UW v. NU, matchup analysis

A close look at the Badgers and Wildcats leading up to Saturday's game at Ryan Field

Northwestern offense versus Wisconsin defense

Northwestern projected starters Wisconsin projected starters

QB Brett Basanez (Sr. 6-2, 215) MLB Mark Zalewski (Jr. 6-2, 228)
TB Tyrell Sutton (Fr. 5-9, 190) WLB Dontez Sanders (Sr. 6-1, 223)
LT Dylan Thiry (So. 6-8, 300) SLB LaMarr Watkins (Sr. 6-1, 223)
LG Joe Tripoli (Jr. 6-3, 300) RE Matt Shaughnessy (Fr. 6-6, 230)
C Austin Matthews (So. 6-5, 285) RT Nick Hayden (So. 6-5, 302)
RG Ryan Keenan (Jr. 6-4, 290) LT Jason Chapman (Fr. 6-4, 280)
RT Zach Strief (Sr. 6-7, 335) LE Joe Monty (Jr. 6-2, 252)
TE Erryn Cobb (Jr. 6-1,255) FS Roderick Rogers (Jr. 6-2, 181) 
Z Kim Thompson (So. 6-4, 195) CB Jack Ikegwuonu (Fr. 6-0, 199)
X Mark Philmore (Sr. 5-10, 185) CB Brett Bell (Sr. 6-0, 200)
H Shaun Herbert (Jr. 6-1, 200) CB Allen Langford (Fr. 5-11, 187)

The Big Ten has several excellent quarterbacks this season, and Brett Basanez deserves to be mentioned in the same breadth with Drew Stanton as the league's best so far this year. Basanez, a four-year starter, is rewriting Northwestern's record books and giving defenses fits. The Wildcats are 14th in the nation in total offense (473.8 yards per game) and are averaging 31.5 points per game. Two weeks ago they posted 29 points against the conference's best defense, Penn State.

That, however, was not enough to win, and with a struggling defense Northwestern must receive optimal production from Basanez and tailback Tyrell Sutton in order to beat a team of Wisconsin's caliber.

Basanez runs the Wildcats' offense with aplomb. In four games this year, he has completed 92 of 144 passes for 1,026 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. In his career, Basanez has thrown for 7,984 yards and 27 touchdowns.

This offense is not all about Basanez, though. Far from it. Sutton is a dynamic true freshman who has already run for 528 yards and eight touchdowns. Redshirt freshman reserve Gerard Hamlett has 110 yards on just 23 carries. And it was sophomore Brandon Roberson who actually opened the season as the starter. Roberson went down with an ankle injury after running for 13 yards on five carries in the opener, but will return this week.

As seems par for the course for Northwestern, Basanez also has a full complement of quality receivers at his disposal. Mark Philmore, who has missed time this year due to injury, is the headliner, but Shaun Herbert has 28 receptions for 259 yards and four touchdowns. Jonathan Fields has 19 receptions for 178 yards and seems due for more big plays.

NU had to revamp its offensive line this season, but the Wildcats are getting good production there as well. Yet again, however, give the edge here to a Badger defensive line that just keeps on impressing.

This offense is not all about Basanez, but it does begin and end with the ball in his hands. In addition to his passing prowess, Basanez is a very capable runner. He has 139 rushing yards and one touchdown this season.

In the first half of their season opener, the Badger defense looked powerless as Bowling Green quarterback Omar Jacobs diced up the secondary. Northwestern's spread is distinct from Bowling Green's, but the basic principle is similar: space out the field and make the defense cover from boundary to boundary. Basanez and the Wildcats' passing game may not be quite as prolific as Jacobs and the Falcons, but NU has a better running game.

UW has been very good against the run this year, but will get its biggest challenge to-date in that regard Saturday. And UW's secondary has been consistently susceptible to giving up a big play in the passing game.

Wisconsin offense versus Northwestern defense

Northwestern projected starters Wisconsin projected starters

MLB Tim McGarigle (Sr. 6-1, 235) QB John Stocco (Jr. 6-2, 197)
SLB Adam Kadela (Jr. 6-2, 240) TB Brian Calhoun (Jr. 5-10, 203)
WLB Nick Roach (Jr. 6-2, 245) FB Chris Pressley (So. 6-0, 256)
DE David Ngene (So. 6-3, 275) LT Joe Thomas (Jr. 6-8, 303)
DT John Gill (Fr. 6-3, 285) LG Matt Lawrence (Sr. 6-5, 295)
DT Barry Cofield (Sr. 6-4, 305) C Donovan Raiola (Sr. 6-3, 294)
DE Kevin Mims (Fr. 6-3, 270) RG Jason Palermo (Sr. 6-3, 307)
SS Brendan Smith (Fr. 6-1, 215) RT Kraig Urbik (Fr. 6-6, 317)
FS Herschel Henderson (Sr. 6-3, 195) TE Jason Pociask (Sr. 6-3, 258)
CB Marquice Cole (Jr. 5-9, 185) WR Brandon Williams (Sr. 5-10, 180)
CB Cory Dious (Jr. 5-9, 165) WR Jonathan Orr (Sr. 6-3, 190)

In the three games since a 38-14 season-opening win over Ohio University, Northwestern's defense has yielded an astronomical 1,792 yards. That is 597.3 yards per game. Considering all four games this season, the Wildcats are relinquishing 204.2 yards per game rushing and 303.5 per contest passing.

Obviously, that kind of defensive production will not lead to many victories, and certainly the Wildcats had better show improvement Saturday to stand a chance against a potent Wisconsin offense.

The Badgers' primary focus throughout this season will be Brian Calhoun and the running game and Northwestern is bound to make containing the run its top priority. The Wildcats, though, have struggled to get a push up front and are hurting anew with a pair of starters out of commission in the defensive line.

Barry Cofield is a difference maker at defensive tackle, and NU has some solid talent around him on the line, but that talent is young and still going through some growing pains. They face a senior heavy, if not particularly experienced, Badger offensive line that has surprised most onlookers with its performance thus far.

The Badgers have struggled in recent weeks, however, at keeping quarterback John Stocco on his feet. North Carolina and Indiana in particular blitzed regularly and kept Stocco from setting in the pocket. Northwestern, though, has had a dreadful time getting pressure on the quarterback, with just three sacks this season. And last week, in spite of IU's blitzes, Stocco had enough time to get the ball to receivers Jonathan Orr and Brandon Williams, who dominated the Hoosiers' frequent one-on-one coverage.

Northwestern will be in a similar bind this week. If the Wildcats put eight players in the box to surround Calhoun, they will leave their corners at a disadvantage versus Orr and Williams, who have an edge in size, skill and experience.

If the Wildcats back off, they leave themselves prone to Calhoun's running. Through five games, he already has 727 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing.

Northwestern's strength defensively is at linebacker, where middle 'backer Tim McGarigle is among the best around. The nation's leading returning tackler, McGarigle already has 45 tackles this season, including 19 solo stops. When healthy, weakside linebacker Nick Roach is a top-notch player off the edge. He can play sideline-to-sideline and get after the quarterback, but a hernia that required surgery has slowed his progress this season.

The Wildcats are happy with the development of Brendan Smith at strong safety. He will be making his second start of the season Saturday. A big, athletic true freshman, he will be called upon often to support against UW's running game.

During their bye week last week, NU switched Herschel Henderson from cornerback to free safety, creating an opportunity for junior Corey Dious and sophomore Deante Battle to get more playing time at corner. The Wildcats are hopeful this arrangement will lead to better play than what their secondary has provided so far.

Wisconsin versus Northwestern special teams

Northwestern projected starters Wisconsin projected starters

PK/KO Joel Howells (Jr. 6-4, 220) PK/KO Taylor Mehlhaff (So. 5-11, 179)
P/H Ryan Pederson (Sr. 6-3, 215) P/H Ken DeBauche (So. 6-2, 219)
LS Chris Horton (Sr. 6-2, 255) LS Steve Johnson (So. 6-3, 247)
PR Marquice Cole (Jr. 5-9, 185) PR Brandon Williams (Sr. 5-10, 180)
KR Gerard Hamlett (Fr. 5-10, 185) KR Brandon Williams (Sr. 5-10, 180)

Brandon Williams and Marquice Cole have each been electric in the return game this season. Give an edge to UW here, though, because of the All-American caliber season Ken DeBauche is putting together.

NU kicker Joel Howells is a solid 5 of 6 from within 40 yards, but he has struggled from longer range, connecting on just 2 of 6 from 40 yards and beyond. Howells has also put two kickoffs out of bounds and has just five touchbacks in 25 tries.

UW's Taylor Mehlhaff is putting together a very strong season. He has made 6 of 7 field goals and has coerced touchbacks on 16 of 37 kickoffs.

Final thoughts

The Wildcats will move the chains with a semblance of regularity. Basanez and Sutton are too good for them not to have success on offense. The Badgers' secondary will begin to turn the corner this week, however, and Wisconsin just has too much offensively for NU to contend with.

This will also be the week Brian Calhoun finally breaks a truly long run. The Wildcats keep it interesting, but Wisconsin will improve to 6-0.

BadgerNation.com prediction: Wisconsin 30, Northwestern 20

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