By Jess Viti
A year ago, Northwestern traveled to Camp Randall for a crucial matchup with Wisconsin. That day, the Wildcats forced three turnovers but were unable to capitalize, resulting in a close but ultimately heartbreaking loss.
This year was different. Hosting the 20th-ranked Badgers in a game dubbed the Quest for the West on Saturday morning, the Wildcats scored 17 points off of turnovers to pull off the huge 31-17 upset at Ryan Field and retain first place in the Big Ten West.
The unlikely source of two of those mistakes was running back and Heisman Trophy contender Jonathan Taylor, who lost two fumbles and rushed for only 46 yards on 11 carries. Wisconsin sophomore Jack Coan, making his first career start under center for the Badgers with usual starter Alex Hornibrook sidelined due to concussion concerns, also lost a fumble deep in Wisconsin territory in the 4th quarter, allowing Northwestern to go up 31-10 and put the game out of reach.
It looked like the Wildcats might be in for a rough afternoon after a Clayton Thorson interception on Northwestern’s first drive of the game, but the redshirt-senior turned things around and was impressive using his legs despite two more interceptions. Thorson finished 17-for-30 with 167 yards and a touchdown while adding two more scores on the ground.
As a whole, the offense finally struck a balance between the rushing game and the passing game. We got a better glimpse of running back Isaiah Bowser, who received a whopping 34 carries and put them to good use, going over 100 yards rushing for the second consecutive week. The first year back ended up with 117 yards and a touchdown on the day.
Northwestern is now 5-3 overall and stands a game-and-a-half clear of the rest of the Big Ten West at 5-1 in conference play. The ‘Cats host another ranked opponent next Saturday in No. 3 Notre Dame, who will travel to Evanston for a 6:15 p.m. matchup. WNUR Sports will have you covered both online and over the airwaves, so mark your calendars and don’t miss it.