After trouncing Penn State in Happy Valley, the Wildcats have to take it up another notch as they take on Wisconsin at home. Here's three big things for the match-up with the Badgers:
1. Limit Melvin Gordon
612 rushing yards on 7.8 yards per carry and eight touchdowns in just four games. The numbers speak for themselves. Melvin Gordon is a beast and one of the best football players NU will face all year. The 'Cats can't expect to stop Gordon, just contain him. Western Illinois held him to 38 yards on 17 carries in week two, and at halftime the Badgers only led 9-3. Tanner McEvoy got hot in the second half because WIU stacked the box as much as possible, and Wisconsin pulled away to win 37-3. Pat Fitzgerald's job is to find a happy medium. Move the linebackers up to limit Gordon and keep enough guys in the secondary to prevent big plays. It's a tough task, yet the Northwestern defense is looking like the best it's been in a long time.
Northwestern has won the field position battle in their last couple outings thanks to Chris Gradone. His 30.6 yards per punt average from week one has jumped up to 39.3 on the season. He pinned WIU inside the 20 on six of seven punts and has played a big role in the 'Cats' turnaround. Jack Mitchell, on the other hand, missed two extra points and a 44-yard field goal at Penn State. He's primarily a baseball player, but NU won't keep getting victories with those results. In a game where the spread is only falling, Northwestern needs Mitchell to knock through the easy ones and Gradone to continue the punting clinic.
3. Play for 60 Minutes
We have not seen Northwestern put two good halves together yet this season. Cal tore them apart in the first 30 minutes of the year. Northern Illinois followed their scoreless first half with 23 points off a bunch of big plays in the latter portion of the game. Even last week, the Wildcats didn't score over a 34-minute stretch, and it was a 14-6 game in the 4th quarter. After getting a lead the past two weeks, the offense shut down and relied on the defense to keep making stops. That's not going to work against Wisconsin. They won't be held to single digits. Trevor Siemian and the offense are capable of putting up 30 points against Wisconsin with the right mentality. 'Cats keep their foot on the gas pedal, and they are in this game in the final minutes.