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Why Northwestern will/won’t beat Wisconsin

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Hey, bigger upsets have happened.

NCAA Football: Wisconsin at Northwestern David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

This weekend Northwestern travels to Madison to take on the eighth-ranked Wisconsin Badgers. When the ‘Cats last faced Wisconsin, they beat quarterback Jack Coan and Jonathan Taylor in Coan’s first start. Here are three reasons why Northwestern can pull off the upset, and three reasons why it won’t.

Will:

Hunter Johnson assumes the role of messiah

There is a clear disparity between the expectations for Hunter Johnson and how he’s actually played. In this contest, Johnson proves to the nation and Northwestern fans that he is as good as we thought and throws for five touchdowns without Bennett Skowronek. Believe the hype folks.

Coan and Taylor lose the turnover battle

Something that played a key role in Northwestern’s win over Wisconsin last season was the Wildcats’ domination of the turnover battle. Fisher and the DBs found a way to force Taylor to cough up the football in the past and for the Wildcats to win, they’ll need to find a way to do it again.

They won’t expect a 6 straight draw plays!

Mick McCall’s long-term strategy finally works as the Wildcats game plan of repeatedly attacking the team at their strengths (see: running repeatedly at one of the best rush defenses last week) rather than their perceived weaknesses. They’ll have a chance to do exactly that again this week.

*Side Note: Northwestern actually already won this matchup this season because they don’t have to wear khaki pants.

Won’t:

Northwestern’s offensive woes continue

In all seriousness, the offense has struggled significantly so far this season. While there have been moments where parts of the team have shined, the team’s offense has struggled to overcome the poor play calling. Ranked near last in offensive efficiency, it is unreasonable to think that if the defense is on the field for nearly 40 minutes, the offense will keep pace.

Jonathan Taylor is at a different level

The Wisconsin running back is incredibly talented and seems to have greatly improved his biggest weakness — a penchant for losing the football. My primary concern for the game, and the Badgers’ biggest strength, is Taylor. If Northwestern wants to have a chance, the run defense will need to put up a miraculous performance.

Jack Coan picks apart a depleted Northwestern secondary

This game gives me strong deja-vu from the 2017 Penn State game. Faced with the challenge of stopping Saquon Barkley, Northwestern limited him to only 75 yards, yet quarterback Trace McSorley gashed the Wildcats for 275 passing yards. This game could present a similar issue in that the Wildcats may be able to limit Taylor’s efficacy but in turn, leave themselves vulnerable to a dismantling through the air.