Tom Oates grades the No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers' performance in their 17-7 loss to the No. 19 Northwestern Wildcats in a Big Ten West Division showdown Saturday at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill.
The running game was inconsistent, the receivers seldom got open, the protection worsened as the game went on and Graham Mertz showed his inexperience with four turnovers against the Wildcats' strong defense. UW hasn't shown such offensive futility during Paul Chryst's six seasons. Chimere Dike and Jalen Berger were bright spots.
Despite the giveaways, the defense eliminated Northwestern's rushing attack and held up for most of the game. All three Wildcats scoring drives came through the air. Three highly questionable pass interference calls in the first half dramatically altered the game. Keeanu Benton forced a critical fumble near the goal line.
Special teams: C-minus
The game turned into a punting duel after halftime and for much of the half Andy Vujnovich gave UW a leg up on Northwestern. Vujnovich gave UW a great opportunity when he pinned the Wildcats at the 2 and the defense held in the third quarter, but the offense wasn't able to capitalize. The kickoff and punt coverage was shaky.
Chryst probably thought UW wouldn't get another chance to score the way his offense was playing, but he still should have kicked the field goal on fourth-and-6 from the 23 down by seven in the fourth quarter. UW was going to have to score twice to win anyway. Jim Leonhard's blitzing threw off Peyton Ramsey in the second half.
The defenses ruled in what might prove to be a winner-take-all match in the Big Ten West Division, and Northwestern's defense played slightly better than UW's. Sure, the Badgers were undermanned and a shortage of playmakers compounded the problem, but five turnovers and eight penalties are simply not in UW's recipe for success.
Photos: Badgers offense stalls against stingy Wildcats defense