After eking out a win in Piscataway last Saturday, Northwestern (4-3, 4-1) enters their Week 9 clash against Wisconsin (5-2, 3-1) still atop the Big Ten West. This week, the Wildcats have a difficult test hosting a talented Badger football team. Here are three things to know about Wisconsin:
Wisconsin’s running game is the backbone of the Badger’s offense
Wisconsin’s sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor is the main weapon for the Badgers offense. With the inconsistencies of Alex Hornibrook at quarterback, the Badgers have had no issue handing the ball off to their extremely talented back. So far in their 2018 games, Taylor has amassed 1109 yards and 6.5 yards per carry. Beyond Taylor, however, the depth the Badgers have is excellent. Taiwan Deal also has 52 carries for 353 yards and five touchdowns, and other backs have also seen significant snaps. This could prove problematic for Northwestern because they have struggled to defend against the run in the past few weeks. What will be important for the Wildcats is if they can improve on having the first man finish the tackle, which could prevent significant yardage gains.
The Badgers have a young defense
Going into this season, Wisconsin lost seven defensive starters and makes use of a lot of underclassmen. While this team did lose a lot of starters, their defense is still solid but has a very young secondary including two true freshmen. Safety Reggie Pearson and Corner Rachad Wildgoose have both fallen susceptible to mistakes stemming from their inexperience but they have been looked good so far this year. Wisconsin does return solid depth in its front seven, including Andrew Van Ginkel, Olive Sagapolu, Ryan Connelly and All-American T.J. Edwards.
Wisconsin has fallen victim to the injury bug
Similarly to Northwestern, the Badgers have also struggled with injury in their secondary and the Badgers have had to make due with what they could. This past weekend, the Badgers were missing three of their top four safeties. D’Cota Dixon, Reggie Pearson, and Scott Nelson all missed the Badger’s last game with leg injuries. Cornerback Faion Hicks has also struggled to stay healthy for the Badgers. Most of the injuries for the Badgers are in their secondary, and while Clayton Thorson has been very inconsistent this season, facing a depleted Wisconsin secondary full of inexperienced players could be very beneficial to Northwestern in this game. The Badgers injuries will be a key storyline to follow in the week leading up to the game.