November is the peak of football season. The leaves are falling, the holidays are coming and the temperature is dropping. There’s really nothing better than fall football, unless, of course, you’re a ’Cats fan. It was a chilly 35 degrees at kickoff in Madison on Saturday, and Northwestern (3-7, 1-6 B1G) was never able to warm up as they fell 35-7 to the #18 Wisconsin Badgers (7-3, 5-2 B1G).
"We did not play complementary football today. It’s disappointing," said head coach Pat Fitzgerald. "Obviously the turnovers were costly, and we put our defense in a really tough spot."
The quarterbacks, senior Andrew Marty and sophomore transfer Ryan Hilinski, combined for four interceptions – three from Marty and one from Hilinski – as well as just 125 passing yards and zero points. Graduate receiver Stephon Robinson, Jr. also quietly recorded 124 yards of offense.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin was led by first-year running back Braelon Allen, who earned B1G Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors for his sixth 100-yard performance of the year. It was the sixth game that Northwestern had allowed over 200 total rushing yards. While Northwestern did force three Wisconsin turnovers, the Badgers more than doubled the ’Cats in yardage and first downs.
“If I’m being honest, [defending Wisconsin] wasn’t really a challenge; we just kind of got away from some fundamentals, some basic technique,” junior cornerback AJ Hampton Jr. said.
It’s easy to look at the box score and say that nothing went right for the Wildcats, but that would be an oversimplification. The first drive of the game looked promising but ended with an Marty interception in the endzone. The team never saw that momentum again.
The secondary unit – known as the Sky Team by team officials – also made a few plays. Sophomore safety Brandon Joseph secured his ninth career interception, and Hampton was responsible for the Wildcats’ only points after picking up a fumble and returning it for a fourth-quarter score.
“I saw the ball on the ground and I thought ‘This is a great opportunity to score.’ We gotta help our offense out … I used to play offense in high school,” Hampton said of his big play.
The loss all but eliminated Northwestern from bowl game contention and led to some turmoil within the depth chart. The team has yet to name a starting quarterback for their final home game of the season.
When asked how the quarterback rotation has impacted his play, Robinson said that, “Really, it doesn’t matter to me. Whoever’s in [at quarterback], that’s who’s in. I’m gonna try to make a play regardless.”
While the loss was another disheartening game in what has become a disappointing season, the ’Cats still have much to look forward to this weekend. The team is playing in their long-awaited date at Wrigley Field – home of the Chicago Cubs – in the venue’s first football game since 2010. If there’s any magic left from one of Chicago’s “lovable losers” to the other, the ’Cats could surely use it against Purdue (6-4, 4-3 B1G) on November 20.