With Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa out for the season due to injury, the Badgers wanted to force the Wildcats’ replacements into a few mistakes in the season finale Saturday.
After four quarters of play and an eventual 70-23 win clinching a share of the conference title, UW had done all that and more creating an astounding seven turnovers.
Junior defensive end J.J. Watt, the Badgers’ leading defensive playmaker all season long, was a catalyst for almost all of them.
Mission accomplished. Big Ten title accomplished.
And to no one’s surprise it was Watt leading the way for the UW defense.
“In the league, there are a lot of good players out there, but J.J. is, at his position and what he has done for our defense, I can’t say there is anybody in our league that is comparable,” head coach Bret Bielema said.
Watt made his initial impact on the regular season finale by getting pressure on redshirt freshman quarterback Evan Watkins during NU’s first series of the day.
Watt got right in the face of Watkins, who was unable to step into his throw and the pass was intercepted by safety Jay Valai.
On Northwestern’s next series, Watt made his presence known once again, sacking Watkins and forcing a fumble that was recovered by Tyler Dippel.
At the start of the second quarter the junior was at it again.
This time Watt leveled quarterback Kain Colter as he was getting set to throw and the ball flew straight up into the air, giving Mike Taylor an easy interception.
Later in the first half, Watkins was finally able to escape the UW pass rush, but that didn’t stop Watt from chasing down the play. Watt caught up with Watkins 20 yards downfield and stripped the ball allowing Aaron Henry to grab the fumble recovery.
All these turnovers by the Wisconsin defense meant a lot of work for the UW offense and they were up to the rather exhausting task.
“I don’t know how they were doing that. Oh man, that was awesome, they were just playing their butts off,” sophomore center Pete Konz said of the UW defense. “Sometimes, we would just get back to sit down and catch our breath after some of those plays and we’d be right back out. I’m like, ‘Give us a break guys!’”
And after all that, Watt still had a couple more tricks up his sleeve.
Following a Northwestern touchdown that cut the UW lead to 40, Watt got his hand up and blocked the extra point attempt, his third blocked kick of the season.
And as the third quarter neared its conclusion, Watt hurried Watkins once again and free safety Aaron Henry snagged an easy interception over the middle.
“J.J. makes my job, everybody else in the secondary’s job a whole lot easier,” Henry said. “We have a star player in J.J., but he’s not the only player that can make plays. And as you guys can see, even with double-teams, this guy still gets off of them.”
All in a days work for one of the best defensive linemen in the nation.
“He’s got great instincts. He has the ability to anticipate plays, knocking down balls, running down plays from behind. He plays 100 miles an hour with a huge heart,” Bielema said. “One of four finalists for the Lott award, and if anybody’s playing better than him, I’d like to know.”
The Wisconsin offense continued its streak of dominance with another explosive outing, but Watt and the Badger defense wanted to give the Badger faithful something to cheer about as well.
“I was just trying to have some fun. It’s the last game of the year at Camp Randall, so we have to give the fans a little bit of a show,” Watt said. “Our offense always puts on a big show so on defense we had to put on a show as well, and we did that in a big way.”