No. 19 Northwestern at Wisconsin
Saturday, 3:30 PM, ABC
Line: Wisconsin -10
Both of these teams are coming off of hard fought, close losses against Ohio State in their last games, and now are looking to regroup and not pick up their second conference loss. For Northwestern it would be their second loss out of division, but it still might impact their chances at heading to the conference title game.
The loss to Ohio State was the closest loss so far against the Buckeyes under Pat Fitzgerald, although a win would’ve been preferable. Fitzgerald’s teams have not fared much better against Wisconsin, and a win would definitely go towards proving that the gap between the top of the Big Ten and Northwestern has truly closed.
For the Badgers, as a home favorite, a win puts them back into the hunt for the division title, although they would still need Ohio State to lose twice to ensure their third straight trip to the conference title game.
For Northwestern to win: Stop the run. This was a problem last week, as Carlos Hyde ran up and down the field on the Wildcats last week, grinding out tough yards and moving the ball for the Buckeyes. Northwestern gave up 248 yards rushing to Ohio State as a team. Even though Bret Bielema is gone, Wisconsin still likes to run the ball, averaging over 300 yards per game on the ground. If Northwestern is going to win, it comes down to stopping the Wisconsin run game. No easy task.
For Wisconsin to win: Protect the ball. Wisconsin has only turned the ball over five times in five games. Northwestern has forced the most turnovers in the Big Ten, creating 14 turnovers. Wisconsin needs to continue to protect the ball and as long as they can move the chains on the ground, the Badgers should be in an excellent position to win.
Key Player, Northwestern: Venric Mark, running back. Mark has not been available for much of this season after suffering a leg injury during the season opener against Cal. Last week, Mark gained 103 yards on 21 touches in the loss to the Buckeyes. If the Wildcats can get Mark back on track, it will go a long way towards helping Northwestern compete in this game.
Key Player, Wisconsin: Melvin Gordon, running back. Gordon is nursing a knee injury he suffered against Ohio State, but he should be ready to go against Northwestern. Gordon is leading the Big Ten in rushing at 139.6 yards and rushing for 10.3 yards per carry. He is a key cog in the Wisconsin rushing game, and if he is ready to go, it could be a long day for the Wildcats.
Key Stat: 11-11. Northwestern and Wisconsin have split their last 22 meetings.