In a season full of false hope, today might have been the new low.
The Northwestern Wildcats (3-7, 1-6 B1G) traveled to Madison this Saturday, though they might have been better staying at home, as the ‘Cats got run over by the No. 18 Wisconsin Badgers (7-3, 5-2 B1G) to the tune of 35-7.
The first two plays of the game had Wisconsin nearing midfield, but the NU defense quickly assuaged those concerns when star defensive end Adetomiwa Adebawore made a big tackle on running back Braelon Allen, forcing a punt from the Badgers early on. Conversely, Northwestern faced several third downs on its first drive of the game, but continually found ways to pickup the needed yards on the way to Wisconsin territory.
Having nothing to lose, Pat Fitzgerald rolled the dice and went for it on fourth-and-4 from just outside the red zone, and his gamble was rewarded by college football gods, as a batted pass somehow found its way to Evan Hull, giving Northwestern a first down and a trip inside the 10-yard line. Sadly, as has often been the plot line for this season, the man quarterbacking NU lost the opportunity for his team, as Andrew Marty tossed an interception directly to Wisconsin’s Caesar Williams on a fade to the back of the end zone. In the end, the ‘Cats picked up 82 yards on a 19-play drive that ate up nearly eight minutes of game time, yet had no points to show for it.
The Badgers stayed true to form on their next drive, attempting to march the full length of the field without passing a single time, and running out the first quarter in the process with the game still tied at zero apiece. Graham Mertz finally attempted a pass to open the second quarter of the game and was rewarded after Cam Mitchell was flagged for pass interference. Allen completed his monstrous drive with a four-yard touchdown to put Wisconsin up 7-0 with a period to play before halftime.
The Northwestern offense that came out firing to start the game dissipated immediately on its second drive, as the ‘Cats went three and out in short order and gave Wisconsin great field position to work with following an uncharacteristically bad Derek Adams punt.
Paul Chryst finally let his quarterback try just a few more attempts through the air on the UW’s second scoring drive of the contest, as the 50-yard march was capped off by a 13-yard touchdown pass from Mertz to Danny Davis III, putting Northwestern down 14-0 and trending in a poor direction.
Another chance for Marty and the offense just meant another three and out, and another short field for the Wisconsin offense. Mertz found his groove here, completing four straight passes for 46 yards before Allen punched in his second touchdown of the game from just three yards away, putting Bucky up 21-0 late in the first half. Overall, the sophomore QB completed 18 of his 23 pass attempts on the day for 216 yards.
Wisconsin got the ball back one last time before the half and threatened to take a four-possession lead into the break before Brandon Joseph came to the rescue, intercepting Mertz in the end zone to keep the score at 21-0 midway through the game.
Marty remained in the game at QB to start the second half of play, and NU successfully crossed the 50-yard line for the first time in a long time on their opening drive of the third quarter, but more mistakes including a Marty-induced false start on a fourth down attempt led to another punt from Adams.
Following a UW three-and-out, NU finally jump started its offense in the most Northwestern way possible, as Andrew Clair was stripped by Wisconsin’s Nick Herbig toward the end of a promising run, only for the pigskin to bounce in stride to the speedy Stephon Robinson Jr., who ran the ball another 50 yards all the way to the six-yard line. Naturally, the ‘Cats proceeded to lose eight yards on their next three plays, setting up Charlie Kuhbander for another chance to miss a chip shot 32-yard field goal. Because of course.
Late in the third, Northwestern’s offense again shot itself in the foot, as Marty was read like a book by Wisconsin’s Dean Engram and picked off for the second time in the game. Mertz found tight end Jake Ferguson through the air just three plays for another touchdown to put the Badgers up 28-0.
The pattern remained the same the rest of the way, as Marty was intercepted yet again, and Wisconsin quickly converted the turnover into points via violent running from Allen, making the score a ghastly 35-0 in favor of the home team.
Marty was benched in favor of Hilinski for the remainder of the game, though it didn’t really matter. A fumble by the Badgers’ Julius Davis was returned 49 yards by Northwestern’s A.J Hampton all the way to the house, finally putting the ‘Cats on the board with just under 12 minutes remaining.
Some weird and tedious mistakes had the game drag on for a tad bit longer than most wanted, but the dull action ultimately ended in a 28-point victory for Wisconsin, narrowly escaping the back door cover from the ‘Cats.
Now guaranteed to finish the 2021 season with a losing record, Northwestern looks to finally snap its four game losing streak next week at Wrigley Field as they take on the No. 19 Purdue Boilermakers.