In the process, the Badgers won their seventh consecutive conference game after a 34-24 loss to MSU earlier this season. They may also have punched their ticket to Pasadena.
The key stats from that game, after the jump...Northwestern turned the ball over an eye-popping SEVEN times. Wisconsin turned almost all of those turnovers into touchdowns. And that, right there, decided the game. Northwestern's inability to hold onto the ball was a killer in a road venue as crazy as Camp Randall was.
Wisconsin averaged 7.7 yards per offensive play. Northwestern did make stops, but they didn't make enough of them considering how badly their offense played.
Scott Tolzien, just one week after slicing up Michigan's defense for 14 of 15 passing, finished his career at Camp Randall with a great performance. He completed 15 passes on 19 attempts for 230 yards and 4 TD passes. Tolzien led the nation in completion percentage in the regular season, completing 74.3% of his passes (which is better than Kellen Moore's 71.1% AND Dan Persa's 73.5%, the No. 2 and 3 players in that category, respectively).
Montee Ball ran all over Northwestern's defense, which was often put in extremely awkward positions given how often the Wildcat offense turned the ball over. Ball had 178 yards rushing on 20 carries (8.9 YPC) to pace Wisconsin's offense. His 4 touchdown runs were a substantial help to Scott Tolzien. James White ran for 134 yards on 20 carries of his own (about 6.7 YPC), and ran for over 1,000 yards on the regular season.
Wisconsin's OL got past the Northwestern DL into the secondary. A LOT. Bill Nagy seemed to be running stride for stride with some of Wisconsin's RBs at times. Nagy, John Moffitt and Gabe Carimi wrapped up their final home game at Camp Randall with excellent pass and run blocking; Scott Tolzien was not sacked once and the Badger RB duo of Ball and White once again sprinted for 300+ rushing yards.
Wisconsin's offense grabbed 29 first downs, relying mainly on the proficient rushing attack, but also getting no small amount of help from Scott Tolzien's extremely efficient passing. TE Lance Kendricks hauled in 4 passes for 80 yards, but his lone touchdown grab of the day silenced the Camp Randall crowd. Kendricks appeared to have the ball hit his throat as he made the catch. After spitting up blood, Kendricks made it back to the Wisconsin sideline with assistance from the training staff. David Gilreath's only receiving touchdown of the season came with 9:15 remaining in the 2nd quarter, on a 18 yard strike from Scott Tolzien. He caught four passes overall for 76 yards, with a long 40 yard reception that gave Wisconsin excellent field position (yes, they scored there, too).
Evan Watkins had a rough, rough day. He completed 13 passes on 22 attempts, but threw three interceptions (one of which was a receiver's fault, the other of which came as he tried to avoid a sack and the other a badly thrown deep ball that Fenelus made an easy read and grab on). His lone TD of the game was a good pass to Drake Dunsmore, a 20 yard strike that pulled Northwestern to 63-23... However, the ensuing PAT was blocked.
Adonis Smith was Northwestern's most efficient rusher. That's not saying much; he had just 4 carries on the game for 29 yards. However, because of the ineptitude of the passing game (in other words, Watkins throwing all over the place), Northwestern HAD to run, and they found some success. Once they found success, though, J.J. Watt stripped away their hopes (AND the football), ripping the ball out of Watkins's hands after the slippery QB found room for 21 yards.
Wisconsin's defense put the hammer down on Northwestern. The Wildcats gained 287 yards of total offense, but were held to 4.7 yards per play and turned the ball over 7 times (compared to the 17 first downs the Wildcats somehow managed).
Wisconsin's secondary forced Northwestern to run the ball; Evan Watkins threw an interception on Northwestern's very first offensive series (which was tipped and grabbed by Jay Valai). On Northwestern's next offensive series, they lost a fumble, and on the series after THAT, Antonio Fenelus snagged a pass deep into Wisconsin territory. The Wildcats found themselves in an ever-deepening hole they could not escape from.
J.J. Watt blocked another PAT, setting off chants of "J.J. WATT!" from the student section during the game. He stripped Evan Watkins twice (once after the QB galloped for 20-some yards, the other on a sack), resulting in pair of turnovers. Northwestern didn't know what happened on one of them, as evidenced by Taylor Dippel grabbing about 8 yards while the NU OL stood about waiting to see what the officials ruled...
Jay Valai, Antonio Fenelus, Mike Taylor, and Aaron Henry each grabbed interceptions. Fenelus's 4 picks led the Badgers in the regular season. The Badger defense did an excellent job of getting off the field when they needed to. Force a punt? They did that. Pick the ball off? Did that as well. Grab a fumble? Done.
Late in the 2nd quarter, Northwestern KR Venric Mark ran back a kick for a 94 yard touchdown, punctuated by four missed tackles by the Badger special teams. Mark averaged 30.3 yards per return on 9 returns, for a total of 271 kick return yards. Northwestern gained more kick return yards than total offensive yards. Stefan Demos had a PAT blocked, made his only field goal of the day, and hit his two other PATs in a losing effort.
Freshman WR Jared Abbrederis had the best runback of the day for the Badgers, with a 52 yard kick return. And while David Gilreath's 93 kick return yards weren't incredible, they helped the offense.
Philip Welch didn't attempt a field goal, but that was just fine considering his 10 successful PATs. However, kick coverage was lacking again, and Northwestern ran wild.
Punt coverage, however, was outstanding. Northwestern had a muffed punt that gave the Badgers excellent field position (the PR botched a fair catch), and Brad Nortman did an excellent job whenever the Badgers called on him, pinning Northwestern inside their own 20-yard line four times.
After all that was over, the Camp Randall crowd stormed the field for the second time this season (and the second time I can remember, actually). Fireworks went off, and the Badgers clinched their 11th victory of the season and their 7th straight Big Ten win overall.
Over their seven game winning streak, Wisconsin has committed just 5 turnovers. The Badger running backs haven't lost a fumble since James White's fumble through the endzone for a touchback against San Jose State (which seems like an insanely long time ago).
Scott Tolzien leading the nation in completion percentage is amazing. A 2-star recruit out of high school, Tolzien went from likely career backup in 2008 to starting QB in 2009, and from starting QB in 2009 to murderously efficient QB in 2010. His 16 touchdown passes, compared to 6 interceptions, are outstanding. In addition, Tolzien was sacked eleven times this year, compared to 21 times last year.
The game ball should definitely go to Wisconsin's offensive line. They did an excellent job keeping the pass rush away from Tolzien, getting down field and giving the running backs room to work with, and basically dominating Northwestern's front 7 all game long. Bill Nagy, John Moffitt, and Gabe Carimi all had fantastic games in their final home start at Camp Randall.
It's been a season to remember at Wisconsin. This was the year Bielema and the players HAD to produce, and the Badgers did exactly that, winning seven consecutive conference games on their way to their first BCS appearance since 1999. Oddly enough, that year the Badgers also started out 0-1 in the Big Ten before winning their final seven games to go to the Rose Bowl (where they would beat Stanford 17-9).
(hat-tip: Graham Filler)