Wisconsin's Big Ten Title Hopes Take Massive Hit In 31-17 Loss At Northwestern

Wisconsin's Big Ten Title Hopes Take Massive Hit In 31-17 Loss At Northwestern

Football

Wisconsin's Big Ten Title Hopes Take Massive Hit In 31-17 Loss At Northwestern

EVANSTON, Ill. – With one month to go in the Big Ten regular season, the University of Wisconsin finds itself in a usual position – trailing the leaders of the pack.

The Badgers could muster no spark without their veteran starting quarterback, putting too much pressure on their banged-up defense that ultimately led to a 31-17 defeat against first-place Northwestern at Ryan Field Saturday.

Scoring 31 of the 34 points during one stretch, Northwestern (5-3, 5-1 Big Ten) pushed its winning streak to four games and have the inside track to winning the Big Ten West Division for the first time.

With four Big Ten games remaining, the Badgers (5-3, 3-2) no longer control their own fate in the race for Indianapolis, a precarious spot considering UW still has tough road games at Penn State and Purdue looming in November.

The injury bug remained prevalent for Wisconsin on defense, as safeties D’Cota Dixon and Scott Nelson and defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk all sat out, but a big blow came when quarterback Alex Hornibrook couldn’t clear concussion protocol.

Sophomore Jack Coan made his first career start in his place but didn’t do much to impress, throwing for just 133 yards and losing a fumble. Tailback Jonathan Taylor also didn’t get much going, carrying the ball only nine times in the first half and 10 overall, committing two fumbles that led to Northwestern touchdowns and failing to rush for over 100 for the first time all season (38).

The ineptness on offense wasted another good Wisconsin defensive effort. UW picked off two passes in the first half, the first on a short field that led to UW’s only touchdown, and delivered two big fourth-down stops deep in its own territory. The Badgers also held their own against Northwestern’s strong passing offense, holding Clayton Thorson to just 162 yards and one touchdown through the air while intercepting him three times.

But the rest of UW’s units offered no assistance. UW had no chunk plays over 20 yards and went only 2-for-9 on third down, forcing a slew of punts.

Even with UW’s defense did its job, the special teams let them down, such as Jack Sanborn committing a 15-yard roughing the kicker penalty to give the wildcats a new set of downs. Seven plays later, Thorson hit Kyric McGowan for 24 yards, boosting the lead to 21-10. UW also missed a pair of field goals.

The lead felt insurmountable and it was. Even after UW held Northwestern to a field goal following Taylor’s second fumble, the Badgers defense could do nothing after Coan coughed up a fumble on his own 13. It was the final nail in the coffin for Saturday and maybe for getting to Indianapolis, too.

The Badgers hadn’t lost a road game against a Big Ten West opponent in the current divisional lineup since 2014, a streak that began and ended in a venue that has strangely been challenging for them. Since a 35-19 victory at Ryan Field in 1999, the Badgers have dropped five of the six meetings.

UW returns home next weekend to take on Rutgers (1-7, 0-5) at Camp Randall. Kickoff is at 11 a.m. on the Big Ten Network.

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