Three keys: Air game will be crucial for both squads

Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian is now an NFL quarterback, but new Wildcat QB Clayton Thorson has played well. 

Image By: Wil Gibb

Wisconsin's keys 

Chryst needs to settle on a QB

Nine weeks of the college football season have come and gone, and Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst has yet to make up his mind about who the Badgers’ quarterback is going to be. Last Saturday’s game against then No. 7 Nebraska is evidence of this. Chryst started freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook once again, but put fifth-year senior Bart Houston into the game when the offense began to lose its way. This includes starting Houston in overtime.

Neither quarterback was overly impressive last weekend, as both threw interceptions against the Cornhuskers, but the two quarterbacks did do enough to push the Badgers over the threshold to ultimately collect a win in overtime.

However, if the Badgers are to find a rhythm in the final weeks of the season, Chryst needs to pick either Hornibrook or Houston, and stick with them. The revolving door at the quarterback position is not ideal for an offense that hasn’t really clicked since the second week of the season. With the Badgers now in the driver’s seat in the Big 10 West, they will need to work on their offensive efficiency, especially if they are thinking ahead to the Big 10 Championship Game.

Wisconsin corners need to step up

Wisconsin’s defense has undoubtedly been UW’s strong suit this year, as it is consistently picking up the woeful offensive players’ slack. T.J. Edwards, Vince Biegel and the other members of the Badgers defensive front-seven have been great this season, but members of the secondary have struggled at times.

Wisconsin’s corners sophomore Derrick Tindal and senior Sojourn Shelton have shown signs of inconsistency, sometimes getting beat deep by opposing receivers. Even though Tindal and Shelton played great against Nebraska, Tindal did get beat for game winning touchdowns against Michigan and Ohio State. Wisconsin’s front-seven is good enough to keep anyone from running effectively (take LSU’s Leonard Fournette for example), but it all amounts to nothing if the secondary can’t step up on third and long.

If the Badgers want to win out, they need to make sure they are strong against both the run and the pass.

Wide receivers need to help their quarterbacks out

Wisconsin has been, and continues to be, a run-first offense. However, against Michigan and Ohio State, the Badgers struggled because their offense was too predictable. Wisconsin’s inability to be effective through the air allowed both the Wolverines and Buckeyes to overload the box, and get through to Hornibrook and Houston on a regular basis.

However, the blame for Wisconsin’s one-dimensional offense cannot completely fall onto the shoulders of their quarterbacks. Wisconsin’s wide receivers have dropped far too many passes this season. Hornibrook and Houston have been under a lot of pressure, and when their wideouts continue to drop catchable passes, it prevents the UW quarterbacks from getting into a rhythm though the air. If the ball hits the Badger receivers’ hands, they need to pull it in.

The Badgers have favorable matchups in the next few weeks, and they need to place a focus on being better through the air, especially if they want to have a chance against the top teams in the Big 10 East.

Northwestern's keys

Throw the ball

In each of Northwestern's last two wins, and even in their close loss against No. 6 Ohio State last week, the Wildcats recorded significantly more passing yards than rushing yards. Chicago’s Big 10 team had won three in a row before last week’s loss behind sophomore quarterback Clayton Thorson’s big performances. They should continue to put the ball in the hands of the Illinois native, especially against Wisconsin, who sometimes struggles defending the pass.

Thorson has recorded a ten-to-two touchdown-to-interception ratio in his last four games, and his best wide receiver Austin Carr looked especially dangerous in the loss against Ohio State. Thorson should continue to go to Carr, especially against the undersized corners of Wisconsin.

Defend the pass

Over the last four weeks the Wildcats have given up substantially more yards through the air than on the ground. And with a Wisconsin team that is traditionally run-first, they need to be weary of an attempt at the aerial attack from the Badgers. The Badgers have struggled in recent weeks in their attempts to move the ball through the air. Consequently, head coach Paul Chryst may be focused on getting Alex Hornibrook or Bart Houston a lot of reps throwing the ball. Northwestern needs to focus on stopping the pass, especially if they want to have a big upset win this season.

In order for Northwestern to stop the Badgers passing offense, they will not only need to have their corners step-up in coverage, but also get pressure on whatever quarterback the Badgers put on the field. Wisconsin’s offensive line is not what it used to be, and a lack of protection has resulted in a number of rushed Hornibrook throws this season. If they can force Hornibrook or Houston out of the pocket, they have a great shot at keeping UW’s offense from finding a rhythm.

Give the fans something to cheer about

Northwestern has been far from impressive at home this season, posting a record of 2-3 at Ryan Field, including a loss to FCS school Illinois State. The Wildcats are still playing for a chance at a bowl game, but, as they will certainly not be going to Indianapolis this year, Northwestern is also looking forward to improving for the next few seasons. If the Wildcats hope to be competitive in the Big 10 West, they need to be better at home.

Losing the first two games of the season at home, especially to non-conference opponents, can really damper a fan base’s support. Though Northwestern has been better at home over the last four weeks, the early season struggles can, partly, be contributed to poor morale. On the Wildcats need to give the purple and white faithful something to cheer about, especially if they are hoping to upset the Badgers. The fans play a huge role in creating an uncomfortable environment for the visiting team, and the Wildcats need to give the fan base a reason to do so.

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