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Northwestern Wildcats vs. Wisconsin Badgers: Preview, predictions and prognostications

When: 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Madison, WI; Camp Randall (80,321)
All-Time Series: Wisconsin leads 57-34-5
Last Meeting: Northwestern win 20-14, in 2014
Line: Wisconsin -9.5

Very quietly both of these teams have had outstanding seasons that would have been good enough to contend for the division and Big Ten title in years past. That was before we all started following the Iowa story that just continues to roll on. As it stands, the best that both teams can hope for is second place in the division barring an Iowa collapse over the next two games.

This one will more than likely be about defense. Wisconsin is leading the country in scoring defense, and Northwestern isn’t that far behind inside the top fifteen themselves. Both teams will try to be balanced, but both teams would rather keep it on the ground, play great defense, and take advantage of scoring opportunities as they come. It should be a good one in Mad-Town.

1 Burning Question: Who’s No. 2?

It’s well chronicled that Iowa can clinch with a win over lowly Purdue Saturday, and even if that doesn’t happen, a victory in Lincoln would also suffice. So, that more or less makes this contest the equivalent of a consolation game in a world soccer tournament. A Wisconsin win would clinch at least second place hands down, while a Northwestern victory would give them the tie-breaker over the Badgers if it should go on and take care of business next week against Illinois.

2 Key Stats:

— 146.6. That’s the amount of yards passing Northwestern averages, and it ranks 119 out of 128 teams. To beat a good Wisconsin team, that needs to be much higher to go against a defense that eats one-dimensional teams for lunch.

— 12.3. It’s the best among FBS schools in points allowed per game. Northwestern’s not bad either, but that total is even better at home (5.0). The Wildcats have to find someway to crack the code and move the ball into the red zone and finish drives with TDs.

3 Key Players:

Joel Stave, Wisconsin QB: It appears as though starting running back Corey Clement will be shelved again, so it’s back to what got the Badgers through the season this far, and that’s much more of a reliance on Stave’s right arm to make plays. Wisconsin will never abandon the running game as long as cheese and brats are a staple of the state, but there will need to be a much more concerted effort to move the chains via air miles.

Clayton Thorson, Northwestern QB: Stave’s counterpart wearing purple is also going to be huge in this game. He hasn’t exactly lit the yard markers on fire with his prowess through the air, but it’s going to be needed against a team that’s rationing points like Wisconsin’s defense is. He doesn’t have to go for 300 yards or anything, but he does have to take advantage of what’s there and make some key third-down throws.

Justin Jackson, Northwestern RB: The best chance the Wildcats have moving the ball is the way that Fred Flintstone drives his cars — running. He’s been the most productive spot on offense, and when purple power is thriving it’s good defense, and a solid running attack. He’s got to be able to get those tough yards to make second and third downs more manageable.

4 Bold Prognostications:

— This game will be higher scoring than you think. Each team has had time to scout the other’s defense by this point, and both have saved some plays and are ready to break the seal when it really matters. You’ll see more first downs, more big plays, and more points than what the papers say heading into it.

— Joel Stave wil go for over 250 yards. Without Corey Clement, the coaching staff is going to give the Wisconsin QB more leash, and with it, he won’t exactly pee on the neighbors bushes. He’s not going to light city of Madison ablaze, but he’ll have a very productive day.

— Justin Jackson will have two TDs running. As noted above, the Wildcats will make more noise moving the ball than you would think. He won’t have a big, big day, but he’ll get close to 100 yards and will finish off two drives inside the red-zone.

— The game will end before any of the others in the 3:30 block. It’s two teams that like to control the clock by running the ball, playing solid defense and take advantage of field position. Because of it, the clock will be running more than most other games. Dinner time will happen sooner in Madison.

5 Staff Predictions:

Andy: Wisconsin 35-10 (78-20 overall; 46-51 ATS)
Dave: Wisconsin 24-10 (81-17 overall; 51-45 ATS)
Greg: Wisconsin 24-20 (74-26 overall; 54-42 ATS)
Matt: Wisconsin 34-24 (79-19 overall; 56-40 ATS)
Phil: Wisconsin 27-20 (33-12 overall; 15-27 ATS) *joined in Week 5


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