EVANSTON, Ill. — In the second-half track meet that was Wisconsin’s 51-48 loss to Northwestern here Saturday, the first interruption in the race up the scoreboard was going to be mighty significant.
With the Wildcats leading 44-34 midway through the fourth quarter, the Badgers blinked first. The hiccup, though, was not so much the result of offensive mistakes or a defense standing tall as it was a questionable holding call on UW left tackle Joe Thomas.
The Badgers faced second-and-six at the NU 41, when quarterback John Stocco completed a 27-yard pass to Brandon Williams along the left sideline.
Instead of first-and-10 at the Wildcat 14, however, a holding call on Thomas dropped the Badgers back to their own 48. Thomas, blocking a defensive end, held a bit of jersey, but had his hands were inside the player’s shoulders, which usually is allowed. However, the Wildcat fell to the turf, creating the impression that a hold had been committed. Understanding this, Thomas backed away with his hands off as his defender fell.
“Obviously I didn’t think it was a hold,” Thomas said. “I didn’t see it from the eye in the sky. I know after I watch the film I’ll be able to tell you for sure. But from my perspective I had my hands inside, (left guard) Matt (Lawrence) threw his man and tripped the defensive end. He started falling down, I backed away from him and they threw a flag.”
“A lot of times when people fall down like that refs want to make an excuse and throw a flag,” Thomas said. “I let him go as soon as he started falling just because I knew I wanted to get away from it because I knew if you were real close to it a lot of times they’ll get you for it.”
An incomplete pass and a six-yard completion to Brian Calhoun followed, and UW had to punt. Northwestern’s Tyrell Sutton scored on a 62-yard run on the following possession, giving the Wildcats a 51-34 edge.
“I thought that was a huge call,” UW coach Barry Alvarez said, regarding the hold on Thomas. “I’m really anxious to look at that. I was looking right at the play. I’m real anxious to look at that call. That was a huge call because it took us out and gave us a fourth-and-11. If it would have been a fourth-and-five or less I would have gone for it. But that took us out of the 3-point field. So that was a huge call.”
The Badgers would score touchdowns on their next two possessions, but finished three points short.
Hogan suffers broken leg
With about three minutes left in the third quarter, senior sam linebacker LaMarr Watkins was pulled from the game after struggling to tackle tailback Tyrell Sutton.
Sophomore Casey Hogan replaced Watkins and on his first play from scrimmage, diagnosed an NU running play well and ran up to fill the hole. However, as Hogan attempted to tackle Sutton, his right foot caught in the grass and his leg buckled awkwardly. He had to be carted off the field with a broken leg.
Langford injured, returns
UW starting cornerback Allen Langford left the game with a knee injury late in the second quarter after his right leg collided with another player’s helmet. Langford was tended to on the sideline and had a large ice pack on his right knee, but returned at the beginning of the second half.
Stellmacher, Daniels, Bernstein miss game
Strong safety Joe Stellmacher missed his second consecutive game with a “stinger” in his shoulder.
Junior Johnny White started Saturday, but was replaced in the fourth quarter by junior Zach Hampton, who normally plays free safety. The Badgers, however, often played a 4-2-5 nickel defense, with free safety Roderick Rogers frequently moving up to attempt to cover slot receivers.
“Johnny was struggling a little bit and we thought we’d go with Zach,” Alvarez said.
The Badgers also were without the services of starting tight end Owen Daniels, who is nursing an ankle injury. That left fellow seniors Jason Pociask and Joel Nellis to play the position. Pociask had two receptions for 18 yards.
With fullback Matt Bernstein out with a sports hernia, sophomore Chris Pressley started the game, but redshirt freshman Bill Rentmeester played most of the second half. Alvarez said that Pressley, who had injured an ankle last week against Indiana, was fine health-wise, but that Rentmeester had earned the playing time with his performance.