A week of turmoil ended blissfully for the Badgers, while Northwestern has now found themselves in a free fall.
In a stunning move six days prior to this game, the Badgers fired their successful head coach, Paul Chryst. Overall, Wisconsin has maintained a strong level of winning consistency. However, victories in the critical games have been a daunting hurdle, such as Big Ten title games or regular season games against Ohio State. When former Wisconsin head coach, Bret Bielema, brought his Illini into Camp Randall and decimated the Badgers, that became the final nail. Paul Chryst was on the chopping block.
Enter Jim Leonhard – defensive coordinator for Wisconsin and former safety for the Badgers. He was hired by Paul Chryst, and he has become extremely valuable as an assistant. Now, as interim coach, he described this situation as “a dream coming out of a nightmare.” Pulling this team together after an abrupt change in leadership and notching a win at Northwestern would be a bittersweet challenge.
A beautiful day in Evanston set the scene for homecoming. Tailgating lots were packed, and a spirited energy filled the air. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t translate to the field. The Wildcats started the year off with an impressive victory over Nebraska in Dublin. Since then, ugly losses have defined their season. Wisconsin came into Ryan Field with so much to prove, and Northwestern just came in flat.
Quarterback, Graham Mertz, had one of the best games of his career tossing five touchdown passes – something no Badger quarterback had ever done on the road. The score read 28-0 at halftime, and most of the purple drained from the stadium. A somber second half in Evanston got homecoming parties started early in the surrounding tailgating lots. The Badgers continued to dominate and finished with a 42-7 victory.
At this point, the Wildcat season looks irreparable – time to look ahead to lacrosse and softball season. Wisconsin hopes to ride this momentum for the second half of the season, one in which will be a trial period for Jim Leonhard, and a potential launching pad for the future.