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Where are we Wednesday: A tailspin that doesn’t seem to end

Northwestern looks to steer the ship forward with Wisconsin looming on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Northwestern at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

Northwestern football has gone through a rough stretch of losses than can only be described in a few short words. One of those, however, is disastrous.

After a statement win in Week Zero against Nebraska, things seemed to be looking up for a Wildcats team that just two seasons ago, appeared in the Big Ten Championship game before losing to Ohio State. While Northwestern wound up losing that game, the streak of one good year, one bad year continued. And it’s 2022, an even year. That usually represents hope that NU might be good for at least three to four months.

So far this year, at least, wins have been hard to come by for a team sitting at 1-4 (1-1 B1G). But Northwestern somehow sits atop the Big Ten West in a six-way tie with teams like Illinois, Minnesota and Purdue, to name a few. Losses to Duke, Southern Illinois and Miami (OH) left the fanbase in disarray as conference play begun.

After another gut-wrenching defeat at the hands of Penn State on Saturday in Happy Valley, in which Northwestern forced five turnovers in a 17-7 loss, the Wildcats turn the page to their Homecoming game with the Wisconsin Badgers, who now sit at 2-3 (0-2 B1G). The Badgers, normally a Big Ten West juggernaut, were humbled by the Illini in a 34-10 loss. Paul Chryst, the long-time head coach, was fired Sunday following the game.

Now Northwestern will face Jim Leonhard, the ex-defensive coordinator for the Badgers and Big Ten mainstay, as he was named as the interim head man.

During his weekly press conference, head coach Pat Fitzgerald spoke on the challenge of getting a critical win in conference play in front of a home crowd at Ryan Field.

“It’s always hard to compete against the Badgers,” Fitzgerald said Monday. “[It’s] a game that I think is always hard-fought and always tough and always physical. So I’ll anticipate a similar one here this Saturday.”

The Northwestern-Wisconsin rivalry has produced some memorable games over the years, though the Badgers have won four of the last seven meetings between the two schools. The Wildcats’ last win against Wisconsin came in November 2020, when NU edged the Badgers 17-7 at Ryan Field. This game, like many of the recent matchups between these two teams, could go down to the wire.

Although Wisconsin is reeling, shutting down its rushing attack is no easy task. It is something Northwestern has struggled to do consistently, which is partially why the Badgers are currently double-digit favorites. But a home win could go a long way in turning the season around entirely.