EVANSTON, Ill. — For the second-straight season, a defensive meltdown ended Wisconsin’s hopes of an unblemished year. And while this year’s quagmire in Evanston doesn’t carry the same magnitude as the debacle in East Lansing a season ago, the result was another stinging blow.Saturday’s collapse against Northwestern isn’t a completely new experience for a favored Wisconsin team. The Wildcats nipped the then-No. 7 Badgers in double overtime in 2000 and ended any early Big Ten title hopes for UW two years ago.What made this defeat especially seething was the fact that fans and players alike seemed to have the feeling that 2005 was turning into a special year in Madison. What better way to send out the school’s greatest coach ever than by having one of the best seasons in recent memory?Regardless of that thought, the fate of Wisconsin’s season will now be determined by how the team responds to its hiccup in Evanston.”It’s not going to be tough to move past,” senior Brandon Williams said. “We lost, now we’ve got to go win the axe, keep the axe. It’s tough to swallow, but it’s over now.”Williams’ confidence is admirable, and this team may be a good candidate to rebound quickly — after all, not many experts thought Wisconsin would be riding high at 5-0 into Evanston. In fact, at the start of the year this game looked like it would be a hotly contested match-up. And that line of thinking held true despite Wisconsin’s unexpected hot start to the season.But, in order to bounce back and win more than a handful of games, the team’s defense must improve drastically. The secondary in particular and the defense as a whole rehashed the problems it experienced against in the season opener against Bowling Green, allowing Wildcat quarterback Brett Basanez to control the game.More disturbing, however, was the manner in which Northwestern freshman running back Tyrell Sutton gashed the run defense, which had been yielding only 77.4 yards per game entering Saturday’s contest, for 244 yards. That does not bode well for a team heading to Minnesota next weekend for a date with the run-happy Golden Gophers and star running back Laurence Maroney.”Our guys do handle corrections very well,” defensive coordinator Bret Bielema said. “I think that they’ll come in next week, Monday in particular, with the attitude that whatever they’ve got to accomplish, they have to in a short amount of time, because Minnesota’s not going to do anything but go right after us too.”Wisconsin is without question in a better position to respond to the loss more effectively than it did to last year’s 49-14 thrashing at the hands of Michigan State. For one thing, the season is still relatively young, giving them a significant amount of time to recover from the loss compared to last year. The fact that those aspirations for an undefeated run and high expectations haven’t built up yet also works greatly in the Badgers’ favor.And on the “moral victory” level, oft-criticized quarterback John Stocco and the passing offense sustained and improved upon their success from the win over Indiana.Even more importantly, Wisconsin is still in the thick of the Big Ten race.”Personally you never want to lose, but you take the loss for what it is,” Williams said. “We’re 2-1 in the conference. It’s not over by any means. We’ve still got six games left. That’s the first thing I said when we came into the locker room. We’ve still got six games left. We’ve got to keep the axe next week and that’s all that matters. There’s only going to be one undefeated team after this week anyway, so we’re still right there in the mix.”Still, Wisconsin has to actually carry that mentality through and right its ship following a tough loss on the road. And with the toughest stretch of its schedule looming ahead, the team will need to do that in a hurry. For his part, the always-confident Williams says he’s not ready to panic.”This doesn’t compare to the Michigan State game,” Williams said. “This game is just a bump in the road. We still can go 11-1 and be all right.”Whether they can truly do that and how they respond to that “bump” remains to be seen.