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Wisconsin Badgers vs Northwestern Wildcats: Preview, Predictions and Prognostications

When: Saturday, November 5 – 12:00 PM ET
Where: Ryan Field, Evanston, Illinois
TV: ABC
All-Time Series: Wisconsin leads 57-35-5
Last Meeting: Northwestern won 13-7 (2015)
Line: Wisconsin -6.5

O/U: 40.5

The Wisconsin Badgers (6-2 overall, 3-2 in conference play) are back on the road after defeating the Nebraska Cornhuskers in an overtime thriller at Camp Randell Stadium last Saturday night. The Badgers will travel to Evanston, Illinois to take on the Northwestern Wildcats (4-4 overall, 3-2 in conference play) at Ryan Field, a place where Wisconsin hasn’t won since 1999.

Since Wisconsin’s last win at Ryan Field 17 years ago, the Badgers have gone to every other Big Ten venue and won during that span. If you were thinking that maybe Wisconsin would experience a lack of motivation after getting through the gauntlet of their schedule, you thought wrong. Badgers’ coach Paul Chryst has preached to his squad the importance of remaining focused heading into a November stretch that includes games with Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue, and Minnesota.

“I think it is easy to buy into what people are may be saying on the outside as far as getting through the gauntlet and this being the ‘easy part’ of the schedule,” said Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton.

“No part of playing college games is easy. Our whole thing is just not getting complacent. I think we’ve played pretty good football. Now it’s just staying consistent,” said Shelton.

That mindset will suit the Badgers well, as the team saw themselves being ranked as the No. 8 team in the country during the first College Football Playoff Rankings of 2016, which were released on Tuesday evening.

One thing is for certain, Northwestern has been playing its best football of the season in October. The Wildcats went 3-1, with road wins at Iowa (38-31) and at Michigan State (54-40) as well as a home victory over Indiana (24-14). The lone loss for the Wildcats came in a hard-fought game in Columbus against the Buckeyes, 24-20.

This is a far cry from Northwestern’s September, which saw the Wildcats lose back-to-back home games to Western Michigan and FCS Illinois State.

If recent history is any indication, Saturday’s game between Big Ten West division rivals will be a dog fight.

1 BURNING QUESTION: Can Hornibrook take care of the ball against the wildcats?

Wisconsin and Northwestern both possess very good defenses (14.6 and 22.1 points allowed per game respectively). The game could very well come down to the play of both youthful quarterbacks, Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson and Wisconsin’s Alex Hornibrook. Thorson and Hornibrook’s ability to be efficient and take care of the football will be a huge key to the game.

Usually, in a defensive oriented, Big Ten football game, the team that makes the most or most crucial mistakes ultimately loses. Badgers’ coach Paul Chryst will need to instill some confidence in his young quarterback early on if the Badgers hope to improve upon last week’s lackluster offense outing against a stout Cornhusker defense.

2 KEY STATS:

– 14.6 That’s the amount of points that Wisconsin allows on average per game this season. Wisconsin may very well have to once again rely on its defense to get out of Evanston with a victory on Saturday. Expect Paul Chryst to throw the playbook at Northwestern early on. If the Badgers can jump out to an early lead, then Chryst can rely on his No. 3 Ranked Badgers defense to hold Northwestern down to preserve the victory.

– 274.8. That’s the average amount of passing yards that Northwestern has given up so far this season. No one is expecting an offensive shootout in Evanston this weekend, but it would not surprise me at all if Paul Chryst elected to go after a leaky Northwestern pass defense early in the game to set up the run for the second half. If freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook can eclipse 200 yards through the air, it will go a long way toward opening running lanes up for Corey Clement on the ground.

3 KEY PLAYERS:

Clayton Thorson, Northwestern QB: The Sophomore signal caller for the Wildcats has quietly become one of the Big Ten’s best dual-threat quarterbacks. Thorson was able to pass for over 250 yards against an incredibly talented Ohio State pass defense last weekend. He also ran for 44 yards, including a 35-yard burst. Thorson is a threat to take off every time he touches the ball, and his passing has come a long way since last season. Wisconsin would be smart to shade coverages to Austin Carr, who leads the Big Ten in receiving yards per game at 109.8 yards a game. Carr went off against Ohio State, reeling in eight receptions for 158 yards in Northwestern’s close loss to the Buckeyes. Sojourn Shelton and Derrick Tindal will face a stern test in the secondary this Saturday.

Alex Hornibrook, Wisconsin QB: Hornibrook has had his ups and downs as a freshman quarterback in the Big Ten. He had big games against Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State, but struggled mightily against Michigan and Nebraska. The experience that Hornibrook has gained this season is invaluable, but Paul Chryst needs his young quarterback to get back to his efficient, turnover-free ways if the Badgers want to get out of Evanston with a victory for the first time since 1999.

Corey Clement, Wisconsin RB: Northwestern’s run defense has been quite good so far this season, only allowing 141.5 rushing yards per game. Wisconsin Badgers running back Corey Clement will look to run for more than the 82 yards that he ran for on 19 carries against Nebraska last Saturday. Expect the second half to belong to Corey Clement, as the senior running back should rack up 25 or more carries during the course of this Big Ten divisional battle on Saturday.

4 Staff Predictions

Andy: Wisconsin 17-13
Dave: Northwestern 24-21
Phil H.: Wisconsin 24-20
Philip R-R.: Wisconsin 24-21
Zach: Wisconsin 21-13

Currently a Sophomore at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Journalism major. Big sports fan, especially football and basketball. I enjoy sports writing in my free-time.

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