MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Jonathan Taylor has had his fair share of struggles against Northwestern. The going was tough against the Wildcats again on Saturday, but Wisconsin’s Heisman Trophy contender helped the eighth-ranked Badgers stay unbeaten with some bullish yards.
Taylor ran for 119 yards and his 11th touchdown of the season, Wisconsin got two scores from its defense, and the Badgers defeated the Wildcats 24-15.
“(I’m) proud of the way the guys battled and fought against a really good football team, a team that we’ve always had tough games with,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said.
Taylor carried 26 times to help Wisconsin (4-0, 2-0 Big Ten) avenge its 31-17 loss to the Wildcats last season.
“We know we haven’t arrived yet,” said Taylor, who had just 46 yards and two fumbles in last year’s defeat. “… We knew, coming into this game, it wouldn’t be easy at all. So one of the biggest things was just making sure every single week, wherever we’re playing at, we have the correct preparation and we have a great week of practice so that we can execute and come out with the win.”
Taylor reached 100 yards rushing for the 26th time in 31 career games and moved into fourth place on the Badgers’ career rushing list (4,730).
After allowing 81 yards rushing through the first three games, the Wisconsin defense surrendered 97 yards on the ground to Northwestern (1-3, 0-2).
The Badgers’ defense sacked backup quarterback Aidan Smith twice and starter Hunter Johnson three times, including one by safety Eric Burrell that caused a fumble by Johnson in the end zone. Matt Henningsen recovered to make it 14-3 in the third quarter for Wisconsin. Noah Burks added the other defensive score after intercepting Smith and returning it 68 yards down the Wisconsin sideline.
“Ball is floating in the air, first thing: catch the ball,” said Burks on what he was thinking on his touchdown. “Make sure that I secure it and from there look up field and try to run as fast as I can and get the yardage that I can. Luckily, I got some pretty good blocks.”
Johnson went 10-for-21 and Smith completed 8 of 20 passes and had a late 15-yard touchdown to JJ Jefferson. Drake Anderson had 16 carries for 69 yards and a 4-yard score for the defending Big Ten West champion Wildcats, who dropped their second straight conference game.
“They made the plays in the second half that make the difference in a game,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “For us to give up two turnovers that led to touchdowns, that ends up being the difference in the game.”
Charlie Kuhbander had a 29-yard field goal for Northwestern in the first quarter. It marked the first points the Badgers have allowed in the first half this season.
Chris Orr had two sacks and Collin Wilder added another for a Badgers’ defense that is allowing just 7.3 points per game through the first four contests.
“I think it’s because we are all selfless,” Orr said of the defense. “Nobody is trying to do more than they need to do. Everybody is doing their job and doing it well. That’s all. That’s all you need to do to be a great defense.”
Northwestern: Defensively, the Wildcats, like last season, made it hard for the Wisconsin offense. But a loose offensive line and a lack of production at the quarterback position will continue to haunt the Wildcats’ offense.
“I thought our defense gave us every opportunity to win the game and I’m really proud of those guys,” Fitzgerald said.
Wisconsin: Jack Coan won his sixth straight start, but needed the Badgers’ defense to have a big day to overcome his lackluster showing. The defense responded, as Coan finished 15-for-21 with 113 yards and an interception by Northwestern defensive back JR Pace.
“I’m really grateful. We owe them one,” Coan said of his teammates on the other side of the ball.
With one of the top running backs in the history of college football and a stout defense, No. 8 Wisconsin continues to prove it is one of the top teams in the country and deserves to be on the short list of programs that can seriously contend for a spot in this season’s College Football Playoff.
The Wildcats had won eight straight Big Ten road games entering the day. Northwestern’s last road loss in conference play also came against the Badgers on Sept. 30, 2017.
Wisconsin now has won five straight against Northwestern when ranked in the top 10 of The Associated Press Top 25 poll .
Northwestern: Plays Nebraska on Oct. 5 on the road.
Wisconsin: Hosts Kent State on Oct. 5.
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