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Wisconsin 21, Northwestern 6: halftime thoughts

After Northwestern’s first half of Big Ten football in 2013 away from Ryan Field, Wisconsin leads the Wildcats 21-6. Some quick thoughts:

-- A long drive early in the first quarter that included nine-yard rushes from Kain Colter and Stephen Buckley stalled out near the Wisconsin goal line, and the Wildcats – after Colter was sacked for a six-yard on third down by Badgers’ do-everything linebacker Chris Borland – settled for a field goal. While it didn’t finish the drive with a touchdown, Northwestern’s offense executed well, found gaps in Wisconsin’s coverage and opened up holes along the line of scrimmage.

-- The promise Northwestern’s offense showed on its first scoring drive did not create the sort of momentum it needed to consistently exploit Wisconsin’s defense on future series, as the Wildcats failed to sustain a drive for more than six plays the rest of the half. One bright spot came in the final minute of the half, when Siemian connected with Rashad Lawrence for a 46-yard pass before Jeff Budzien added another field goal. Linebacker Borland flew around the field, making plays behind the line of scrimmage and in front of it.

-- In the first quarter, Northwestern kept Wisconsin’s potent run game in check, holding Melvin Gordon and James White to a combined 22 yards. Something clicked in the second quarter; the Badgers cracked open running lanes and drove Northwestern’s defensive line off the line of scrimmage. To the Wildcats’ credit, the linebackers did a good job stepping up and meeting Wisconsin’s backs before they could break off even longer runs (but for a few exceptions, including White’s 13-yard scamper early in the second quarter and Gordon’s 71-yard touchdown). The Badgers finished the half with 133 rushing yards.

-- The first touchdown Wisconsin scored, a 63-yard bomb to Jared Abbrederis, was the product of a miscommunication between safeties Traveon Henry and Ibraheim Campbell. The Wildcat DBs let Abbrederis run free down the middle of the field, and quarterback Joel Stave hit him in stride for an easy score. Abbrederis was later ruled out for the rest of the game with a head injury. Wisconsin’s second TD came after a nearly six-minute, 11-play drive capped by a one-yard run from Gordon. On the Badgers’ final touchdown of the half, Gordon broke free for a 71-yard run after a seven-yard catch by tight end Jacob Pederson – Wisconsin’s second scoring drive of two plays or less.

-- Colter and Venric Mark left the game in the first quarter with lower-body injuries. Colter returned, but didn’t appear to have the same burst he’s shown most of the season – as demonstrated by his inability to outrun defenders around the edge when scrambling from the pocket. Mark has yet to reenter the game but is probable to return.

-- Staging a comeback, or even scoring enough points to make this game interesting in the fourth quarter, will be a challenge for Northwestern. The Wildcats' looked lost on defense near the end of the second quarter, and their offense -- after showing balance and rhythm early on -- looked disjointed for most of the opening half. Adjustments will need to be made on both sides of the ball, but the biggest obstacle Northwestern needs to overcome is reversing the considerable momentum the Badgers built over a punishing opening half.