Sports

Gameday IV: Protecting ball will be key in Badgers' paths to victory in Evanston

Wisconsin Badgers running back Nakia Watson (14) carries the ball during an NCAA college football game against the Illinois Fighting Illini Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Madison, Wis. The Badgers won 45-7. (Photo by David Stluka/Wisconsin Athletic Communications)
Wisconsin Badgers running back Nakia Watson (14) carries the ball during an NCAA college football game against the Illinois Fighting Illini Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Madison, Wis. The Badgers won 45-7. (Photo by David Stluka/Wisconsin Athletic Communications) Image By: David Stluka/UW Athletics

As part of Gameday IV, The Daily Cardinal’s Seamus Rohrer broke down the three keys to a Wisconsin Badgers victory this Saturday against Northwestern.

One: Protect the ball

No. 19 Northwestern (4-0) has thrived on playing opportunistic, complementary football to start out their 2020 campaign. The Wildcats’ defense has racked up ten takeaways through four games, including an impressive eight interceptions. Their secondary is clearly well-coached, as they consistently take advantage of poor throws and ill-advised decisions. 

The top playmaker at that position is Brandon Joseph. Still just a freshman, the Wildcats defensive back has three of Northwestern’s eight interceptions. He plays with fantastic awareness and athleticism, as evidenced by his tip-drill interception against Iowa and his other two picks in which he climbed the ladder and high-pointed a deep shot attempt by the opposing quarterback. Against the Hawkeyes in Iowa City, his two interceptions were critical.  

Linebacker Blake Gallagher added another one in that game, helping the Wildcats erase a 17-point deficit. Sitting inside the top 20 teams in the country, Northwestern has gotten to where they are by making teams pay dearly for their mistakes.

Two: Rattle Peyton Ramsey

The former Indiana Hoosier, NU quarterback Peyton Ramsey has had himself a quality start to the season. Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald doesn’t ask Ramsey to win games, he just asks him not to lose them. This isn’t to say that Ramsey can’t make plays with the ball in his hands. An instinctive, jittery scrambler, Ramsey can beat you in a few ways. If given a clean pocket, he can sit back and deliver the rock to his playmakers, most notably senior wideout Ramaud Chiaokhiao-Bowman.  

If the play breaks down, Ramsey is on the move, with the ability to run or throw from outside the pocket. Schematically, Northwestern uses lots of read options to take advantage of Ramsey's quick feet, and they almost always line up with at least one back so the defense can’t commit to either the run or the pass. WIsconsin Defensive Coordinator Jim Leonhard’s defense must make Ramsey uncomfortable on Saturday.

Three: Establish a rhythm

Whether through the air or ground, Wisconsin needs to establish a rhythm and dictate the game script from the get-go. Northwestern has flourished so far this season with their complementary style of ball, punishing teams once they have a slight advantage in any aspect of the game.  Essentially, they can force teams into situations they practice all week not to be in. 

Against Maryland, Northwestern got up early and never looked back. MARY QB Taulia Tagovailoa, a transfer from No. 1 Alabama and brother of now-NFL starter Tua, was forced into an abysmal 14/25, 94-yard, three-interception day against the Wildcat defensive scheme.  

Against Purdue, NU forced opposing quarterback Aidan O’Connell to throw the ball 51 times in the victory because the boilermaker rushing attack generated just two total rushing yards. Wisconsin must spread the ball around and remain multi-dimensional to knock off a Northwestern team that keeps it close and makes plays in crunch time. 

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