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Northwestern vs. Wisconsin preview: Three matchups to watch

Northwestern will need to win these matchups to have any chance on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Northwestern Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern will be a double-digit underdog when it plays Wisconsin at 11 a.m. tomorrow. We looked at three matchups that could make or break Northwestern’s performance.

Alex Hornibrook vs. the Northwestern secondary

Although Hornibrook may not have put up outstanding yards yet this season, the young quarterback set the Wisconsin single-game completion percentage record against BYU in the Badgers’ last game with an exceptional 94.7 percent. No matter the opponent, going 18-19 is consistency that can’t be taken lightly by the Northwestern defense, let alone a secondary that is still working to find its rhythm and healthy players.

The Wildcats’ ability to force fourth down will be crucial, considering NU’s third-down defense ranks 113th in the country and the Badger offense has converted almost 58 percent of their third downs, good enough for second in the nation. Northwestern needs to get its defense off the field and give a chance for its thinnest unit to rest. With linebacker Nathan Fox out against Wisconsin, this task will be even more difficult.

Northwestern’s offensive line vs. Wisconsin’s defensive line

As always, what goes down at the line of scrimmage often decides games, particularly for a Northwestern team which relies heavily on its rushing attack and Justin Jackson. With an offensive line ranked last in the Big Ten and 95th in the nation, they’re going to have to prove predictions wrong and successfully open up holes for Jackson. If not, the Badgers’ 14th ranked passing defense, which has allowed only 157.3 yards per game so far, will likely make things difficult for Clayton Thorson and his receivers.

Jonathan Taylor vs. Northwestern front seven

Taylor has only played three games for Wisconsin and has already made a name for himself. In just his fifth week of college play, the freshman running back has already earned himself a national rushing yards ranking of 15th and is top five in yards per game. If he manages to slice through the Wildcats’ defense like he has to the Badgers’ past three opponents, he could cause major damage. Wisconsin’s run-blocking has also been excellent, so Tyler Lancaster and Co. will have their work cut out for them.