1. First Half Blues
The Badgers have come out slow in many of their games, failing to put away inferior teams until well into the second half. Northern Illinois has been a fast starting team, scoring 76% of their points in the first half. If Wisconsin can get up early, there is little reason to believe the Huskies will be able to make a game of it.
2. Ground Chuck
It would nice to see the Badgers take control of this game early on the ground. With Lance Smith back to compliment a dinged up P.J. Hill, there should be ample bodies to spread out carries and take advantage of a defense that ranks just 83rd in the country in stopping the run. 200 yards on the ground will be a nice landmark to shoot for.
On the other side of the ball, since becoming the starter, Justin Anderson has rushed for 100+ yards in five straight games. Novak is an old-school coach will grind the ball as much as he can. Wisconsin linebackers must control Anderson with solid gap responsibility and few missed tackles.
3. Put a little English on it.
Larry English ranks 4th in the nation in sacks, racking up 8.5 this season to bring his career total to 21.5. He is a very solid pass rusher. The Badgers are 83rd in sacks allowed per game, so it could be a place where NIU can do some damage. Remember the last time these two teams played, the Huskies racked up 10 sacks against Brooks Bollinger in a narrow Badger win. Northern will come after Donovan hard.
4. And you think WE are bad?
The Badgers rank 97th in the country in turnover margin. Pretty bad right? Well, the Huskies are even worse, with a 113 ranking. Another stat is kickoff returns where the Badgers rank just 93rd nationally. Pretty bad again, correct? Yes, but Northern Illinois ranks dead last at 119th. In other words, some of the areas that Wisconsin has struggled in, the Huskies have been even worse.
This should be a week where the Badger defense finally gets well. The Huskies average just 19 points per game. They don't throw the ball well. They are terrible on third down. They have trouble keeping drives going. If the Badger defense can't control Northern Illinois, I don't see anyone else on the schedule that they will have success with.
I have a good deal of respect for Joe Novak's program. They play the right way and have given many quality teams a tussle over the years. However, this year's team is very young and frankly, isn't a good football team. For all of the Wisconsin troubles, this game should be a steamrolling. I expect Wisconsin to be balanced offensively, but with a hedge to the run. I don't see the big play ability to get up big early, but I think the Badgers will slowly pull away. Let's hope the Badgers have no use for the onsides kick, though opponents have been successful in both of their opportunities against NIU (had to throw that stat in there). My prediction: 38-14, Wisconsin.