MADISON, Wis. -- About 15 minutes before Wisconsin played its final home game of the regular season, the Badgers were officially eliminated from Big Ten championship game contention, when undefeated Iowa held off Purdue to capture the West division.
Wisconsin then took the field for the first half as though it had nothing to play for, putting together its worst offensive performance of the season while being held scoreless in the opening 30 minutes. Things didn't get much better from there, as No. 20 Northwestern held off No. 25 Wisconsin for a wild 13-7 victory Saturday evening at Camp Randall Stadium in a game in which the Badgers committed five turnovers.
The final drive was particularly crazy.
Badgers quarterback Joel Stave completed a 22-yard pass over the middle to tight end Troy Fumagalli, whose knee was ruled down at the 1-yard line with 31 seconds remaining. Stave then hit receiver Jazz Peavy for what appeared to be the game-winning touchdown with 24 seconds left. Referees ruled he did not complete the catch, however. Stave suffered an injury on a sack on the ensuing play and was replaced for the final play by backup quarterback Bart Houston.
On fourth-and-goal at the 11, Houston's pass intended for receiver Tanner McEvoy fell incomplete in the end zone with two seconds remaining.
The Wildcats led 10-0 at halftime after capitalizing on Badgers quarterback Joel Stave's interception. Defensive back Nick VanHoose picked off Stave at the Wisconsin 19, and Northwestern scored three plays later on tailback Justin Jackson's 8-yard touchdown run. Wisconsin running back Corey Clement rushed for a 9-yard touchdown to bring Wisconsin to within 10-7 with 8:24 left in the third quarter, but the Badgers' offense stalled and couldn't hold onto the football.
Wisconsin's five turnovers were one more than it had during a 10-6 home loss to Iowa in Week 5 that helped the Hawkeyes run away with the division. Iowa defeated Purdue 40-20 earlier in the day to clinch the Big Ten West, making Saturday's Wisconsin-Northwestern game essentially a battle for pride and a better bowl game.
What the win means for Northwestern: The Wildcats' defense was dominant in the first half, and they certainly earned this victory. At 9-2, Northwestern has a legitimate chance to win 11 games (with a bowl victory) for the first time in program history. Jackson was Northwestern's only true offensive threat, but it proved to be enough. He finished with 35 carries for 139 yards and one touchdown. Northwestern hit a lull with consecutive losses against Michigan and Iowa, but the Wildcats deserve considerable credit for battling back from two straight 5-7 seasons.
What the loss means for Wisconsin: Senior day is generally supposed to be a celebration of a group's accomplishments. But the Badgers' 19 seniors -- and the rest of the team, for that matter -- won't have many fond memories of their performance. This offense has struggled with consistency all season, but Saturday was especially bad. Stave threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball away once. The running game stunk, and the offensive line didn't provide much protection. Wisconsin's fans may be happy they don't have to see the Badgers at home again until next September.
Stat of the game: Wisconsin's rushing offense hasn't been particularly good all season, but it was at its worst on Saturday. The Badgers carried the ball 26 times for minus-26 yards. Stave was sacked several times and finished with nine carries for minus-58 yards, which contributed to the poor overall rushing numbers. Wisconsin's fewest rushing yards in a game in the last 20 seasons was 51 against Arkansas in 2006.
Uh, what? Controversy ensued during the third quarter when Badgers punt returner Alex Erickson brought a punt back 78 yards for a touchdown, only to have it negated by officials. Referees ruled Erickson made an invalid fair catch signal, though he appeared to be signaling for teammates to get away from the kick. His return would have put Wisconsin ahead 14-10. Instead, the Badgers ultimately were forced to punt with just over three minutes remaining in the third and still trailed 10-7.