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Another Nightmare In Madison For Northwestern

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A week after playing even with Ohio State, Northwestern got crushed in Madison. Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images.
A week after playing even with Ohio State, Northwestern got crushed in Madison. Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images.

Northwestern came to Madison to take on Wisconsin on Saturday. And the Badgers did what the Badgers do. They clobbered them. Whipped them. Destroyed them. Whatever descriptive phrase you want to use for a beat down, that’s what it was.

Starting 0-2 in the Big Ten is bad. But of course it was NU’s luck they started their campaign with two of the tougher games imaginable: Ohio State and Wisconsin, in Madison. Beating Wisconsin in Madison is not only tough, it’s close to impossible. The Badgers have lost three games at home since the beginning of the 2009 season. Two of those were in OT.

Man, Northwestern was terrible on Saturday. They lost 35-6 and the final score is not indicative of how badly they were defeated. Dropped passes, missed tackles, injuries to Venric Mark and Kain Colter, more dropped passes, overthrows, sacks, some more missed tackles and a whole lot of punting were the lowlights of the afternoon.

Did I mention that the 35 points were the fewest NU has given up in Madison since 2004? They gave up 70 (!) in 2010 and 41 in 2006. Heck, the last time NU beat UW on the road in 2000, they still gave up 44 points. Wisconsin is just a different animal at home. The Wildcats entered the game ranked against the unranked Badgers, but still were 10.5-point underdogs.

So the sky is not falling. Yes, Northwestern is 0-2 in the Big Ten, but they still haven’t played anyone in the Legends Division. The “real” Northwestern team is somewhere between the one that nearly beat Ohio State and whatever showed up to Camp Randall on Saturday. One could argue that such a pathetic performance is actually what NU needed for them to realize they are nowhere close to reaching their goals.

The biggest concern besides the continuing health issues of Mark is that Trevor Siemian can’t get anyone to block for him. When you’re a pro-style QB, a bad offensive line spells doom. The defense started well, but a couple of big plays later and it was all over. They keep forcing turnovers, so that’s good.  

But really, Saturday doesn’t tell you much else about this Northwestern team. This was Wisconsin, in Madison. It’s a riddle almost no one solves. The fans “jump around” and the press box shakes and they beat you, most of the time in embarrassing fashion. I would pay big money to see Alabama come to Camp Randall. The Badgers won 21 consecutive games at home from 2009-12. They won 16 consecutive games at home from 2006-08. They won 11 straight ... you get the idea.  

The game became excruciating to watch down the stretch. I started browsing the NU media guide online and tweeting random facts: “In 1944, NU allowed zero first downs against DePauw.” I was also getting “excited” about Brandon Williams’ total number of punts. He fell two shy of the program record of 13 (set by the immortal J.J. Standring in 1998 against Ohio State). The last time NU was in Madison they set a team record for kickoff return yards, which, well, isn’t good.

You don’t have to be an elite team to win the Big Ten Legends Division and get another shot at Ohio State. You just have to be a good team. The Northwestern we saw Saturday would lose to everyone in the Big Ten, but we have a large enough sample to know that isn’t the norm. This is still a good team. Michigan and Nebraska are flawed. So are Iowa and Michigan State.

It’s not over. It’s barely started.

Pat Fitzgerald said after the game the only silver lining of the defeat would be if they got home safely. Well there’s that, and there’s also the fact they have Minnesota next week at home.

A chance to heal.

A chance to start anew.

A chance to forget about another nightmare in Madison.