Preview: No. 8 Wisconsin at Northwestern

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers (6-2, 3-2) vs the Northwestern Wildcats (4-4, 3-2)

The time: 11 a.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.

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

The last time: Wisconsin had three touchdowns taken off the board on replay reviews and lost 13-7 in Madison last year.

The series: Wisconsin 57-35-5

The line: Wisconsin -7

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

ILB Griffin Grady (shoulder)

CB Natrell Jamerson (leg)

OUT

RT Jacob Maxwell (shoulder)

FB Austin Ramesh (shoulder)

NT Olive Sagapolu (arm)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) Gauntlet not done

Before the season, everyone talked about the gauntlet that Wisconsin would face to open Big Ten play, a stretch of five games that ended up being against four teams ranked in the top 10 of the AP Top 25. Most thought if they could get through that, it would be clear sailing the rest of the way. But that hasn’t turned out to be the case. Not with Northwestern playing its best football of the season as they welcome the Badgers to town. And UW’s players know it.

“I think it is easy to buy into what people might be saying on the outside as far as getting through the gauntlet and this being the easy part of the schedule,” cornerback Sojourn Shelton said. “No part of playing in college football games are easy. We see it week-in and week-out of top-ranked teams playing a team they should beat and somehow, someway that team loses.”

2) Two-quarterback system

For a third week in a row, the Badgers are expected to play both of their quarterbacks — starter Alex Hornibrook and backup Bart Houston. How the playing time will break down for either guy is unclear, even for them.

“Never do,” Houston said when asked if he knew how many snaps he’d get. “Could be zero, could be all of them, could be half of them. I don’t know. We’ll find out on game day.”

What is clear, though, is both need to do a better job of holding onto the ball. Each had fourth quarter interceptions against Nebraska that could have cost Wisconsin the game. And for the season, the Badgers are -1 in turnover margin thanks in part to the 10 interceptions thrown by Hornibrook (7) and Houston (3).

3) Slowing Austin Carr

The Northwestern passing game has come alive in recent weeks, with quarterback Clayton Thorson finding a rhythm, throwing 10 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions in the month of October, a stretch where the Wildcats won three of the four games they played. And the sophomore signal caller has been locked in on his standout receiver Austin Carr.

A former walk-on, Carr is averaging 109 yards receiving per game, including a season-high 158 against Ohio State last week. Wisconsin figures to key on the California native, and don’t be surprised to see junior Derrick Tindal mirror him wherever he goes.

4) Justin Jackson — Badgers killer

Northwestern running back Justin Jackson has dominated Wisconsin in his first two college seasons. In 2014, he ran for a season-high 162 yards in a 20-14 upset by the Wildcats. Then last year, in a 13-7 win for Northwestern, Jackson rumbled for 139 yards and a touchdown.

Only one running back, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, has topped the 100-yard mark this year against the Badgers, and over the last three years it’s happened just eight times, with Jackson owning two of those. In games where the opposing team has a back over the century mark, Wisconsin is just 2-6.

Far from flashy, Jackson is hard-nosed runner who becomes more difficult to stop as his carries pile up. Wisconsin can’t allow him to get going early.

5) Mystery of Ryan Field

Far from the toughest environment to play in, Ryan Field has still been a house of horrors for Wisconsin. The Badgers haven’t won at the smallest stadium in the Big Ten since 1999, losing their four games by an average of less than a touchdown.

“I was five years old. I’m about to turn 22 on Christmas. That’s a long time ago,” cornerback Sojourn Shelton said of the gap between wins for the Badgers. “It just makes this game so much sweeter. Our goal is to go in there and get a “W”. When Saturday rolls around we’ll be amped up and trying to break that.”

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

  • Wisconsin has won at every other Big Ten stadium at least once since last getting a victory at Northwestern.
  • Freshman running back Bradrick Shaw has carried the ball four times in the last three games. All four of those runs have resulted in first downs (3) or touchdowns (1).
  • Over the last two seasons, Wisconsin quarterbacks have thrown just as many touchdowns (23) as they have interceptions.
  • Wisconsin running back Corey Clement is averaging 99.9 yards per game this season, and is on pace to rush for 1,198 yards, which would be his first 1,000-yard season in college.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 21, Northwestern 20 (4-4 on the season)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 21, Northwestern 14 (5-3 on the season)
Jake Zimmermann’s prediction: Wisconsin 21, Northwestern 17 (6-2 on the season)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Northwestern 16 (5-3 on the season)
Eric Rogers’ prediction: Wisconsin 16, Northwestern 14 (6-2 on the season)