the 5-yard line.

"He thought he had muffed the ball going into the end zone and had to bring it back out," Bielema said. "Obviously, the official was trying to help him out by signaling a touchback as it was. A bad decision."

Anderson was also whistled for a holding penalty that cost UW a first down and was flagged for illegal motion on a play in which he caught a touchdown pass, forcing UW to settle for a field goal.

Anderson did not address the media after.

Extra Points: In 46 trips to the red zone this season, UW has scored 42 times (91.3 percent), including its last 21 trips … Before Saturday's defeat, the Badgers had won 30 consecutive games – including a 26-0 mark under coach Bret Bielema – when scoring at least 30 points … UW held Northwestern to 73 rushing yards to become the first team since Ohio State in 1998 to go an entire Big Ten season without allowing an opponent to rush for at least 100 yards in a game … Garrett Graham set a career high in yards (98) while Nick Toon set a career high in receptions (7).

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