Bielema will be able to better answer that question after No.7 Wisconsin matches up with first-year head coach Dave Doeren and Northern Illinois at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Chicago's Soldier Field.
Last Saturday, Wisconsin (2-0) had no problem with Oregon State head coach Mike Riley knowing the Badgers' offense because of his long-time relationship with offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and the Beavers run a similar scheme. Although the systems were similar, the talent level wasn't, which was one of reasons the Badgers shutout an injury-riddled Beavers team, 35-0.
Northern Illinois (1-1) isn't on the same level as Wisconsin, either, but the equalizer could be Doeren, who was an UW assistant under Bielema from 2006 to '10, serving as defensive coordinator the last three seasons before getting the job in DeKalb last December after the Badgers won a share of the conference championship.
"He's going to have them so ready for that game," said senior defensive tackle and captain Patrick Butrym of Doeren. "He is probably the most competitive person I know. The guy loves to win and he works so hard. I have so much respect for him and I am so happy he's at Northern Illinois. He's going to have them ready, but you really want to go in there and dominate."
In Chicago at Big Ten media days, Butrym predicted that the Huskies would be a top 25 team when the two teams met this weekend. He would have been right had Northern Illinois' defense not squandered three separate leads last week at Kansas, including giving up a 6-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 9 seconds left in a 45-42 loss.
"We lost in the last nine seconds, and those games hurt," Doeren said. "It's a game we expected to win and had a chance to win at the end, but Kansas made one more play than us in the end. Our kids learned a lot from the process and we talked a lot as a team how every inch is important and how the game came down to that."
While beaten by the late pass, the big culprit has been the run defense. After giving up 303 rushing yards to Army, the Jayhawks ran for 253 yards while throwing for 281 yards in the air. Because of it, the Huskies rank No. 110 nationally in total defense, allowing 471.5 yards per game, and No. 117 (out of 120 teams) in rushing defense, allowing 278 yards per game.
"Anytime you get to play a team ranked seventh in the nation, it's an unbelievable opportunity for our players," Doeren said. "Being on the field with a team that is that well coaches and so many good players, I know our guys are excited for the challenge that Wisconsin presents.
"It's a program that stands for excellence. They do things the right way."
While Doeren is still cultivating the defense, he hasn't had to worry too much about the offense thanks to senior quarterback Chandler Harnish.
The reigning Player of the Year in the Mid-American Conference, Harnish already owns the school record for total offense in a career with 8,011 yards, has accounted for 64 touchdowns in 37 games is averaging 339.5 yards of total offense, which ranks him 10th nationally. "He's a role model in every way," Doeren said of Harnish, who has completed 75 percent of his passes this season. "He's a tremendous leader that takes a great amount of pride for representing not only our football team, but our university in every circle around here … (He) has made this job way different than it would have been without him."
Northern Illinois is averaging 45.5 points a game, is a perfect 10-for-10 in the red zone and is second in nation in third-down conversions (15-21, 71.43 percent). Wisconsin, meanwhile, is averaging 43 points and giving up just 8.5 per game.
"Their offense hasn't been stopped and our offense hasn't, either," Doeren said. "On paper, that's kind of what it looks like."
After Saturday's shutout, senior captain Aaron Henry echoed those same sentiments. Wisconsin not only has proved it's an offensive force, but the Badgers' defense is coming in with a lot of confidence and perhaps a couple tricks up its sleeve when it faces its old boss.
"When they go in the film room and watch, they are going to see this defense flying around," said Henry, who was recruited by Doeren and views him like a father. "I am sure Coach Doeren has got something up his sleeve having been in this system and seeing how (our) game works. I am sure (we) got something up our sleeve.
"It's going to mean a lot. We're going to go at them, and I am sure he's going to come at us. It's a love-love relationship … but while the game is going on, it's hate between those lines."
No.7 Wisconsin (2-0, 0-0 Big Ten) vs. Northern Illinois (1-1, 0-0 Mid-Atlantic Conference)
Date/Time - Saturday, September 17 at 2:34 p.m. CT
Stadium –Soldier Field (61,500/natural grass)
Television - ESPN3 (Jim Barbar and Christian Fauria)
Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas), Sirius Ch.120
Series – Wisconsin leads 11-1-0
Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 28-20, on Sept. 5, 2008 in Madison
Four of the last five meetings between the teams have been decided by eight points or less. NIU's only victory came in 1988 (19-17).
Wisconsin is 29-3 all-time against teams currently in the Mid-American Conference. Since its loss to Northern Illinois in 1988, Wisconsin has won 17 games in a row against MAC schools.
This will mark just the second time in series history that Wisconsin will enter the game ranked in the national polls.
UW running backs coach Thomas Hammock ranks 10th on Northern Illinois' career rushing list. He played three seasons for the Huskies before his career was cut short due to a heart condition. He returned to NIU in 2005 and 2006 as its running backs coach.
The 20-point mark has become significant for UW under Bielema. The Badgers are 33-2 in his tenure, including 11-straight wins, when limiting its opponent to 20 points or less. They are 18-14 when opponents score more than 20 points.
Wisconsin is one of seven teams in the country averaging at least 220.0 yards rushing and receiving through its first two games (Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, Wyoming, UCLA, Florida and Bowling Green are the others).
UW has won its last nine regular-season games, its longest streak since winning 13-straight during Bielema's first two seasons.
The Badgers have won 10-straight regular-season non-conference games away from home, dating back to the 2002 season. The last time UW lost a non-conference game away from Camp Randall was a 31-28 loss at No. 7 Oregon on Sept. 1, 2001.
Ball has scored at least one touchdown in each of his last eight games, having rushed for 20 TDs since Oct. 23, 2010. No other FBS player has more than 14 rushing scores over that span. In the last eight games Ball has 976 rush yards, 20 TDs and is averaging 6.7 ypc.
Northern Illinois Notes:
Soldier Field Showdown II will mark the second home game for Northern Illinois at the landmark Chicago venue as the Huskies opened the 2007 season versus Iowa at Soldier Field (a 17-3 loss). With NIU's campus just 65 miles from downtown Chicago, more than 180,000 Northern Illinois alums reside in the Chicagoland area.
Dave Doeren is not the only Huskie coach heading home this weekend as NIU assistant coach Kevin Kane spent the last three years at UW as a graduate assistant and quality control coach, while NIU running backs coach and special teams coordinator Eddie Faulkner is a former Badger running back (1996-2000). Faulkner helped the Badgers to two Big Ten Championships and went to five consecutive bowl games with UW during his playing career.
Northern Illinois topped the 40-point mark for the third-straight game dating back to the 2010 Humanitarian Bowl as the Huskies put up 42 points at Kansas and 49 against Army in the season opener. In fact, the Huskies have broken the 40-point barrier in six of their last seven games overall.
Wisconsin is also the highest ranked team the Huskies have played since opening the 2006 season versus No. 1 Ohio State on Sept. 2, 2006 at Ohio Stadium. NIU's last victory over a ranked opponent came on Sept. 20, 2003 when the Huskies defeated No. 19 Alabama, 19-16. All-time, Northern Illinois is 4-26 versus teams ranked in the Associated Press poll and has lost in its last six upset bids.
The storylines are endless this week and seemingly unprecedented for a Wisconsin non-conference game. How much does Doeren know about Wisconsin? How much of an impact will Doeren have knowing the program, the philosophy and the strengths and weaknesses of the players? Doeren didn't hide the fact that he can look at Wisconsin film and clear things up to his players, but he didn't put too much stock into the advantage.
"They are going to do what they do," Doeren said. "I think you can ask any coach in the country when you play, they aren't about tricking you. They are about playing better technique and being stronger and tougher than you are. That's what made them a good program for a long time."
Wisconsin's defensive scheme is different today than it was under Doeren with more blitz packages and subtle alignment changes for the defensive line. Even so, Bielema admitted the topic of changing things came up during the spring with co-defensive coordinators Chris Ash and Charlie Partridge.
"I said: ‘Here's a perfect time to kind of change all the signals, communications, the things that Dave would know,'" Bielema said. "Because I knew this was going to be an opponent coming up on our schedule."
While the defensive coaches are making preparations, offensive coordinator Paul Chryst isn't putting stock into the coaching battle or the issues with the field. Insisting on the team is playing Northern Illinois and its offensive players, Chryst hasn't put a lot of thoughts into anything else.
"They have a lot of good players and they will obviously be well coached," Chryst said. "We have to make sure we take care of our business. That's what offensive football is. It's about how our guys and how we execute."
Wisconsin has to prepare for a familiar coach, a field with natural grass that is considered the worst in the NFL (the field is apparently in good shape) and against an offense that has put up a ton of points and a defense that is getting junior cornerback Rashaan Melvin back from injury. The Badgers are favored by 16.5 points and they'll need to be wary of Harnish, who is going to be the most talented quarterback UW will face this season next to Spartans' Kirk Cousins.
When it boils down to it, Wisconsin has the better team and the better team usually wins. Kansas was picked by Sports Illustrated to go 1-11 this season and yet put up over 500 yards on NIU. Imagine what Wisconsin's offense, particularly its running game, can do against this squad. Plus, I think this is the game where Wisconsin unleashes a couple surprises it hasn't unleashed yet this season.
"We'll probably have a few surprises for the Huskies," Bielema said. "It'll be fun to see (Doeren's) reaction."
As of this moment, I don't think Wisconsin will cover the spread, but I do know Wisconsin's new edition – Russell Wilson – should give Doeren's group enough fits to give UW a win.
Wisconsin 34, Northern Illinois 24
Straight up: 2-0
Against the Spread: 2-0
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