Wisconsin Opponent Preview: Northwestern

Wisconsin Opponent Preview: Northwestern

Football

Wisconsin Opponent Preview: Northwestern

After a tough weekend in Michigan, Wisconsin’s 49-20 victory over Illinois was much needed. Though confidence has been built back up with this win, there was still some negatives that need to be fixed in order to get back on track for the Big Ten Championship and conquer the next challenge, which will be at Northwestern. Throughout the years, the games in this series have rarely been pretty. And considering Northwestern leads UW by a half-game in the Big Ten West, emotions will be flying at Ryan Field this Saturday.

Northwestern has been known for a confusing offense and tough defense. The offense seems to always come up with new schemes in order to trick the Wisconsin defense and make things more complicated down the road of the game. The defense has always played toe-to-toe with the Wisconsin offense, putting big bodies on big bodies, making plays where they are most needed, being able to change the momentum in an instant.

Northwestern is coming off a close 18-15 win at Rutgers, an ugly game for the offenses but a great defensive battle to watch. Sophomore linebacker Chris Bergin and junior defensive lineman Joe Gaziano led the team with a sack and tackle for loss each. Gaziano leads the team in sacks (4.5), tackles for loss (7.5) and quarterback hurries (seven). Though not much production, the defense stood its ground and held Rutgers to 188 yards of total offense, including only 81 through the air. The Wildcats have proven they have a well-disciplined defense that does their job on the field, making it a rough time for any opponent.

Last week Northwestern struggled to get points on the board early on but got the scores it needed late when it mattered most. Senior quarterback Clayton Thorson struggled in the throwing game, completing just 50 percent of his passes for 150 yards and no touchdowns. The big target on the receiving end was senior wide receiver Flynn Nagel, bringing in eight receptions for 71 yards.  Thorson is averaging 272.1 passing yards per game and a good chunk of those throws this season have been to Nagel, who leads the Wildcats in catches (56), receiving yards (693) and receiving yards per game (99.0).

Unlike the years when tailback Justin Jackson was terrorizing defenses, the Wildcats’ running game is usually nonexistent, although freshman running back Isaiah Bowser rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries in the win over Rutgers. The offensive line of Northwestern has decent size, but they are very agile lineman, evident by their ability to pull outside and be the lead blockers for Bowser to find daylight.

Wisconsin put on a spectacular performance in the run game by putting two tailbacks over 100 rushing yards against Illinois. Sophomore Jonathon Taylor has 159 yards on the ground and senior Taiwan Deal had 111 yards and two touchdowns, giving the Badgers 357 rushing yards. Nothing is slowing down these two bulldozers anytime soon. It was also a big moment for freshmen wide receiver Aron Cruickshank, who earned himself his first career touchdown off of Wisconsin’s signature sweep play, handing the ball off to the receiver in motion to fool the defense.

The passing game was better than last week from junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook, throwing 13 of 22 passes for 188 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. His big targets this game were freshman tight end Jake Ferguson, senior fullback Alec Ingold, and sophomore wide receiver Danny Davis. Ferguson came up big against the Illini by earning critical first-down catches and hauling in a perfect pass set up by Hornibrook for a touchdown.

There has been a lot of criticism about Hornibrook starting as Wisconsin’s quarterback. Being a former teammate of his and witnessing his work ethic first hand at practices, Hornibrook deserves to be the starting quarterback for the Badgers. I have never seen someone put so much time and effort into watching film, setting up extra time with his receivers and going into the training room to make sure he is healthy for the upcoming game. Hornibrook does everything in his power to prepare himself, and he certainly works his tail off harder than anybody. He does the little things and he is an intelligent player. If anything he will use the criticisms as fuel to drive him to become better, work harder and prove all the doubters wrong.

Defensively, Wisconsin put up a big production in turnovers, something the defense has failed to consistently create. Junior linebacker Chris Orr and freshmen cornerback Rachad Wildgoose both recovered fumbles and three seniors – linebacker TJ Edwards, nose tackle Olive Sagapolu and safety Evan Bondoc – all had interceptions. Bondoc made his first career start a memorable one not only with the interception, but making his presence known in the backfield was 1.5 tackles for loss. Sagapolu made us defensive linemen proud with his interception that started by getting his hands into the passing lane and break up the pass, proving that we linemen can catch the ball and don’t have brick hands.

This game against Northwestern, Wisconsin will need to play tough to the very end. Each meeting between the two teams has always been a clash of physical units. Northwestern has had some very close games this season, including five games decided by five points or less. I believe this will be another close, low-scoring game. The offenses will be tested by defenses who both put on great performances in their previous games. Wisconsin will need to be able to switch from the run game to the pass game in order to keep the Northwestern defense on its toes.

More BadgersInsider
Home