EVANSTON, Ill. — Saturday night is Freakfest in Madison, but the Wisconsin football team found its own house of horrors at Ryan Field in a 31-17 loss at the home of the Northwestern Wildcats.
The Badgers got their first scare on Thursday when it was first reported that junior quaterback Alex Hornibrook could be unavailable due to a concussion. In his stead was sophomore Jack Coan, making his first career start.
The Northwestern Wildcats (5-1 Big Ten, 5-3 overall) defense took advantage of the inexperienced Badger play-caller as the Wisconsin offense (3-2, 5-3) looked stagnant for the majority of the day.
Wisconsin's offense was off-beat from the very start as it was forced to call timeout before the first snap after an apparent miscommunication on the play call. The hiccup was small, but it turned out to be auspicious of the rest of the day's performance.
After calling a timeout, Coan delivered a six-play drive that stalled out, and after a shaky performance last week, starting punter Anthony Lotti was replaced by junior Connor Allen.
The Wisconsin defense set up their young signal-caller early as senior linebacker Ryan Connelly tipped a pass from Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson into the waiting arms of senior safety Evan Bondoc.
The offense would capitalize off of Thorson’s mistake, and on the ensuing drive, senior fullback Alec Ingold was the workhorse and the star, capping it off with a 4-yard dive into the end zone.
Northwestern would shake off its rough start and take 15 plays to go 75 yards to respond with a touchdown of their own on a 1-yard Thorson sneak.
The defenses would be the storyline for the rest of the first quarter as both teams produced key stops.
Wisconsin's defense swung the momentum with a fourth-down stuff on its own 5-yard line, but the Badgers quickly lost any advantage they had gained when sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor coughed the ball up on his own 15-yard line.
The Wildcat offense would take advantage of the opportunistic field spot and converted the turnover into points with another rushing touchdown by Thorson.
The Badgers couldn't respond except with a Rafael Gaglianone field goal, which broke the program record for made field goals and provided the sole highlight of the day.
The Badgers entered the half down just 14-10, still in the game despite a stagnant offense.
The second half turned out even worse as the offense coughed up the ball on two more fumbles on its own half of the field and didn't produce a scoring drive until late in the fourth quarter, long after the game had been decided.
The defense did its part, intercepting Thorson three times, but it was unable to overcome the poor field position created by the offense's lack of ball security.
Taylor was held to fewer than 100 yards for the first time in 2018 as he rushed 11 times for just 46 yards and coughed up a pair of fumbles. Fellow sophomore Garrett Groshek was the leading rusher for the Badgers with seven carries for 68 yards.
Coan completed 20 of his 33 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown, but more than 80 of those yards came in the fourth quarter after the Wildcats had taken a 31-10 lead.
With the loss, Wisconsin no longer controls its own destiny in the race for the Big Ten West title and will need at least two losses from the Wildcats to have a chance at returning to Indianapolis.