With first place on the line in the Big Ten West, No.20 Wisconsin makes a short drive southeast to take on Northwestern at Ryan Field Saturday morning. The Badgers Insider Staff gives our game and a score prediction for the matchup.
Brian Becker – Wisconsin 20, Northwestern 14.
With reports coming out on Thursday that junior Alex Hornibrook may not play due to a concussion makes this game more interesting. In Hornibrook’s place would be sophomore Jack Coan, who appeared in six games last year in mop-up duty. Having thrown only five collegiate passes, Coan will be thrust into a highly important scenario for Wisconsin’s championship hopes.
Regardless of who starts for Wisconsin, the Badgers’ strength is their running ability behind Jonathan Taylor and Taiwan Deal, who both rushed for over 100 yards last week. Wisconsin will challenge Northwestern’s rush defense and have them prove they can stop the ground attack, something that has befuddled the Wildcats to this point in conference play (163.2 yards per game allowed and five yards per carry). Wisconsin establishing the run early will allow for the offense to not have to rely solely on the passing game.
Defensively, Wisconsin will face a challenge considering Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson has played well over the last three games. His go-to target over that stretch has been Flynn Nagel, who hasn’t caught fewer than eight passes or less than 71 yards during that span. With Deron Harrell out for the game (right leg), true freshman Rachad Wildgoose will likely draw the assignment. Wildgoose has started the past two games and has played well with a couple of pass breakups. If Wisconsin’s defense can slow down Thorson and the passing attack by being smart in coverage, in addition to creating pressure against him, the Badgers should have enough to win their second straight game in Evanston.
Becker’s Record: 6-1
Billy Hirschfeld – Wisconsin 24, Northwestern 17
I expect this game to be a nail-biter. Northwestern has had a couple close games this season, going 3-2 in games decided by four points or less. The Wildcats will have the opportunity in the end to make a play to win but it will just come up short. The young Badgers defense will step up late and help win the game.
Hirschfeld’s Record: 5-2
Logan Samp – Wisconsin 27, Northwestern 21
Wisconsin has really established the running game since the bye week. Over the last three weeks, the Badgers have averaged more than six yards a carry. Jonathan Taylor has been excellent all year, leading the country with 158.4 yards rushing per game. While Taylor has been big for the running game, so has the help of Garrett Groshek and Taiwan Deal. Groshek has chipped in a lot of big third-down carries, especially in the red zone. Wisconsin needs to stick to who they are, especially on the road and continue to run the football.
The last five meetings between the two teams at Ryan Field have been decided by nine points or less, with Northwestern winning four of them. With Hornibrook questionable to play, it’s fair to wonder how the offense will operate if Coan is running it. Either way, I think Wisconsin finds a way to grind out the game on the ground and come away with a big conference road victory to move back into first place in the Big Ten West.
Samp’s Record: 6-1
Benjamin Worgull – Wisconsin 21, Northwestern 17.
There are a lot of concerns here for most Wisconsin fans, namely who could play in a depleted secondary against a talented passing offense and what Coan will bring to the table if Hornibrook doesn’t play (he’s not expected to, according to a report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel). For some fans, this will be like Christmas morning with the Badgers finally giving another quarterback a shot. My take: wait and see.
Coan has made tremendous progress from the player who broke all kinds of Long Island high school passing records to his second year on campus but we in the media haven’t seen him outside of practices and scrimmages in camp, meaning we have never seen him throw a pass during game prep or any kind of pass in two months.
UW’s secondary is beaten up but Evan Bondoc, Eric Burrell and Rachad Wildgoose have done some nice things for being inexperienced players. They’ll be tested at a much higher level than what they saw last week against Illinois.
The last time UW started a young quarterback on the road for his first collegiate start, Hornibrook lit up No.8 Michigan State. Call it a hunch, but I think UW will win this one with some defense and the power running of Jonathan Taylor.
Worgull’s Record: 6-1
Worgull’s Record vs. Spread: 4-3