This week, Northwestern heads to Madison, Wisconsin, where it has struggled mightily recently. Both 8-2, the Wildcats and Badgers are jockeying to finish near the top of the Big Ten West and perhaps get into a New Year's Six bowl. Andrew Rosin of Bucky's 5th Quarter gives his takes:
Inside NU: While guys all around him have gone down with injury, Joel Stave has been the one constant on the Wisconsin offense. What has he done well this year, what does he still need to work on, and what sort of statistical line can we expect from him Saturday afternoon?
Andrew Rosin: Joel Stave's strength is that he will always step up and make throws no matter the pressure. He has good arm strength and when he has multiple targets to throw to, like he does this year, he can move the ball down the field. But the thing of it is that he has an inconsistent touch. There are games where he will complete 11 of 24 passes, and when he throws interceptions, there is a tendency to throw them in bunches. Gametime weather has looked to relax from what it was 24 hours ago, so don't expect the Badgers to limit the passes as they once were. Gut feeling? 18 for 29, 244 yards, two scores and maybe a pick.
INU: What's the latest word on Corey Clement? If he plays, how do you envision the carries being split?
AR: Corey Clement's status is still in doubt. Paul Chryst will keep things quiet until close to game time on that one. Probably because it's going to be a matter of how he feels on Saturday. If he goes, I'd expect a 50/50 split with Dare Ogbunwale, as he's a valid third down passing option even when Clement is healthy.
INU: Wisconsin's defense has been fantastic this year. What makes this unit so good, and who are the standouts?
AR: It's two parts defensive coordinator and one part veteran experience. Darius Hillary is a shutdown cornerback, and Sojourn Shelton has played more like he did as a freshman than as a sophomore. Tanner McEvoy is a matchup problem in the secondary, and Michael Caputo is a fifth linebacker. Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel are both dangerous coming on the pass rush and can make tackles. And defensive coordinator Dave Aranda also coaches the inside linebackers where redshirt freshman T.J. Edwards currently leads the team in tackles, and former walk-on Jack Cichy has 18 tackles in two starts. Long story short, the Badgers are mostly healthy and are in year three of a really well drawn scheme.
INU: What about this matchup should worry Wisconsin fans most?
AR: The starting offensive line is three freshmen starters and a junior who was unable to separate from the youth when he had his initial opportunity to start. There are gains to be had in the running game, but with two good defensive ends and a potential future star in Anthony Walker, the Badgers' rushing game could struggle to get three yards per carry. And with a quality secondary that can take advantage of a bad day and Joel Stave's previous history with Northwestern, there's a not zero possibility that the offense will bog almost completely down.
INU: What's your prediction and why?
AR: But continuing off of the previous question, with the snow likely done and the wind not as pervasive as originally thought, I don't expect it to happen. The defenses perform up to expectations though. But I expect the Badgers to score a touchdown in the third quarter to pull two scores ahead and win. Wisconsin 21, Northwestern 17.