Wisconsin is coming off a dominant win against Michigan, where they showed the college football world they could contend for the College Football Playoff. Northwestern has been disappointing to say the least after winning the Big Ten West last year. here are the keys for each to win Saturday afternoon.
Don’t turn the ball over
In their opening three games this season, Wisconsin has dominated the turnover battle. Quarterback Jack Coan has completed 58 of his 75 passes so far without an interception, and running back Jonathan Taylor has made it through 58 rushing attempts without a fumble. Last year, Alex Hornibrook’s habit of throwing ill-timed interceptions and Taylor’s propensity to put the ball on the ground made the Badgers always susceptible to an upset, which they must avoid this week with the struggling Wildcats. In last year’s match-up, UW lost three fumbles, and Northwestern scored 17 points off those turnovers en route to a 31-17 win. Wisconsin is currently 24-point favorites, and turning the ball over is likely the only way they should struggle in this match-up.
Don’t get distracted by the jerseys
Both Wisconsin and Northwestern will be wearing throwback uniforms on Saturday, paying homage to the jerseys they donned in the 1940s and 1950s in celebration of 150 years of college football. The Badgers will be wearing a red jersey with UW printed across the middle accompanied by brown pants to complete the retro look. The Wildcats will similarly wear white jerseys with NU across the chest, albeit with their normal purple pants. While the on-field look will grab fans’ attention, the Badgers should take care of business so long as they avoid any distractions. Wisconsin will enter Camp Randall outscoring their opponents 145-14 through three games, while a win over UNLV separates two lackluster losses for Northwestern.
Avoid any injuries
Because of Wisconsin’s early Week 3 bye, the Badgers now have to go five straight weeks without a break until they have another bye in Week 10. In that span, UW faces the heart of their schedule, including perhaps the two biggest games remaining — Michigan State and Ohio State. The Badgers have already lost starting safety Scott Nelson for the season, and have seen nose tackle Bryson Williams and tight end Luke Benzschawel miss time with injuries. As heavy favorites, the Badgers should enter the game with the goal of building a big lead early so that they can get star running back Jonathan Taylor and other important starters off the field without any major injuries.
Force Jack Coan to beat you
While Coan has enjoyed a superb start to the season, Wisconsin’s explosive offense so far has largely come on the backs of Jonathan Taylor and the running game. Coan’s 87.2 quarterback rating is good for eighth-best in the country, but he has not had to carry the offense yet this season. Against Michigan, Taylor went off for 203 yards and two touchdowns, leaving little for Coan to do through the air – he finished with 128 yards and no touchdowns, but did pick up two scores on the ground. In last year’s match-up, Northwestern was able to slow down Taylor, and Coan was unable to generate much offense elsewhere, albeit it was his first career start. If they can somehow slow down Taylor, and force Coan to beat them through the air, the Wildcats stand a chance at pulling off a major upset. That, or Coan will prove he truly can be a high-volume passer.
Attack Wisconsin’s secondary
Bennett Skowronek is the only Northwestern receiver that has recorded over 100 receiving yards this season, with their next three leading pass-catchers combining for 148 total receiving yards. On top of that, quarterback Hunter Johnson has only thrown for one touchdown all season, making for an extremely lethargic passing game through three games. However, Wisconsin will be without both starting safeties for the first half of the game, as both Eric Burrell and Reggie Pearson were ejected from Wisconsin’s win over Michigan for targeting penalties. Madison Cone and Collin Wilder would be in line to start in their place for the first half, but Cone is questionable to play, adding more question marks as to who will line up at the back of UW’s defense. Wisconsin’s defense has been near-perfect to start the season, but they will likely be forced to go with inexperience at safety to start the game. Conversely, Northwestern’s passing attack has been brutal, but if there is one place to attack this Badges defense on Saturday, it’s the secondary.
Wisconsin never surprises anyone with their offensive game plan – it’s often run-heavy, leaning on Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor and their perennially-dominant offensive line. However, that style of play often results in long, grinding drives, and it is often difficult for the Badgers to score quickly if they find themselves trailing in games. If Northwestern can figure out a way to jump to a quick lead, they will force the Badgers to do something they hate – airing it out. If they let Wisconsin establish the run game and develop an early lead, they’ll likely find themselves trailing big by the second half.