Preview: (10) Wisconsin vs Northwestern

wisconsin-football-paul chryst
wisconsin-football-paul chryst

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers (3-0) vs the Northwestern Wildcats (2-1)

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The time: 11 a.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.

The TV coverage: ABC with Bob Wischusen and Brock Huard in the booth, and Allison Williams on the sideline.

The last time: Corey Clement ran for 106 yards and a touchdown, while the Wisconsin defense held Justin Jackson to just 42 yards in a 21-7 win for the Badgers last November.

The series: Wisconsin leads 58-35-5

The line: Wisconsin -16.5

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

LG Jon Dietzen (leg)
K P.J. Rosowski (leg)

OUT

Game:

RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
DE Chikwe Obasih (knee)
WR George Rushing (leg)

Season:

LB Jack Cichy (knee)
LB Zack Baun (foot)
RB Sam Brodner (knee)
LB Mason Stokke (leg)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) Keep it going?

Wisconsin had its bye last week, and while it was needed considering how banged up the Badgers were, it also came after they played their most complete game of the year in a 40-6 whipping of BYU. Both sides of the ball dominated the action almost from the start, and they looked like the team many thought they would be during fall camp. Will that continue or will the week off get them out of their rhythm and lead to the reappearance of some hiccups seen in the first two games?

2) Encore performance

The last time we saw Alex Hornibrook, the sophomore was completing 18 of his 19 passes to set the single-game school record for completion percentage. Obviously, no one is expecting a repeat of that masterful performance, but can the quarterback take advantage of a banged up Northwestern secondary? If he does, it will be because his increased trust in his receivers and tight ends continues to grow and the brilliant pass blocking he got against BYU carries over to Saturday.

3) We meet again

Over the last 30 years, Wisconsin has clearly been more successful as a program than Northwestern, but the records in the series don’t indicate that. In fact, since 1985 each school has won 13 times. And some of the games the Wildcats have won have been absolute heartbreakers for the Badgers, including 2015 (Jazz Peavy catch, non-catch), 2009 (John Clay fumble on potential game-winning drive), 2000 (OT loss in final game of ShoeBox suspensions) and 1996 (Barry Alvarez didn’t want to take a knee). All of those games felt more like a Wisconsin loss than a Northwestern win. What will the 99th meeting between the two schools bring?

4) Slowing Justin Jackson

If you feel like this is the 20th time Justin Jackson has played against Wisconsin, you’re not alone. It’s what happens when a true freshman torches a strong defense like Jackson did to the Badgers in 2014, rushing for 162 yards. He followed that up with 139 yards and a touchdown in 2015. The one game Wisconsin has won since Jackson arrived at Northwestern came last year when the Badgers held him to 42 yards. If they can slow him in a similar fashion on Saturday, and force quarterback Clayton Thorson to beat them through the air, the chances Wisconsin moves to 4-0 get a nice bump.

5) Can Wisconsin run the ball?

Two years ago, Wisconsin had -26 yards rushing against Northwestern. Last year, the Badgers ran for 190 yards but just 3.3 yards per carry and 46 of that came on a Jazz Peavy fly sweep. So can Wisconsin, which owns the best rushing attack in the Big Ten and boasts the fifth-leading rusher in the country in Jonathan Taylor, take advantage of a Wildcats’ defense that is giving up 157 yards per game? If they can, it will add to a growing collection of evidence that the offensive line is getting closer to being a top-flight unit again.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

—- Wisconsin is just 3-6 as a ranked team against Northwestern since 2000

—- Quarterback Alex Hornibrook has a passing efficiency rating of 188.98, the best mark in the Big Ten and the third-best in the country.

—- The Badgers have had at least 200 yards passing and rushing in each of their first three games this year, matching the total they had in 2015 and 2016 combined.

— Wisconsin is 14-3 against Big Ten West teams since the start of 2014. Two of those losses have come against Northwestern.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 27, Northwestern 13 (3-0 on the season, 2-1 against the spread)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 38, Northwestern 13 (3-0 on the season, 2-1 against the spread)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 31, Northwestern 7 (3-0 on the season, 2-1 against the spread)

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