With a dominant 70-23 win over Northwestern Saturday, the Badgers will likely be headed to Pasadena for the first time since 2000.
Wisconsin did not surprise many with their gameplan, relying on the run to earn their 11th win of the season and secure a spot in the Rose Bowl. Led by another dominant performance from sophomore running back Montee Ball, the Badgers proved yet again that they have one of the best running games in the country. Ball averaged nearly nine yards per carry against the Wildcats’ defense, finishing the game with 178 yards on the ground and four touchdowns. A player who was considered the third option at running back earlier in the season, Ball has proven that deserves to split time with junior star John Clay.
Freshman sensation James White did an excellent job behind Ball, racking up 134 yards on the ground to go along with a touchdown. His fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season, White broke the 1,000-yard mark in the game and put himself in prime position to win Big Ten Freshman of the Year. It is difficult to imagine Wisconsin having as successful a season as it did without the contributions from the speedy true freshman. Clay saw his first playing time since the Purdue game, taking just four carries for seven yards but showing that he is recovering nicely from a knee injury. It will be interesting to see how much playing time Clay sees in the Rose Bowl, as Ball and White have done a great job stepping in for the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.
Scott Tolzien, the fifth-year senior quarterback playing in his last game at Camp Randall, ended his regular season career with another great performance for the Badgers. Connecting on 15-of-19 passes and throwing for 230 yards, Tolzien avoided any major mistakes and proved once again that he is a crucial component of this run-first team. Tossing four touchdown passes, a season-high, the senior helped Wisconsin build a comfortable lead early on.
On the receiving end, senior tight end Lance Kendricks displayed why he was named an All-American, leading all receivers with 80 yards through the air and adding a touchdown. Another senior, David Gilreath, also found success against Northwestern’s defense, finishing with 75 receiving yards and a touchdown reception. Junior Nick Toon had an impressive game as well, catching two touchdowns and helping the Wisconsin offense show that it can find success through the air when necessary.
Saturday’s game was another outstanding performance for Wisconsin’s offensive line, as they allowed the Badgers to run for 329 yards. Opening up massive holes that allowed the talented Wisconsin backfield to get some running room, the O-line showed how crucial they have been to UW’s Rose Bowl season. The offensive line also did a good job protecting Tolzien, giving up just one sack to the Wildcats’ defense.
The Badger defense had one of their best games of the year, forcing Northwestern to turn the ball over seven times. J.J. Watt continued to build a strong case for winning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, bringing tremendous energy to the defense and helping them force many of the turnovers. Although the Wildcats found some success on the ground, compiling 161 rushing yards, the defense as a whole had no problem stopping the Northwestern offense.
The Badger secondary played one of its stronger games of the year, recording four interceptions and giving up just 123 yards and a touchdown through the air. Wisconsin’s passing defense took advantage of Northwestern’s two inexperienced quarterbacks, Evan Watkins and Kain Colter, capitalizing on many of their mistakes. Their play was highlighted by junior Aaron Henry’s 50-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Wisconsin’s special teams defense had some trouble at Camp Randall, allowing freshman wide receiver Venric Mark to return a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown right before halftime. A major issue with the team earlier in the season, the Badgers will certainly need to work on their special teams’ defense before heading to Pasadena.
As the Badgers look forward to playing in the Rose Bowl for the first time in a decade, they will need to build off their late-season momentum to come away with a victory. UW will likely face the Horned Frogs of TCU in Pasadena, a talented non-automatic qualifier that will be trying to make a statement against a Big Ten squad. If the Badgers continue to play as well as they have these past few games, they could find themselves as Rose Bowl champions come January.