The Badgers are still getting back into the swing of things. After a big opening night win over Illinois, the Badgers ran into some issues with positive COVID tests and had to shut down football activities for a couple of weeks. During that time, they missed out on games over Nebraska and Purdue. Even though they missed two games, they are still eligible to make the Big Ten Championship Game. They will travel to Evanston to take on the Northwestern Wildcats (4-0). The Badgers will look to take complete control over the division in a game that could decide who will be playing in the Big Ten Championship game on December 19.
About the Badgers
After the Badgers defeated Illinois in their first game, there were some doubters about how good they really were. I mean, it was just Illinois after all. Then Wisconsin went to Michigan and handed the Wolverines one of their worst losses ever in the Big House and silenced some of the doubters. I know that Michigan is just a shell of what people want it to be, but they are still bringing in some high-end recruits and the Badgers still soundly defeated them.
Graham Mertz and the offense looked good again. Mertz didn’t play quite at the level he did against Illinois, but he also didn’t have to. The Badgers depended on their running game big time against Michigan. They racked up 341 yards on the ground and that was without Garrett Groshek or Isaac Guerendo. Instead, they leaned on Nakia Watson, freshman back Jalen Berger, and a healthy dose of receiver end-around plays to gash the Wolverine’s defense.
It was more of the same old same old with the defense but in a good way. The Badgers stifled the Wolverines last week, allowing just 219 total yards. They were active and aggressive all night, forcing turnovers in each of Michigan’s first two possessions. Linebackers Leo Chenal and Nick Herbig were seemingly everywhere.
What makes last week’s performance even more impressive is the fact that Wisconsin was missing some players who were still out due to COVOD protocols. Starting cornerback Rachad Wildgoose and defensive lineman Garrett Rand both missed the game last week, and I would expect them to be back and ready to play this weekend against Northwestern. This defensive unit is looking to get healthier and even better this weekend.
About the Wildcats
Northwestern has been a pleasant surprise this year. In 2018, they finished first in the Big Ten West division. Last year, they dropped all the way down to the bottom of the division. This year, they are on their third starting quarterback in three years. Payton Ramsey, a transfer from Indiana, has quietly been having a nice season. He has 713 passing yards and six touchdowns to add to it. He does, however, have four interceptions too, so he can make some mistakes as well.
Outside of Ramsey, Northwestern likes to rely on their running game. They have two running backs they like to lean on. Their leading rusher is Drake Anderson, who has 198 yards on 43 carries. Isaiah Bowser has 182 yards on 61 carries. Ramsey will also tuck it and run. He has 133 yards on the ground this year as well. Altogether the team has eight rushing touchdowns on the season.
This is not a very explosive offense, but it is balanced. On the season, they have 723 passing yards and 696 rushing yards. They average 28 points per game, and not counting their 40-point blowout over Maryland, they are averaging just 23 points per game.
Defensively, it is a stout unit. What else would you expect from a Pat Fitzgerald-coached team? They have allowed just 301.8 yards per game, which is the ninth-least in the country. Another impressive stat from this Northwestern team is the number of turnovers they have forced. They have 10 takeaways on the season, an average of 2.5 per game, which is the sixth-most in the country. Eight of those takeaways are interceptions. This secondary is going to take some chances against Mertz this weekend. The freshman quarterback will need to take care of the ball against this defense.
I think has the potential to be an absolutely ugly game. The Badgers hardly ever play well at Northwestern. There’s just something about Ryan Field that makes the Badgers seem sluggish. On top of that, Northwestern and Wisconsin both have good defenses and it will be the middle of November. Both teams like to run the ball, although you could argue Wisconsin is much more of a passing threat than Northwestern is.
If Wisconsin can stuff the Wildcats’ running attack and make Payton Ramsey beat them through the air, I think Wisconsin will have a pretty good chance at winning this game. The key to this game will be Wisconsin scoring just enough points. I am fully confident that Jim Leonhard will have a solid gameplan in place that will slow the Northwestern offense down and keep them below 20 points.
If Wisconsin can keep rolling offensively like they have shown that they can in their first two games, I think they can leave Northwestern with a win and take the driver’s seat in the Big Ten West race.
In the end, I think a full week of practice, having players return from COVOD protocol and the momentum Wisconsin has will be just too much for Northwestern and Wisconsin proves they are the top team in the division and earn a nice win in Evanston.