The sense of urgency among Wisconsin football players heading into last week's game against Michigan has not worn off quite yet, as the Badgers prepare to travel to Evanston, Ill., Saturday to take on Northwestern.
The Wildcats (4-3 Big Ten, 7-4 overall) are hungry to improve their bowl prospects coming off two straight wins, one of those being a 17-10 upset of then-undefeated Iowa two weeks ago in Iowa City. Add that to the fact that Wisconsin has not beaten Northwestern in Evanston since 1999 and it is safe to say players and coaches have been on full-blown upset alert this week.
""It's a difficult environment, but give credit where credit is due. Northwestern plays very well down there,"" head coach Bret Bielema said. ""And it's sometimes a different environment for our guys to walk into, so it's something we addressed on Sunday.""
Shutting down quarterback Mike Kafka and the proficient Northwestern pass offense is number one on the agenda for the Wisconsin defense. The Wildcats are currently ranked third in the conference in passing offense, passing for over 257 yards per game. Thus, it is fair to say Kafka and the Wildcats pose a tough matchup for a Badger secondary that has struggled this season stopping the pass against spread offenses.
""The front seven is doing real well this year, and there's a lot of talk that the secondary might not be up to par,"" sophomore cornerback Devin Smith said. ""So this is an opportunity to show that we're a good defense as a whole and it's not just seven guys, even though they're playing well. We just need to hold our part in the deal.""
The last time the two teams played at Northwestern, in 2005, the Wildcats posted a school-record 674 total yards, 253 of which came from running back Tyrell Sutton, on their way to a 51-48 victory over the Badgers.
Wisconsin fans should not have to worry about a similar outcome Saturday, as the Badger defense looks to push its streak of holding opponents under 100 rushing yards to eight games.
The defensive line should benefit from a porous Wildcat offensive line ranked ninth in the conference in sacks allowed this year. Sophomore defensive end J.J. Watt said the linemen are ""chomping at the bit"" to get to Kafka on Saturday.
""We see this as an opportunity, just like every other week, where we can get in and get after the quarterback and hopefully pick up a couple of sacks,"" Watt said.
Offensively, Wisconsin quarterback and Rolling Meadows, Ill., native Scott Tolzien is essentially playing in his backyard, and Badger fans should hope he feels right at home. Tolzien's home and away performances this season have been night and day: He has thrown for just two touchdowns and three interceptions in three games on the road while totaling 12 touchdowns and five interceptions in seven games at Camp Randall.
Whether Tolzien is on or not, the Wildcat defense is sure to get a heavy dose of running backs John Clay and Montee Ball as the Badgers continue their mission of re-establishing Wisconsin football.