Northwestern is sitting at 4-4 after narrowly missing out on a potentially season-defining upset of No. 6 Ohio State last Saturday. However, the Wildcats don’t have to wait long for another opportunity to knock off a top-10 team. Wisconsin is up to No. 8 in the country after taking down Nebraska in overtime and visits Ryan Field this Saturday to start off a crucial month of November for Northwestern.
With games against Purdue, Minnesota and Illinois to close out the season, the Wildcats appear to be in pretty good shape for bowl contention. But Pat Fitzgerald’s team is also very much alive in the Big Ten West race. They’ll need to find a way to get a third straight win against the Badgers (who haven’t won in Evanston since 1999) to keep it that way.
Here are three things to know about this week’s opponent.
1. The two quarterbacks have been shaky
Neither of coach Paul Chryst’s two signal-callers have played well enough to run away with the starting gig. Senior Bart Houston was the starter coming into the season but threw two picks in the opening week victory over LSU and freshman Alex Hornibrook started to get some playing time in week two. Hornibrook, who is left-handed, outplayed Houston in week three and started each of Wisconsin’s first three Big Ten games. Unsurprisingly, he struggled mightily against some top-tier defenses and Houston has recently gotten back into the mix. Northwestern should see both of them on Saturday, although Hornibrook figures to get more snaps. The dynamic of having to prepare for both a lefty and a righty is an interesting one, but either way, Northwestern’s secondary could have a solid day on Saturday. The Badgers’ QB duo has combined for just 9 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions this season.
2. Corey Clement is the latest great Wisconsin running back
Brian Calhoun. PJ Hill. John Clay. James White. Montee Ball. Melvin Gordon. And now, Corey Clement. Since 2005, Wisconsin has had a 1,000-yard running back in all but two seasons, including multiple in 2010 and 2013. It’s simply been a remarkable run of positional recruiting success for the program. After backing up Gordon for two seasons and getting hurt in 2015, Clement is finally the lead back for the Badgers as a senior. He is quick, agile and a deceptively powerful runner, and Anthony Walker Jr. and company will have their hands full trying to stop him on Saturday. Clement has run for 699 yards on 4.3 yards per carry this season despite facing a plethora of tough run defenses. And he’s been heating up recently. In the last three weeks, Clement has had games of 164 yards against Ohio State and 134 against Iowa.
3. The Badgers’ defense is legit
The strength of this Wisconsin team is unquestionably its defense. Pat Fitzgerald raved about the unit in his Monday press conference and with good reason. Justin Wilcox’s group is loaded with talent and may be the toughest test yet for Clayton Thorson and the rest of the Northwestern offense. Wisconsin is ninth in the nation in total defense, allowing just 301 yards per game. That number is mostly due to the Badgers’ conference-best run defense, which will present a major challenge for a Northwestern offensive line that has been up and down this season. Wisconsin’s depth will be called into question as starting linebacker and leading tackler Jack Cichy is out for the season with an injury suffered against Iowa. Some names to watch: LB TJ Watt (yep, JJ’s little brother) has seven sacks this season and safety D’Cota Dixon is a playmaker in the secondary.