For the just fourth time since 1999, Camp Randall Stadium will host a matchup of ranked teams in the month of November between No. 21 Wisconsin and No. 20 Northwestern. It’s also a day in which the Badgers will honor the final home game of 19 players who have gone 36-15 over the last four years, not to mention 22-8 in Big Ten play.
Here are Badger Nation’s five keys to a victory for Wisconsin (8-2, 5-1 Big Ten) over Northwestern (8-2, 4-2) this afternoon.
1, Containing Northwestern’s rushing attack
It is clear that Northwestern will want to find a way to get running back Justin Jackson and the run game established against Wisconsin’s defense. When the Wildcats’ run game has had success this season, so have the rest of the offense. Jackson has rushed for over 1,000 yards this season but has struggled against top rushing defenses, finishing with a combined 55 yards against Michigan and Iowa. Wisconsin enters this afternoon as the top rushing defense in the Big Ten, as they only allow 97.3 rushing yards a game. When Wisconsin has held its opponent to under 100 rushing yards, they have gone 6-0 this season.
2, Establishing an early rhythm
With Wisconsin and Northwestern both ranking in the top six of the Big Ten in total defense, this has the makings of a low scoring game. Northwestern’s defense has done well this season of creating pressure and not consistently allowing teams to have success early in games. But if quarterback Joel Stave can come out sharp and connect on his early throws, it could help open up the run game, especially if Corey Clement doesn’t play. If Stave can develop that rhythm with his intended targets, it will be vital for Dare Ogunbowale to be effective on the ground, something that hasn’t happened much this season.
3, Keeping Joel Stave upright
In order for Stave to establish an early rhythm, Wisconsin’s offensive line will need to do a much better job protecting him then they did against Maryland, as Stave was sacked a season high four times. The offensive line can’t be the reason why the offense gets put into long-yardage downs, which will only be helping Northwestern’s defense. UW’s offensive line has allowed 18 sacks this season. Limiting that number will dramatically increase the chance of Wisconsin coming away with points.
4, Creating turnovers
Wisconsin has create a turnover in five of its six Big Ten games, including an interception in the last three. Northwestern has turned the ball over 14 times (six fumbles and eight interceptions) this season, but Wisconsin’s linebackers have the ability to force some miscues if they can consistently supply pressure on quarterback Clayton Thorson.
5, Converting on third downs
Wisconsin currently ranks sixth in the Big Ten in third down conversion, convert 42 percent of the time and have gone 36-for-88 (40 percent) during Big Ten play. Northwestern only allow teams to convert 31.9 percent on third downs. If Wisconsin doesn’t consistently put themselves in long-yardage situations, the Badgers will have a tough time against the Wildcats’ stingy unit. If the Badgers can convert better than 50 percent, something they have only done three times in Big Ten play, they will keep drives alive and help give Wisconsin’s defense a rest.
Just like last year’s game in Evanston, this game will likely be a dogfight that could come down to which offense makes the fewest errors and which defense can stay the freshest throughout the game. Wisconsin’s offense will be tested against Northwestern, so the key will be how the Badgers will be able to make adjustments and find some big plays from their playmakers. UW has allowed only three touchdowns in six home games. If UW’s offense doesn’t turn the ball over, the Badgers’ defense will take care of the rest. Wisconsin wins, 20-10, on senior day.