Wisconsin kicks off its Big Ten schedule this weekend at Camp Randall versus the Northwestern Wildcats. Northwestern (2-1) plays a fairly balanced offensive scheme. Junior QB Clayton Thorson is off to a solid start, passing for an already high 842 yards through three games, and passing at an impressive completion percentage of 63.9%. Senior RB Justin Jackson has been a high point as well, rushing for 248 yards and 4 TDs thus far.
What’s more, Northwestern has been an unexpected thorn in Wisconsin’s side in recent history, splitting their last four matchups, but prevailing in last year’s showdown in Evanston.
Coming off a deserved rest week, expect the Wisconsin defense to continue their characteristic dominance. Northwestern will likely rely on their star rusher Jackson to shoulder their offensive load. Jackson, who’s 4,437 career yards is 108 shy of claiming the school record, is perhaps Northwestern’s most potent weapon and put up season-best numbers two weeks ago versus Bowling Green, rushing for 121 yards and 3 TDs. However, the Wisconsin defense has shown its ability to stifle run-heavy offenses, thanks to their impressive depth and leadership at linebacker.
The secondary will have to avoid communicative errors, a pattern in the past, but should be able to handle a relatively weak Northwestern receiving corps. While Northwestern throws at a higher average yards per game clip than Wisconsin, their schedule has been weak, and still surmounted a loss. The Wildcats faired well against Bowling Green and Nevada, but were dominated from the gun versus unranked Duke, losing 41-17.
Expect a ground-and-pound game from the start, with both programs relying on their stud RBs, but for Wisconsin to shut down Jackson, as last year’s 13 rushes for 42 yards stat line versus Wisconsin suggests.
If Jackson struggles like last year, Wisconsin will have to rely on their secondary to pick up the slack, something they’ve not yet faced. This matchup, however, should be a favorable matchup for the secondary to shoulder some defensive weight.