Notes: Badgers making strides

MADISON, Wis. - After Wisconsin's 31-24 loss to Ohio State two weeks ago head coach Gary Andersen identified five key areas that his team needs to succeed in if they want to win. Among other statistics, Andersen said the Badgers need to play great defense and special teams, convert in the redzone, and win the turnover battle and the fourth quarter if they want to be successful in the Big Ten.
The Badgers "won" two of those categories against the Buckeyes, but it was clear they needed to step up their game if they wanted to get back on track after a tough loss.
And to their credit, the Badgers came out and dominated the Northwestern Wildcats in four of those five categories during their 35-6 win on Saturday afternoon. The Badgers held Northwestern to just two third down conversions in the game, started their average drive 14 yards further down the field than the Wildcats, scored on three of their four trips to the redzone, and outscored the Wildcats 7-0 in the game's final 15 minutes.
Andersen said he hadn't looked at the numbers before his post-game press conference, but the first year head coach refused to say anything negative about his team after the game.
"I don't have the numbers yet. I'm not going to say one thing negative," Andersen said. "We were able to convert some third down and some positive situations. Third down defense was greatly improved, which was a big positive. Special teams wise, big kickoff return. It was nice to see that team get a big return. They've been so close two or three times, and Kenzel being back there was a big difference."
The Badgers did lose the turnover battle to the Wildcats, who forced two interceptions and recovered one fumble in the game. But Wisconsin's saving grace came in that they only allowed six points on Northwestern's subsequent drives.
News and Notes:
-- Andersen said he expects Jared Abbrederis to return to action next week against Illinois, after the senior wide receiver left the game with a head injury. Cornerback Darius Hillary was shaken up after making a tackle late in the game, but Andersen said he thinks the sophomore could have returned to the game, even if he'll be a little sore tomorrow.
-- The Badgers pulled kicker Kyle French for Jack Russell after French missed a 38-yard field goal near the end of the second quarter. Andrew Endicott has already been handling kickoff duties for the Badgers, and Andersen said Russell is his kicker moving forward.
-- Senior linebacker Chris Borland gave the defense a pre-game speech before the Badgers ran out of the tunnel to start the game, but Borland wouldn't comment on what exactly he told the rest of his unit.
"I just got the guys pumped up," Borland said after the game. "I think we've been chomping at the bit to get back on the field so they didn't need to hear much. It is a football game, buts need to get excited and go out there and play hard."
Whatever Borland said seems to have worked. The Badgers held Northwestern to just 3.8 yards per play, and seven different players tallied a sack on either Kain Colter or Trevor Siemian.
-- The Badgers wore their red helmets for the second time this season, but Andersen hinted that some of the players are angling for an all-red look sometime in the future.
"They want to break out the all-red eventually, but I thought with homecoming the red was where we needed to go with the helmet and we'll move on from there," Andersen said.
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