Upon Further Review: Badgers vs. Northwestern

Wisconsin-Northwestern games are rarely pretty. Saturday’s affair at Camp Randall Stadium was extra ugly, however.

With the Badgers’ offense stagnant and held in check by the Wildcats, gaining just 243 yards, and the special teams committing some key snafus, Wisconsin had to rely on its defense. And, oh, did the defense come through.

Wisconsin’s defense held down Northwestern for much of the game – the Wildcats had only 99 yards after three quarters – and outscored the offense, accounting for two touchdowns as the Badgers held on to a 24-15 victory.

With the Badgers wearing throwback uniforms, neither team displayed much of modern football. Wisconsin, which had run roughshod over its first three opponents, averaged just 4.1 yards per play (its worst mark in three years and lowest in a win since 2012) and 4.7 yards per pass attempt. The Wildcats, whose offense had been subpar even before this game, averaged 3.1 yards per play and 3.9 yards per pass attempt.

Like we said, ugly. But at least an ugly win for Wisconsin.

Here’s a recap of Saturday’s game:

More Badgers coverage


We’re loathe to give this award to a unit rather than an individual, but this game deserves an exception. Wisconsin’s defense was tremendous and it was a total team effort. The linebackers especially stood out: Jack Sanborn had 13 tackles (he’s the 14th UW player to have 13+ tackles in a game since 2005), Chris Orr nine tackles, two sacks, three quarterback hurries and a forced fumble, Zack Baun seven tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and three QB hurries and Noah Burks returned an interception for a touchdown. But it wasn’t just the backers. For the second consecutive game Wisconsin had 10 passes broken up, With records available back to 2009, the Badgers had never had two games in a season with 10+ PBU. Like we said, a team effort.


At the time it was just a nice kick return by Aron Cruickshank, a 44-yarder to set up Wisconsin at its own 46-yard-line on its first possession. Wisconsin would eventually score, Jonathan Taylor (119 yards) running it in from 16 yards out on a fourth-and-2 play. The Badgers’ 54-yard drive was their longest of the game. Based on the way Wisconsin’s offense performed, i.e., not well, what would have transpired if Cruickshank didn’t have that big return? (Cruickshank also had a 25-yard kick return, but UW went three-and-out.)


Eric Burrell had to miss the first half due to a targeting penalty from the Michigan game. Entering in the third quarter, it didn’t take him long to make an impact. He made two tackles, one for a yard and the other no gain. Late in the third quarter with the ball at the 16, he blitzed and was unblocked, a guided missile headed towards Northwestern’s Hunter Johnson. Burrell leveled the quarterback, who fumbled, the ball going into the end zone where Matt Henningsen recovered for a touchdown to make it 14-3 (with available research to 2000, this would be the first time UW had an interception and fumble return for a TD in the same game). With neither offense doing much (Northwestern was having even less success than Wisconsin), this sure felt like a clinching score.


14 – The number of tackles for loss by Wisconsin. Dating back to 2005 (last known available statistics), this is the most TFL in a game for Wisconsin. In that time span, the Badgers have had 11 other instances of 10+ TFL, with a high of 13 in a 13-3 loss to Iowa on Oct. 17, 2009. Like we said above, it was a total team effort. Ten different players had a TFL with three – Isaiahh Loudermilk, Orr and Rachad Wildgoose – having two.

Best of the Badgers


“I think they’re playing together and I think they’re playing off each other. Like I said, I think Jimmy (Leonhard), our defense staff, is putting a good plan together, but the guys are executing it and playing. Each week you’ll be tested different. That’s what’s kind of fun about it. … and there is also we’ve got a number of different guys that can impact. … Different guys made some things happen in the back end. I thought the linebackers played well.” — head coach Paul Chryst on the defense

“I think it’s a really good defense. You know, a really good defense, and we didn’t help ourselves. Caught in a lot of third and extra longs, and that always makes it tough. I know one time we tried to push it down the field a bit; take a sack. Now you’re second-and-16, second-and-17. So just didn’t do a good job of kind of keeping it normal, so those are some of the things. But it’s a good defense, and they have been. I think it’s a combination of both. It always is, right? It’s always a combination of who you’re going up against and what you’re doing.” — Chryst on the offensive struggles

“Everybody is hungry for a turnover, everybody wants to get one. I wish we gave out candy or something, but every body wants a turnover, everybody wants that recognition, so we all starving for it.” — linebacker Chris Orr

“I just saw the ball flying through the air, and you fall on the ball when it’s in the end zone. I mean, there’s not much to it. If the ball is on the ground, you fall on it, and you score.” — defensive end Matt Henningsen on his touchdown


It’s yet another home game for Wisconsin, which will face its second Mid-American Conference opponent in 2019 as Kent State visits Camp Randall Stadium. The Golden Flashes are 2-2, with the two defeats coming to Power 5 schools on the road (30-7 at Arizona State, 55-16 at Auburn). Kent State’s two wins are over FCS Kennesaw State and fellow MAC school Bowling Green. The Golden Flashes will have had two weeks to prepare as they were off Saturday.