MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Ben Bryant returned after missing four games due to injury and led touchdown drives on each of Northwestern’s first three series against his former coach to help the Wildcats defeat Wisconsin 24-10 on Saturday.
Northwestern (5-5, 3-4 Big Ten) snapped a 14-game losing streak in true road games, which had been the longest active such skid by any Football Bowl Subdivision team. The Wildcats also made interim head coach David Braun the first Northwestern coach to earn at least five wins in his debut season since Walter McCornack went 10-1-3 in 1903.
Braun had joined Northwestern’s staff as defensive coordinator in January. He got promoted when Pat Fitzgerald was fired prior to the season due to a hazing and abuse scandal.
“I’m so stinking proud of this group of guys in that locker room, so proud of this staff, so proud of just the way that everyone has continued to battle,” Braun said. “True character is revealed in times of adversity. The way that this team has continued to perform is just a credit to their character.”
Wisconsin (5-5, 3-4) dropped its third straight after falling 24-10 to No. 3 Ohio State (No. 1 College Football Playoff ) two weeks ago and 20-14 at Indiana last week. Wisconsin lost this one as an 11 ½-point favorite over a team it had beaten 42-7 last year and 35-7 in 2021.
“That’s embarrassing,” Wisconsin coach Luke Fickell said. “I’ll take the blame for not having guys ready in any phase of the game.”
Bryant went 18 of 26 for 195 yards with two touchdown passes — a 23-yarder to A.J. Henning and a 24-yarder to Cam Johnson — as well as a 1-yard touchdown run to help Northwestern grab a 24-3 halftime lead. Bryant helped Northwestern convert each of its first 10 third-down situations.
Wisconsin held Northwestern’s offense in check after halftime but couldn’t rally. The Badgers scored their lone touchdown on Jackson Acker’s 3-yard run with 11 seconds left in the game.
Bryant transferred to Northwestern after spending last season playing for a Cincinnati team coached by Luke Fickell, who’s now at Wisconsin. Bryant hadn’t played since suffering an upper-body injury in a Sept. 30 loss to No. 9 Penn State (No. 10 College Football Playoff).
“What I saw was a young man who didn’t miss a beat,” Braun said.
Northwestern entered the day averaging just 292.1 yards per game to rank 128th among all FBS teams, but the Wildcats exceeded that average before halftime Saturday.
Wisconsin took an early 3-0 lead as quarterback Tanner Mordecai, who returned after missing three games with a broken right hand, led a game-opening drive that resulted in Nathanial Vakos’ 33-yard field goal.
Northwestern took command from there.
Northwestern: Braun continues to show why Northwestern should consider removing the interim tag from his title and making him the coach for keeps. He has worked wonders with a program that went a combined 4-20 in Fitzgerald’s last two seasons.
Wisconsin: The Badgers can still become eligible for a 22nd consecutive bowl appearance — only Georgia and Oklahoma have longer active bowl streaks — by winning just one of their last two games. But that prospect doesn’t seem likely nearly as much of a sure thing as it did a few weeks ago. A lack of health is part of the issue. Running back Braelon Allen returned from a leg injury that kept him from playing against Indiana, but he had just three carries and sat out most of the game.
Northwestern: Hosts Purdue next Saturday.
Wisconsin: Hosts Nebraska next Saturday.