This game was so good we’re giving some bonus shoutouts. The stock report form Northwestern’s 31-17 win:
Northwestern’s offensive line and Clayton Thorson
After years of getting totally destroyed by Wisconsin up front, Northwestern’s offensive line produced its best performance of the season. Thorson was only sacked once on a freak play where he tripped over Bowser’s legs and the turf. Other than that, the pocket was clean and Thorson was able to go to work against a weak Wisconsin secondary. This isn’t the T.J. Watt-led Wisconsin defenses of old, but it was certainly a brilliant collective effort for Northwestern’s oft-maligned offensive linemen.
It wasn’t a flawless performance Thorson, who threw three picks and missed out on two fourth downs, but 85 percent of “Good Thorson” was enough for Northwestern to repeatedly capitalize on Wisconsin mistakes to win the game. Bennett Skowronek and Kyric McGowan made some huge plays to help Thorson out.
Wisconsin had absolutely nothing going in the air. Part of that was by design, part of that was terrible play from Jack Coan, but any attempt to expand the passing game was completely shut down by Montre Hartage. Wisconsin’s leading wide receiver ended the game with 55 yards, much of which came in garbage time. Hartage accounted for four pass breakups. Wisconsin’s total lack of a passing game force them to keep the ball on the ground. Northwestern was able to force two key fumbles, one of which Hartage recovered.
Blake Gallagher and Paddy Fisher
Northwestern’s entire linebacking crew balled out today, but Fisher and Gallagher were the stars of the show. Fisher forced a fumble, made seven tackles and shut down a Wisconsin offense that had been rolling coming into this game. Gallagher had 10 tackles (7 unassisted) and is quietly developing into one of Northwestern’s best defensive players.
In my mind, Northwestern has found its running back for the future. After a sterling performance against Rutgers, Bowser backed it up by gashing Wisconsin’s run defense for 118 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries. The yards per carry wasn’t stunning due to the volume, but his physicality and ability to break contact was key to the win. It was a very classic Northwestern running back game, and Bowser should only improve as his career goes on.
JR Pace and Jared McGee
Northwestern’s reliable starting tandem at safety was rock solid over the top today. Wisconsin was just not effective going down the field thanks to McGee and Pace’s contributions. It’s taken a while for McGee and Pace to pick up the mantle left behind by Kyle Queiro and Godwin Igwebuike, but this game was every bit the performance that Northwestern has wanted.
Honorable mentions: Kyric McGowan, Bennett Skowronek, the defensive line
Jake Collins kickoffs
With Drew Luckenbaugh hurt and Charlie Kuhbander limited, Jake Collins made his best effort on kickoff duty. Pat Fitzgerald said Luckenbaugh suffered a lower body injury 25 minutes before the game and Kuhbander was forced to fill in. Apparently, the equipment staff needed to get his pads from the Walter Athletics Center. Collins’s first attempt went out of bounds. His second attempt allowed a good Wisconsin return negated by a block in the back. The third attempt went for a touchback. The fourth attempt was a weird onside kick/squib thing that went 15 yards and directly to a Wisconsin player. Thankfully, this did not hurt Northwestern in the slightest. His punts were good.
Northwestern tried five QB sneaks from the one-yard line and only one of them worked. That was not great. At least Northwestern adjusted and let Bowser convert from short yardage in the fourth quarter.