Two big plays and a fierce defense made for a fun homecoming weekend for Wisconsin.
Melvin Gordon ran for a 71-yard touchdown and Chris Borland led a front seven that figured out the 19th-ranked Wildcats’ high-octane offense in a 35-6 win Saturday.
The Badgers (4-2, 2-1 Big Ten) recorded seven sacks and otherwise spent much of the afternoon chasing down quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trever Siemian. Jared Abbrederis burned the secondary for a 63-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter before leaving with a head injury.
Northwestern (4-2, 0-2) the league’s peskiest defense, grabbed three more turnovers to increase its season total to 17.
The Wildcats just couldn’t turn those mistakes into enough points.
And they were doomed by the big plays by Gordon and Abbrederis.
Gordon had 22 carries for 172 yards and the long run that gave Wisconsin a three-possession lead before halftime.
Back from what turned out to be a minor left knee injury that knocked him out of the loss to Ohio State two weeks ago, Gordon ran left on a sweep and burst through the hole on second-and-3. Ibraheim Campbell tried to close out inside the 10, but the speedy, 207-pound back lowered his right shoulder into the safety to just get the ball over the goal line on a play upheld on replay review.
The Badgers pushed around Northwestern on both sides of the ball.
Do-everything quarterback Colter was held to 10 yards rushing on six carries for Northwestern. The Wildcats tried to stretch the field horizontally to find holes but Borland and his fellow linebackers filled the lanes while the secondary did an admirable job covering up the receiving corps.
Colter finished 4 for 5 passing for 34 yards and an interception. Siemian was 13 for 34 for 163 yards.
A few drops hurt too, like the one receiver Christian Jones had over the middle that could have led to a first down with Northwestern buried deep in its own territory in the third quarter.
Three third-quarter drives, three three-and-outs for the Wildcats. No way to mount a comeback.
It didn’t help that running back Venric Mark, who had just returned last week from an injury, got knocked out in the second quarter with an apparent left foot injury. Colter also suffered what Northwestern called a ”lower body injury” in the first half but quickly returned.
The Wildcats also suffered a damaging blow to their chances of winning the Legends Division after a second straight loss. They fell to Ohio State 40-30 in prime time last week before falling flat in Madison.
Northwestern even picked up three more turnovers, including two interceptions of Joel Stave and a fumble recovery after Abbrederis coughed up the ball following a short gain in the first half.
But the offense got stuffed. Wisconsin had more sacks than Northwestern had points.
The Wildcats only managed two first-half field goals by Jeff Budzien from 27 and 43.
Stave had an uneven day and finished 17 for 28 for 241 yards passing with three touchdowns and the two picks. The Badgers relied on the passing game early before the running got going.
James White’s 1-yard touchdown run made it 14-3 with 7:06 in the second quarter before Gordon’s long run to add another touchdown.
White finished with 101 yards on 19 carries. Abbrederis had two catches for 74 yards. Coach Gary Andersen said after the game that his top receiver looked OK and should be back next week to face Illinois.