Dennis Wierzbicki, USA Today Sports

An in-depth look at Northwestern - Wisconsin's opponent this weekend in Evanston, Ill.

After beating No.7 Nebraska in an overtime thriller last weekend, Wisconsin hits the road to face one the Big Ten’s most underrated teams in Northwestern. BadgerNation provides a breakdown of Wisconsin’s next opponent.

Wisconsin added another solid win to its resume with a thrilling overtime triumph over No.7 Nebraska, a victory that puts the Badgers in position to win the Big Ten West Division. Wisconsin faces another difficult test this week at Northwestern, which has won three of its last four and have traditionally proven to be a tough matchup for the Badgers. In the last 10 meetings between the two schools, the Wildcats have won six, including the last four at Ryan Field.

Here’s a closer look at the Wildcats.

OFFENSE

Redshirt sophomore Clayton Thorson leads the Wildcats’ offense at quarterback and is thriving in his second year as a starter. Thorson is a proven dual-threat quarterback, having shown off his athleticism on the ground multiple times this year. Thorson has thrown for 1,942 yards – third in the Big Ten - on 165 completions out of 289 attempts, good for a 57.1 completion percentage. Thorson has thrown for 15 touchdowns while also running for 130 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Something to watch is Thorson’s decision making against Wisconsin’s secondary, as he has thrown six interceptions this year after throwing nine last year.

Senior receiver Austin Carr has dominated Northwestern’s receiving statistics and is without a doubt the top target in the passing game. Carr – a former walk-on - leads the team in receptions (58), receiving yards (878), and touchdown catches (9). He entered the season with a total of 23 catches and only two touchdowns.

Redshirt junior Solomon Vault comes in at second on the team with two touchdowns, proving that containing Carr and forcing other receivers to beat them will be critical for Wisconsin. Others to watch in the passing game include wide receiver Flynn Nagel, receiver Macan Wilson and slot back-hybrid Garrett Dickerson.

On the ground, junior tailback Justin Jackson is a tremendous asset for the Wildcats. Jackson leads the team in carries by a huge margin with 188, averaging 4.6 yards on those carry for an 868 total yards this season. Jackson leads Northwestern in rushing touchdowns (six) and is the only tailback on the roster to have found the end zone.

The combination of Carr, Jackson and Vault have accounted for 35 of Northwestern’s 48 plays gaining over 20 yards.

DEFENSE

Northwestern’s defense ranks No.72 in total defense and are no means on the same level of others in the Big Ten such as Wisconsin or Michigan. Even so, the Wildcats have several gritty players who play with a chip on their soldier and often times find themselves in close game situations because of this group. The Wildcats currently give up an average of 22.2 points per game, 141.5 rushing yards per game and 274.8 passing yards per game.

Northwestern had to replace both starting defensive ends but the line that has been able to force a consistent amount of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. This could certainly be a cause of concern for Wisconsin’s struggling passing game. When talking about the Wildcats’ defensive front, standout defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo is the first one mentioned. The senior 265-pound lineman has a whopping eight sacks, nine tackles for loss and five quarterback hurries on the year, and has proven to be an elite end rusher. Additionally, fellow defensive end C.J. Robbins has forced two sacks on the year while up-and-coming redshirt freshman end Joe Gaziano has also recorded a pair of sacks.

The secondary includes an athletic lot of defensive backs with Montre Hartage, Roderick Campbell, Kyle Queiro, Jared McGee, Godwin Igwebuike, Parrker Westphal, Trae Williams and Marcus McShepard in the two-deep. The aforementioned Hartage (2), McGee (2) Igwebuike (1), Querio (1) and Williams (1) have forced the interceptions on the year. The Wildcats’ secondary has an even distribution of youth and experience but has allowed teams to complete 64.4 percent of its passes against them. The matchup between Wisconsin’s quarterbacks and the Northwestern secondary will be one of the most important in this game and will definitely be something to watch closely.

After suffering a knee injury in camp, linebacker Anthony Walker has 59 tackles, six quarterback hurries, two passes broken up, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He’s getting stronger as the season has progressed, making 36 stops (9/gm.) in four October games compared to just 23 in September.


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