Breakdown/Prediction: Northwestern

BadgerNation breaks down No.17 Wisconsin's matchup with Northwestern at Ryan Field Saturday afternoon and offer our prediction.

No.17 Wisconsin (3-1, 0-0 Big Ten) vs. Northwestern (2-2, 1-0 Big Ten)

Date/Time - Saturday, October 4 at 2:30 p.m. CT

Stadium –Ryan Field (47,330/Grass)

Television –ESPN2 (Eamon McAnananey, David Diaz-Infante, Dawn Davenpo)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series –Wisconsin leads 57-33-5 (UW leads 28-17-1 in Evanston)

Last Meeting –Wisconsin won, 35-6, on Oct. 12 2013 in Madison

Series Notes

Since Northwestern snapped the Badgers’ 13-game win streak in the series with a 17-14 triumph in 1985, the rivalry has been much closer. UW owns a slim 12-11 advantage over the course of the teams’ last 23 meetings.

The Badgers and Wildcats will meet in Evanston for just the fourth time since 2000, with NU having won three straight over Wisconsin at Ryan Field. UW’s last victory in Evanston was a 35-19 win on Oct. 30, 1999. The Badgers last played in Evanston in 2009, a 33-31 loss.

The teams have split their last eight meetings, 4-4

A win over the Badgers Saturday also would be NU's first home victory against a ranked opponent since defeating No. 13 Iowa on Nov. 13, 2010.

Fitzgerald, who is 1-2 against the Badgers in his head coaching career, was part of four memorable games vs. UW in his playing career. After two lopsided defeats to Barry Alvarez' Badgers in 1993 (53-14) and 1994 (46-14), 11th-ranked NU hosted Wisconsin in 1995 and blanked the No. 24 Badgers 35-0 en route to the Big Ten title. The 'Cats then won a 34-30 outcome on the road in 1996 for their first victory in Madison since 1987.

Northwestern defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz was the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin from 2006-07, helping the Badgers finish No. 2 nationally in scoring defense (12.1 ppg) and No. 5 in total defense (253.1 ypg) in 2006, a team that finished 12-1.

Wisconsin tight ends coach and special teams coordinator Jeff Genyk spent 12 seasons at Northwestern, beginning his FBS career as a graduate assistant at NU in 1992 and 1993. He was director of football operations for four years, including for the Wildcats’ Big Ten championship teams in 1995.

During Genyk’s time as head coach at Eastern Michigan, he hired current Northwestern running backs coach Matt MacPherson as his safeties coach.

Northwestern senior CB Joe Cannon, a native of Oconomowoc, Wis., was a high school teammate of Wisconsin senior ILBs Marcus Trotter and Michael Trotter and sophomore RB Dare Ogunbowale, at Marquette University High School.

Wisconsin Notes

Averaging 496.0 yards of offense while surrendering just 260.8 total yards on defense, Wisconsin ranks No. 7 nationally with a total yardage margin of plus-235.2 yards per game.

Melvin Gordon ranks fifth nationally in rushing at 153.0 yards per game and is one of just five players to have rushed for at least 140 yards in a game three times this season. At 2,940 for his career, Gordon needs 60 yards to become the 11th 3,000-yard rusher in UW history.

The Badgers have scored at least 20 points in 17 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in school history. UW scored 20-plus in 18 straight games from Oct. 31, 2009 to Nov. 27, 2010.

Wisconsin has scored a touchdown on its first drive of the second half in all four games this season. All four drives have covered exactly 75 yards. Against South Florida, the Badgers opened the second half with an 8-play, 75-yard drive lasting 4:17.

Gordon has had a say in all four, logging one run of 20-plus yards on each second half-opening possession this season. On three of those drives, Gordon broke loose for a big play on his first touch of the half: 63 yards vs. LSU; 69 yards (TD) vs. Bowling Green; and 22 yards vs. South Florida.

Wisconsin is the lone team from a Power Five conference to boast three players among the nation’s top 100 in rushing: Melvin Gordon 5th (153.0), Corey Clement 77th (72.5), Tanner McEvoy 83rd (69.0).

Northwestern Notes

Northwestern's 23-point spread represented the largest margin of victory in a Big Ten road game in Pat Fitzgerald's career and the second-greatest spread in a Big Ten game overall during the Fitzgerald era (behind a 50-14 home win vs. Illinois in 2012). The 23-point margin also marked Penn State's most lopsided home loss since a 26-point loss to Miami (Fla.) (33-7) in 2001.

NU's special teams defense has come up big in recent weeks, recording four blocked kicks over the last three games. The 'Cats are tied with Rutgers as the FBS leaders in blocked kicks on the season.

NU ranks third in the Big Ten and No. 19 in the country in scoring defense (16.8 points allowed per game) after holding opponents to single-digit scoring totals in consecutive games for the first time since Sept.13-20, 2008 (7 vs. SIU, 8 vs. Ohio).

Quarterback Trevor Siemian began the year with the third-most career passing yards among Big Ten opening-day starters, and enters Saturday's game with the ninth-most passing yards (4,589) and 11th-most passing TDs (22) in Northwestern History.

Northwestern has lost just two fumbles on the season, both in a win over Western Illinois. The Wildcats are tied for second in the Big Ten and 26th nationally for fewest fumbles lost on the year.


After giving up close to 400 yards in each of its first three games, Northwestern's front seven flexted its muscles at Beaver Stadium last Saturday, limiting Penn State to just 50 rushing yards on 25 attempts while racking up four sacks and nine tackles for loss. That test will be increased this week with Wisconsin ranking No. 1 nationally in rushing yards per attempt (7.04) and third in ground yards per game (343.3).

But if the Badgers want to be real dangerous this weekend and going forward, they will have to generate some semblance of a passing game. Ranked 113th out of 125 FBS teams in passing yards per game (152.8 yards per game), the Badgers only have two receivers who have caught more than four passes on the season (Alex Erickson – 21; Sam Arneson – 9) and a handful of players contributing modestly.

Redshirt freshman tight end Troy Fumagalli is one of those players with modest numbers (three catches for 46 yards and no touchdowns) through four games. But as one of UW’s many young tight ends who is starting to get his feet wet with experience, Fumagalli’s 6-5, 246-pound frame has started to benefit the Badgers.

“Ever since I got here I just tried to learn as much as I can from all the guys,” said Fumagalli. “Obviously at Wisconsin they expect you to know everything. One thing that I noticed that I could really help out is being a taller guy is pass catching, being a threat and just trying to compliment the run by working with Sam in making the right reads.”

Fumagalli originally committed to Wisconsin under the old coaching staff with the understanding that he would walk on for two seasons and be put on scholarship for his final three years of eligibility. He loved the tight end tradition at Wisconsin and the ability to be effective in an offense that still valued the role of the pass-catching and blocking tight end.

Imagine his nervousness when word got out that Bret Bielema was leaving for Arkansas, potentially taking his scholarship arrangement with him.

“I was immediately worried,” said Fumagalli. “I didn’t know what was going on and stuff like that. I was a little nervous.”

Fumagalli was quickly contacted by North Carolina State head coach and former UW defensive coordinator Dave Doeren to tell the tight end he had a full scholarship and to come take an official visit. After Wisconsin hired Andersen, he reached out to Fumagalli to let him know his three-year offer still existed.

After taking an official visit to Wisconsin (done before the coaching hire) and one to North Carolina State, Fumagalli took less scholarship money for the chance to make his mark on UW’s tight end wall of fame.

“It was hard to make that financial commitment at first,” said Fumagalli. “This was the first place I visited and I immediately fell in love. It was tough, but I knew I could play at this level and play big-time division 1 football with these guys. I knew that if I worked hard would eventually pay off for me.”

Redshirting last season to build his frame, Fumagalli improved so much in the weight room that he altered UW’s recruiting process. Tight end coach Jeff Genyk said the Badgers were planning on taking a tight end in the 2014 class, but decided against it when Fumagalli and classmate T.J. Watt showed they had the physical make-up to compete now and not later.

“He’s going to be a big-time target for us in the future,” said Genyk.

Fumagalli has caught a pass in each of the last three games and knows he has the edge on some opponents by playing between 15-20 offensive snaps a game. He also has shown he’s versatile with his role, being asked to be a deep vertical threat or get in space to seal off a defensive back.

“I don’t think they are paying attention to me so when I go out there, I really try to perfect the plays that I am in on,” said Fumagalli. “I get with Tanner (McEvoy) and try to perfect those plays. I tried to make the most of it when I’m out there.”

One of seven Illinois natives on the Wisconsin roster, Fumagalli plans to sign his scholarship papers in January, calling it a great feeling for his parents. Until then, he’s got more things to prove.

“I kind of have a chip on my shoulder because (Northwestern) didn’t pay attention to me,” he said. “They didn’t recruit me. Illinois did a little bit, but they passed up on me. Playing 30 miles away from my home, I definitely am going to try to prove something.”


Losers of nine of their last 12, the Wildcats are a good football team in the eyes of Andersen. Studying the games over the course of the week, Andersen noted Northwestern’s resiliency for being able to bounce back from a 0-2 start, tough mindedness and its ability to execute at a high level in all three phases last weekend in a win at Penn State.

“If that doesn't catch your eye and understand that this is a very, very good football team, then you don't understand football very well,” said Andersen. “With what I've only learned in one year in the Big Ten: you had better have yourself ready every single week because it's going to be competitive and it's going to be physical and your opponent is very well coached.”

On the opposite side of the coin, Fitzgerald isn’t buying into all of the critics dissecting the Badgers’ problems, knowing full well what in store for his team tomorrow afternoon.

“There’s been one consistent identity with Wisconsin football and that’s physical toughness that comes in every play,” said Fitzgerald. “I think that shows up not only when I played against Coach Alvarez’s teams, when I played against Bret (Bielema)’s teams and now with Gary’s teams…When you play Wisconsin, you better have some extra air in your helmet and your chin strap buckled up a little tighter because it’s going to be a physical Big Ten game.”

Wisconsin is favored by 8.5, a tricky point spread considering what we know. If the Badgers play up to their capabilities, they should win this game by double digits. If Wisconsin succumbs to another slow first quarter (its fifth in a row) and struggles throwing the football, Northwestern will be in this game for all four quarters.

“We were still in the stages of proving ourselves,” said Northwestern quarterback Trevon Siemian. A lot of these teams we’ve played for a couple years now and we’ve played them pretty close, so you know all these games are going to be dogfights and come down to a handful of critical plays that determine the outcome. A big emphasis this offseason was making those critical plays, so we’re excited to get a crack at a lot of these teams we lost that (seven-game losing streak) last year.”

We’ve heard a lot about UW not winning in Evanston since 1999, even though there have been only three meetings since then and the games have been decided by a total of 14 points. With temperatures in the low 50s and rain in the forecast, expect both teams to rely on the run. That favors the Badgers, who will win a one-possession game in their conference opener.

Wisconsin 27, Northwestern 20

Worgull's Predictions

Straight up: 4-0

Against the Spread: 1-2

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