Starting a game with an onside kick raises questions. Northwestern coach Gary Barnett has stamped his program with moves like these and it has led him to back-to-back Big Ten championships. However the magic that “took the purple to Pasadena” has been flickering and his bag of tricks has become less ingenious and more a means of survival. He must have known that his Wildcats were outmatched.
If Northwestern was a bug, then Wisconsin was the windshield. The onside kick failed and although UW did not take advantage on that drive, they would have many opportunities. With passes to Chris Chambers and hand offs to Ron Dayne, Wisconsin scored on big plays left and right. The crowd in Camp Randall was its usual wild self and they were enjoying a gorgeous day and a more efficient offense.
On the flip side of the line, Tom Burke led a defense that lived up to the headlines. The Wildcats were unable to score for three quarters, fourteen minutes and fifty-six seconds. A prayer lofted fifty yards down field resulted in seven points for Northwestern with four seconds remaining. Thus, Barnett’s first and last plays of the game supported his wheezing attempts at victory. Although Wisconsin was unable to scrounge up the shutout, it was clear that the defense would rule the 1998 team. They cleaned off the purple splotches on their windshield and replaced the fluid for next week.