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Posted By Ben Chiswick On Nov 28 2010 @ 12:45 am In Northwestern | 2 Comments

The Northwestern Wildcats (7-5, 3-5) played the role of unfortunate victims on Saturday, falling to the Wisconsin Badgers (11-1, 7-1) by a 70-23 score as the Badgers all but cemented a Big Ten championship.

Wisconsin and Northwestern will both have to wait until December 5 to confirm their bowl destinations, although the Badgers are likely to land in the Rose Bowl while the Wildcats have a more uncertain fate.

Frankly, Saturday’s loss was hard to watch for Northwestern fans.

It was not a giant shock that the ‘Cats lost, even for the most die-hard of purple supporters. Wisconsin has made a strong argument that the nation’s best one-loss team hails from Madison, reaching 70 points in a game for the third time this season. The Badgers rolled through the Wildcats for 329 rushing yards and 559 yards of total offense on their way to scoring 10 touchdowns. Montee Ball led the way with 178 yards and four touchdowns on 20 carries, while James White also ran the ball 20 times and added 134 yards and another score. The Wildcats were afforded little relief when Wisconsin went to the air, as Scott Tolzien completed 15 of 19 passes for 230 yards and four touchdowns of his own.

If those numbers don’t sound ugly enough, consider what the Badgers did on the other side of the ball. J.J. Watt was a one-man wrecking crew on the defensive line, ravaging his way to three tackles-for-loss, one sack, two forced fumbles and a blocked extra point. Wisconsin forced seven turnovers, although they were as much a product of Northwestern’s inexperience at the quarterback position as anything else.

Redshirt freshman Evan Watkins and true freshman Kain Colter each took snaps under center, with Watkins seeing about 70 percent of the action. Both signal callers had their moments although neither was particularly effective. Watkins threw for all 123 of Northwestern’s passing yards but was picked off three times and fumbled the ball away twice more. Colter was used primarily as a runner, but one of his three passes was snared by the defense as well. Watkins and Colter both looked like they were in over their heads – which they were, taking on one of the best teams in the land while attempting to fill the shoes of one of the Big Ten’s best quarterbacks in the injured Dan Persa.

And don’t blame Wisconsin for running up the score. As difficult as it was to watch the Badgers continue to take shots with a 40-point lead in the second half, they were doing what they had to do. In a situation where a handful of one-loss teams could be jockeying for a spot in the BCS title game, eye-popping final scores like this one make a real impact on subjective voters. It is a flawed system, but any fan would want their team’s coach to do the same thing.

The lone bright spot?

Without a doubt, Venric Mark, the true freshman from Tomball, Texas, who has emerged as a fantastic special teams contributor for the Wildcats. Mark set a school record with 273 kickoff return yards, including a 96-yard touchdown sprint late in the first half. Mark leads the ‘Cats in 2010 with an average of 27.6 yards on kickoff returns and 12.9 yards per punt return, joining a cast of strong Northwestern freshman that includes running backs Mike Trumpy and Adonis Smith, fellow receiver Tony Jones, and the previously mentioned quarterback duo of Watkins and Colter.

As much upside as this young crew of Wildcats has, however, Saturday belonged to the far more experienced Badgers who put the final stamp on their 2010 regular season.

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