MADISON, Wis. -- After a slow start, Wisconsin got it rolling and had an unexpectedly easy time against 19th-ranked Northwestern on Saturday.
Wisconsin's running game stalled in the first quarter but rallied to tally 286 yards, and the defense came through with a season-high seven sacks from seven different players as the Badgers beat Northwestern 35-6 in a Big Ten game at Camp Randall Stadium.
Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon rushed for 172 yards on 22 carries, including a 71-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The sophomore had no lingering effects from a minor knee injury suffered two weeks ago in Wisconsin's loss at Ohio State.
Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave threw three touchdown passes, completing 17 of 28 passes for 241 yards. He also had two passes intercepted.
Wisconsin struggled this season against Arizona State and Ohio State spread offenses, but Badgers coach Gary Andersen liked the speed and confidence his team had against Northwestern.
"The kids they just were very, very gap sound in the run game," Andersen said. "I think, when the ball bounced out sideways, they ran to the ball well.
"You get some momentum, and momentum is a vicious weapon sometimes. It seemed to work very well for us. I thought we played fast. It just looked like we were fast out there today, which was great to see."
The Wildcats' quarterback duo of Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter completed just 17 of 39 passes for 197 yards, with one interception.
The Badgers (4-2, 2-1) overcame a sluggish first quarter in which they had a couple of turnovers and couldn't find a rhythm with their running game. Wisconsin had minus-15 yards rushing on its first three drives and eight yards on eight carries in the first quarter.
Chris Borland's third-and-goal sack of Colter in the red zone held the Wildcats to a field goal midway through the first quarter and provided a defensive jolt for Wisconsin. Borland came into the game with 46 tackles, which ranked fourth in the Big Ten. The senior had 10 tackles and one sack in the win against Northwestern.
The Wildcats came into the game averaging 39 points per game, and Andersen said Borland's pep talk inspired his Badgers teammates.
"Trust me. Chris Borland said whatever he needed to say and he said it in very (certain) terms," Andersen said. "Those kids listened to him and I didn't have to say much after that, and they came out ready to roll."
Wisconsin took the lead when Stave connected with wide receiver Jared Abbrederis on a 63-yard strike that gave Wisconsin a 7-3 lead with 4:09 left in the first quarter.
Abbrederis was sidelined in the second quarter with a head injury and didn't return. The senior, who is the Badgers' top receiver, has 35 receptions for 616 yards and five touchdowns this season.
James White ran for 101 yards on 19 carries, including a 1-yard TD run in the second quarter that put Wisconsin up 14-3. Gordon's 71-yard burst made it 21-3.
One bright spot for the Wildcats (4-2, 0-2) was senior kicker Jeff Budzien, who booted 27- and 43-yard field goals.
Stave capped a 75-yard drive in the third quarter with a 1-yard TD toss to Jacob Pedersen, who caught a team-high four passes. Stave hit Derek Watt for a 3-yard TD to finish the scoring early in the fourth quarter.
The Wildcats entered the game having scored at least 30 points in each of its last seven games, and coach Pat Fitzgerald said the Wildcats didn't execute well.
"I hope this gives our guys a punch in the face and wakes them up," Fitzgerald said. "It's hard to win Big Ten football games. When you get punched in the face, you've got to shake the cobwebs out.
"You've got to respond. We're playing another team (Minnesota) with a bye week before they play us. We've got to buckle it up and here we go."
NOTES: Wildcats senior running back Venric Mark suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter and didn't return. ... Fitzgerald said that Colter rolled his ankle in practice leading up to the Wisconsin game, and re-injured the ankle in the game. ... The Badgers travel to Illinois next Saturday. Northwestern hosts Minnesota at Ryan Field next Saturday.