3 Points: Northwestern-Wisconsin

Brian De Los Santos looks into some key matchups for Saturday's Northwestern-Wisconsin game.

Not many in Evanston are happy with the result of last Saturday's contest.

And neither are the Wildcats.

"I'm bitterly disappointed and not very pleased about it," Pat Fitzgerald said during this week's Big Ten coaches teleconference. "I say ‘I' when I mean us collectively as a program. There are a bunch of not very happy people walking around here right now."

But a week after Carlos Hyde torched the Wildcats for 168 yards and three touchdowns, Northwestern will have to readjust its focus quickly, as the team travels north to take on another skilled rushing offense—this one at Wisconsin.

"They do a lot of motion shifts, try to outnumber you at the point of attack," Fitzgerald said. "From a talent standpoint, the O-line, the tight ends and the running backs — it's very similar."

Regardless of the similarities with the Buckeyes, the Wildcats are hoping this week's result flips. And heading into NU's second conference game of the season, there are three points of the Badgers-Wildcats matchup to watch.

Run, Bucky. Run.

Wisconsin's running game vs. Northwestern's rushing defense

The Badgers average 300 rushing yards per game, good for sixth best in the country. Amazingly, none of their top-three rushers average fewer than 6.9 yards per carry.

Yeah, you could call that a potent running game.

As a team, the Badgers average 7.4 yards per rush. Their leader, Gordon, averages just over 10 yards per attempt. He also averages nearly 140 yards per game and has seven scores on the year.

And if the Wildcats show the same vulnerability Hyde exposed last Saturday, it could be another long day for the Wildcats' rushing defense.

"I think last week was a deal where we didn't fit very well," Fitzgerald said. "We didn't get off blocks, we didn't tackle and we didn't get enough population to the ball. If we do that again this week, we'll give up the same number of yards.

"We need to perform better if we want to beat a very physical, very dominant — in my opinion — Wisconsin offense."

Marking a comeback

Venric Mark's effectiveness

Mark didn't exactly make his comeback easy.

After missing most of the season to a lower body injury, Mark came back in what was probably the biggest game in program history.

He ran for 60 yards on 17 carries and caught four passes for 43 yards.

Numbers aside, maybe the most important part of Mark's return is the addition of the Wildcats' best playmaker.

"It's great to have all your weapons, that's what you want to give yourself the best opportunity to win," Fitzgerald said. "We fully expect him to get stronger and stronger as the year goes along."

And with the emergence of junior running back Treyvon Green, the Wildcats' rushing attack looks poised to be just as good as it's ever been.

They'll need it this weekend, as the Badgers sport the 12th-best rushing defense in the country, allowing 99.4 yards per game.

Give me that

Northwestern's ability to nab turnovers

One of the main reasons the Wildcats were able to keep it so close against the Buckeyes was their ability to force turnovers.

It's been pretty much that way all season, from the two pick-6's against California to the three forced turnovers against Ohio State.

"[Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz] really emphasizes it, and so does our entire defensive staff. Our guys are the ones that own it, by taking the football away," Fitzgerald said. "We work at it on every play every day, and I'm really proud of the job at this point that our guys are doing."

The Badgers enter Saturday having given up just five turnovers on the season. The Wildcats have forced 14 turnovers and sport a +5 turnover margin.

Searching for their first conference win, the Wildcats will need to continue the trend against the Badgers.


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