Despite Gordon's huge day, Badgers fall at Northwestern
EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — Melvin Gordon was great, once again. He piled up the rushing yards in another impressive performance.
Unfortunately for Gordon and No. 17 Wisconsin, the rest of the offense had a difficult day.
Gordon had a career-high 259 yards on the ground, but Tanner McEvoy and Joel Stave combined for four interceptions in the Badgers' 20-14 loss at Northwestern on Saturday.
"It wasn't necessarily just the quarterback production. It was the offense as a whole," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said.
It was Gordon's 14th career 100-yard game and his third with at least 200 yards on the ground. But the solid production on 27 carries was of little consolation to the junior running back.
"It's a tough loss for us right here," he said.
Godwin Igwebuike had three interceptions and Justin Jackson rushed for 162 yards for Northwestern (3-2, 2-0 Big Ten), which has won three in a row after opening with consecutive losses to California and Northern Illinois. Trevor Siemian threw for a touchdown and also had a key block on Miles Shuler's 16-yard TD run.
"I think we're definitely playing with a lot more passion and a lot more physicality than we did earlier in the year," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "I don't have any issues with what we did early in the year, except for what we were doing on Saturdays."
The Wildcats also had a nice day on special teams, with Jack Mitchell kicking two short field goals and punter Chris Gradone handing over poor field position to the Badgers for much of the afternoon.
McEvoy and Stave combined for just 138 yards on 12-of-29 passing. It was Stave's first appearance of the season after the 19-game starter struggled mentally with throwing issues.
"Obviously being competitors both of us want to start and play every snap, but right now where the team is at, we can really benefit from both of us playing," Stave said.
Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1) had scored at least 20 points in 17 consecutive games for the second-longest such streak in school history. It was the first loss for the Badgers since they dropped their season opener to LSU.
"That was a good offensive performance from Northwestern and a poor defensive performance by the University of Wisconsin." Andersen said.
The Badgers trailed 10-0 before Gordon had a 2-yard touchdown run on their first possession of the second half. Gordon had six carries for 75 yards on the drive, including a 61-yard run on his first carry of the period.
Gordon has rushed for at least 140 yards in four games this season. He is averaging 42.8 yards on his first carry of the second half through five games this season.
Wisconsin then got the ball back, but Stave was intercepted by Jimmy Hall and Shuler scored on a reverse on the next play. Siemian helped clear the way with a block on Joe Schobert.
"I think I kind of just got (in) his way just enough," Siemian said with a grin. "I wouldn't even call it a block."
Stave, who replaced McEvoy late in the first half, also was picked off by Igwebuike in the end zone with 5:55 left in the game. He tossed a 19-yard touchdown pass to Kenzell Doe with 4:16 to go, but Wisconsin didn't get the ball back until the final minute and Igwebuike put it away with another interception.
The redshirt freshman became the first Northwestern player with three interceptions since Neil Little against Indiana on Nov. 10, 1973.
"I mean nobody saw it coming. I didn't even see it coming," said Igwebuike, who made his first career start with Ibraheim Campbell out with a hamstring injury. "It really goes back to just preparation."
It looked as if Northwestern might be in for a long day when Gordon had a 58-yard run along the visitors' sideline on his first carry of the game. The junior ran for 8 yards on third-and-1 on his second carry, becoming the 11th player in school history with at least 3,000 yards rushing for his career.
But the Badgers' first drive ended when Max Chapman hit McEvoy while he was trying to throw the ball to Alex Erickson, and Igwebuike picked it off in the end zone.
Wisconsin had just 24 yards passing in the first half. With Gradone in the middle of a solid performance, four of the Badgers' five first-half possessions began at their own 10 or worse.
"Their guy did a great job of punting the ball and downing the ball in that position," Andersen said. "Numerous times we got backed up and it was a long field to go."