At the start of each week, Land of 10 will break down the postseason implications, and projections, to come out of the Wisconsin Badgers’ latest contest …
What happened: A few hours of schizophrenic football. The Badgers (4-0) stumbled through … then manhandled … and then finally hung on to hold off Northwestern (2-2) 33-24 in their Big Ten home opener. The third quarter and first 6 minutes of the fourth were tiny masterpieces, as the hosts scored 24 unanswered to blow a tight contest wide open, capped by a pick-6 from Natrell Jamerson with 9:54 left that pushed the Wisconsin cushion to 31-10. But the first 30 minutes and the last 6 minutes of the game saw the Badgers outscored 24-9 and showed flashbacks of the skittish, throwing-off-the-back-foot-while-pressured Alex Hornibrook that we occasionally saw last fall.
What it means: A win is a win is a win, but the struggles of Hornibrook early (11-of-20 passing, 197 yards, 1 touchdown, 2 picks) and of the kick-coverage units late left the locals leaving Camp Randall feeling more than a little uneasy. On the whole, though, the day belonged to the Wisconsin defense, which harassed a porous Northwestern offensive line into 8 sacks — 3 by Garret Dooley, and a game-capping safety by D’Cota Dixon, who flew in to corral Wildcats quarterback Clayton Thorson in the end zone. The 12-0 dream lives on, but it’s clear that coach Paul Chryst has more than a few points to clean up before a massive showdown this weekend in Lincoln.
Projected record: Massey Ratings — 10-2; TeamRankings.com — 11-1
Projected postseason destination: Fiesta Bowl, Dec. 30, Glendale, Ariz., versus an at-large opponent
Cheapest seat at TicketCity.com as of Sunday: $99
Up next: At Nebraska on Saturday night. The Barry Alvarez Bowl is upon us, and the stakes in the Cornhuskers camp might be bigger than usual, given the firing of former athletic director (and former Wisconsin administrator) Shawn Eichorst and the vultures continuing to circle his star hire, coach Mike Riley. The Big Red (3-2) are riding a two-game winning streak into this one on the backs of a not-terribly-impressive home victory over Rutgers (27-17) and a more comprehensive manhandling of Illinois (28-6) in Champaign. New defensive coordinator Bob Diaco’s new 3-4 defense has looked more assured with each week, although some of that could be down to the competition in the Scarlet Knights and Illini, too. The same complaints you had this last week about Hornibrook — doesn’t move in the pocket, makes questionable decisions when pressured — have been on the lips of Huskers fans regarding their quarterback, Tanner Lee, since Week 1. It might be oversimplifying things a bit to say that whichever signal caller makes the fewest mistakes or handles the heat the best probably is going to walk away victorious … but it’s probably not that far off, either.
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