MADISON — This weekend, the Wisconsin Badgers travel the 151.9 miles to Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill. to take on the Northwestern Wildcats in another close ranked matchup between two Big Ten rivals.
The Wisconsin defense, who has shown its versatility and ‘next man up’ mentality over and over this season, will be up against a Northwestern offense that has shown drastic improvement since the beginning of the season.
“Offensively they’ve got a really good scheme. I think the quarterback is continuing to get better,” Coach Chryst said of Pat Fitzgerald’s offense.
Northwestern’s quarterback, redshirt sophomore, Clayton Thorson has improved in the last four games, three of them being wins against Big Ten teams in Iowa, Michigan State and Indiana. In the first four games of the season, which Northwestern went only 1-3, Thorson threw only five touchdown passes to four interceptions. In the most recent four games, he has thrown ten touchdown passes to two interceptions.
“The quarterback is great. He’s got a big arm. He’s deceptively fast. He’ll get out there and run. Big dude as well,” linebacker Ryan Connelly said of Thorson.
The 220-pound, 6 foot 4-inch quarterback from Wheaton, Ill. has been considered a dual-threat quarterback since his arrival at Northwestern in 2014. In his first season playing in 2015, he became the first Wildcat quarterback to get 10 wins in his debut season.
“He’s mobile. He’s an accurate passer,” linebacker Garret Dooley also added.
In the first eight games of the season, Thorson has made 165 of 289 throws for 1,942 yards and 15 touchdowns to six interceptions. He has a quarterback rating of 126.5.
Badgers linebackers also recognized the strength of Northwestern’s offensive line.
“They move their offensive line around a lot, so you just have to be keyed into the game,” Connelly said. “We have to adjust to the way their O-line gets out and moves, so we’ll try to work on that.”
The Northwestern run game is another element of the offense that the Badgers will have to be keyed in on during Saturday’s game. Junior running back from Carol Stream, Ill. Justin Jackson leads the running back group with 188 carries for 868 yards and six touchdowns.
“Their running back is really good too. He can make people miss in the open field,” Dooley said. “They like to spread things out and let them do the work, so as long as we can be physical and just make the plays, I think we will be just fine.”
A final key player on the Northwestern offense is senior wide receiver Austin Carr. The 195-pound player from Benicia, Calif. is the Big Ten leader in yards and touchdowns. This season he currently has 58 receptions for 878 yards and nine touchdowns.
After a slow start early in the season, going 1-3 in the first four games, the Northwestern Wildcats have seen drastic improvement in the second half of the season. They are tied for second in the Big Ten West alongside Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. Though they were the unanimous underdogs in last weekend’s matchup against Ohio State, Thorson and his team were able to bring Northwestern close to a win in the fourth quarter. Northwestern lost 24-20 at Ohio State.
Against Wisconsin, however, Northwestern holds a longstanding winning streak against the Badgers. In the past 17 years, Wisconsin has not won at Ryan Field, and Northwestern holds a 6-4 winning record against Wisconsin. The Badgers look to change that this weekend at Ryan Field.