Week 6 Big Ten: Wisconsin at Northwestern Preview

    Wisconsin (3-1) at Northwestern (2-2) Oct. 4, 3:30, ESPN2 Here’s The Deal: Is Northwestern back now? Was enough finally enough, and did the team find

    October 3, 2014

    Wisconsin (3-1) at Northwestern (2-2) Oct. 4, 3:30, ESPN2 

    Here’s The Deal: Is Northwestern back now? Was enough finally enough, and did the team find something special in the dominant 29-6 win over Penn State last week? Probably not, but at the very least the Wildcats finally came up with something positive after a rocky first few weeks. Last year, after the pain of losing a tight battle to Ohio State, the Cats dealt with Wisconsin the week after and was flattened 35-6 in a lifeless loss, but this time around, coming up with a win could be a must with road trips to Minnesota and Iowa along with a date with Nebraska in the next three weeks. 

    The Badgers were able to get through the last few weeks without a problem, blowing out Western Illinois, Bowling Green and USF at home, but if it’s possible to win three games by a combined score of 132 to 30 and not look good, they did it. Wisconsin is starting slowly and have needed to pick it up in the second halves – a total opposite of the loss to LSU – but there haven’t been any real scares. With home games against Illinois and Maryland up next, and road trips to Rutgers and Purdue to follow, there’s a chance this might be the toughest test for a while until the showdown against Nebraska on November 15th. 

    Why Wisconsin Might Win: The Northwestern run defense has technically been strong so far, allowing under three yards per carry and only two scores, but that’s because Northern Illinois is the only team it’s faced that can run. Penn State can’t run, and Cal doesn’t do it very well. NIU took off for 221 yards and a score, but its ground attack is nowhere near as strong as it was last year. Northwestern hasn’t faced any power whatsoever, so even though the linebackers are playing well and the line has been excellent, if the Badgers keep at it and don’t try to be something they’re not, the big runs should open up as the game goes on. Northwestern is 2-11 over the last 13 times teams ran 40 or more times on its D. Wisconsin is 11-1 over the last two years when running 40 times or more.

    Why Northwestern Might Win: But the defense really is pretty good. It’s been a rough ride to get the Badger machine going, and while it’s been easy to get past the sad teams on the slate, if the Wildcats can get a little momentum early on at home, and if the offense can utilize the midrange passing game early, there’s a chance to frustrate a UW attack that can puzzlingly bog down at times. The Wildcats know how to swarm around the ball, and while they’ll get hit for one home run when Melvin Gordon or Corey Clement can slip through the overaggressive defensive front, but for the most part, the D should win its share of battles. That means the Bucky passing game has to work, and while it’s been fine over the last three weeks against the weak defenses, Northwestern’s secondary did a great job last week against Christian Hackenberg and has been solid overall. 

    Who To Watch Out For: The Badgers still don’t have a receiving corps. There have been a few nice plays here and there over the last few weeks, but they don’t have a true No. 1 target to worry about in as one-dimensional a passing game as there is in the Big Ten. Alex Erickson is okay, but he’s hardly a receiver to gameplan for. He leads the team by far with 21 catches for 256 yards and a score. The second best wide receiver? Jordan Fredrick has two catches for 23 yards. The tight ends and backs work in the mix, but if Wisconsin has to go with a downfield passing game, it’s uh-oh time. 

    What’s Going To Happen: Northwestern will fight and battle and claw, but the offense isn’t going to work. Wisconsin will look like it’s running into a wall at times, and it’ll bog down, but it’ll finally break free in the third quarter, and the D will shine in what should be sloppy conditions. 

    Prediction: Wisconsin 23 … Northwestern 13 
    Line: Wisconsin -8 o/u: 47.5 
    Must Watch Factor: 5: Gone Girl – 1: Mulaney … 3  

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