Badgers host defending Big Ten West champion Wildcats
A battle of the last two Big Ten West Division champions will take place in Madison, Wisconsin this weekend. Wisconsin looks to follow a statement victory last week by taking care of some business within the division. Northwestern makes the trip to Madison, and the Wildcats are a heavy underdog.
The Badgers have moved into the top 10 after a dominant victory over Michigan last week. With Northwestern having their hands full with injuries and a rough offensive unit, Wisconsin may have another breather on their hands. But could Northwestern catch Wisconsin in a hangover? More importantly, would Northwestern be able to take advantage of a slow start by Wisconsin even if it did happen?
Here's what you need to know about Northwestern's road trip to Wisconsin this weekend in the Big Ten West.
Northwestern at Wisconsin
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 28 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Wisconsin -23.5
When Northwestern Has the Ball
Northwestern will be going up against one of the top defenses in the Big Ten. Wisconsin's defense saw their scoreless streak interrupted last week by Michigan, but the Badgers are not about to give a whole lot to their opponents this week. Northwestern quarterback Hunter Johnson has struggled to complete passes and he has four interceptions to just one touchdown. Against Michigan State last week, Johnson was intercepted three times as Northwestern fell to 1-2. It could be another long afternoon for the Wildcat offense.
Northwestern senior wide receiver Bennett Skowronek has caught a pass in 30 consecutive games, which is currently the longest active streak among all Big Ten players. He will look to keep that streak going against the Big Ten's second-ranked pass defense. Wisconsin has allowed just 144.3 passing yards per game and opposing quarterbacks have an average rating of 75.73 (the next lowest opponent passer rating in the Big Ten belongs to Ohio State; 100.8). Wisconsin also has recorded at least one interception in each of their first three games this season.
When Wisconsin Has the Ball
There is no secret to what Wisconsin wants to do with the football. The Badgers plan on running all day long, and why not? Jonathan Taylor enters the week leading the Big Ten with 146.7 rushing yards per game and he is just seven yards behind the Big Ten's leading rusher (Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins) while playing in one fewer game. But last week showed Wisconsin can still move the ball even without Taylor. When Taylor sat out the entire second quarter, Wisconsin's offense kept doing damage against Michigan with A.J. Taylor contributing on the ground and quarterback Jack Coan showing off the ability to find a hole and take advantage of it.
Perhaps the most pleasing development of the Wisconsin offense this season has been the play of Coan at quarterback. The junior has completed 77.3 percent of his pass attempts with five touchdowns and zero interceptions. Wisconsin doesn't need Coan to be a difference-maker, but he has been far more than just a serviceable quarterback simply there to hand the ball off to a Heisman Trophy-contending running back.
Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fisher should be around the ball often throughout the game, but he simply will not be able to stop Wisconsin all by himself. The Wildcats have struggled on defense and are allowing 5.01 yards per play. Only Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue are along more yards per play among Big Ten teams.
After the performance Wisconsin put on display against Michigan last week, it would be difficult to come up with any way Northwestern knocks off the Badgers in Madison this week. With a struggling offense and a defense vulnerable to the kind of game Wisconsin will attack with, Northwestern will be challenged to come up with the upset. Wisconsin wins this one, and it could be pretty lopsided in favor of the Badgers.
Prediction: Wisconsin 35, Northwestern 10
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Patreon, on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.