12:00 PM ET, October 23, 2004
Camp Randall Stadium, MADISON, WI
MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- The nation's stingiest defense is impressive even without some of its most important parts.
Anthony Davis rushed for two touchdowns and Wisconsin (No. 7 ESPN/USA Today, No. 6 AP) beat Northwestern 24-12 Saturday with star defensive end Erasmus James on the sideline along with his pass-rushing partner Jonathan Welsh and middle linebacker Reggie Cribbs.
"Sometimes you have special years," coach Barry Alvarez said after his Badgers opened 8-0 for just the fourth time in the program's 115-year history. "I said during two-a-days I thought this team had a spirit about them."
Andy Crooks played in Cribbs' spot and the Badgers (5-0 Big Ten) turned to subs Joe Monty, Justin Ostrowski and Jamal Cooper to close off the edges and prevent Northwestern's mobile quarterback Brett Basanez from hurting them with his trademark rollouts and bootlegs.
For most of the game, he didn't hurt them with his arm, either. Basanez was just 5-of-18 for 34 yards in the first half and the Wildcats fell behind 24-0 before finally finding their rhythm.
"They're like any other Big Ten team. They reload," Wildcats right tackle Zach Strief said.
Even though linebacker Mark Zalewski finished with 3½ tackles in the backfield, the Badgers weren't forced to blitz because they got sufficient push with their makeshift line, which allowed them to flood the passing lanes and thwart Northwestern's spread offense.
"With Erasmus James being hurt, it was huge for those young guys to come in and play well," safety Jim Leonhard said of the second-stringers who played like starters. "It shows a lot about our defense."
James, who insisted in a halftime television interview that Purdue tight end Charles Davis hurt him intentionally last week with a cut block, hopes to return from his bum ankle after an off week for the Badgers' showdown with archrival Minnesota on Nov. 6.
Northwestern (3-4, 2-2) didn't back up its coach's words after he proclaimed last week that the Wildcats, who hadn't lost to Wisconsin since 1999, were conference title contenders.
"When you're not in a rhythm and you play a great defense like that, you're in trouble," Basanez said.
After missing from 31 yards, Mike Allen connected from 29 to give the Badgers a 3-0 lead. John Stocco threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Owen Daniels and Davis, who gained 117 yards on 31 carries despite a tender thigh, bullied his way in from 7 yards out behind fullback Matt Bernstein to make it 17-0 at halftime.
Davis shot up the middle from a yard out to make it 24-0 early in the third quarter.
Noah Herron's counter runs helped give the Wildcats hope against a defense that's yielding just 8½ points a game .
With 19 rushes for 109 yards, he became the first tailback to gain 100 yards on the Badgers and just the second player to rush for a touchdown against Wisconsin this season.
The Wildcats finally made it past the Badgers 30 with six minutes left in the third quarter on a drive that stalled at the 15 and ended with Brian Huffman missing a 32-yard field goal.
The Badgers went three-and-out on their next possession, and the tired defense returned to watch the Wildcats drive down the field and end Wisconsin's hopes of its first shutout in five years. Mark Philmore raced past cornerback Brett Bell and hauled in a 29-yard touchdown toss from Basanez. Bell knocked away Basanez's pass on a 2-point conversion attempt.
Again, the exhausted Badgers defense couldn't catch a breather, this time because cornerback Cory Dious recovered the onside kick for Northwestern. Herron scored on a 14-yard run on the second play of the fourth quarter and was wide open for the 2-point catch, but Basanez, who finished 16-for-37 for 185 yards, overthrew him.
At that point, the Wildcats had run 30 of the previous 33 offensive plays, and it looked like the Badgers were about to go three-and-out again on their next drive.
"That's why I went for it on fourth down because I knew we were really tired," said Alvarez, who called for a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-inches from his own 44. "Our guys were worn down and I just wanted to put the onus on the offense. I just didn't feel comfortable that we had to go back on the field with our defense."
Stocco gained three yards on a keeper. Although that drive stalled, the Badgers' defense stiffened and Wisconsin got the ball back with 7:29 left and ran off all but 20 seconds, turning it over on downs at the Wildcats' 10.
"They make you earn every inch," Northwestern coach Randy Walker said. "There's nothing easy out there all day."