Preview: Trying to End the Drought

Two teams with solid quarterbacks, up-and-coming wide receivers and an average defense, it looks like Northwestern and Wisconsin will be evenly matched come its Big Ten finale Saturday. But when UW has traveled to Ryan Field lately, strange things always seem to happen ...

MADISON - They've already surpassed last year's win total and preseason expectations. They are slated for another warm weather January bowl game and have a chance to win 11 games. Those facts must mean the season is already a success for members of the University of Wisconsin football team, doesn't it?

"It's tough to say because we haven't slowed down," junior guard John Moffitt said. "We enjoyed the win Saturday night, but the next day we come in and start breaking down film of the next game. That's kind of how it's been and it's been one of the keys to the success."

"We aren't basking. We know that we have a lot more to accomplish."

The next goal on that check sheet is winning in Evanston, which the Badgers (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) travel to Northwestern (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) for their Big Ten finale Saturday.

Although it can't be classified as a house of horrors, seeing at UW has only played in Evanston twice since last winning their in 1999, the last two meetings have hardly gone smoothly. After UW upset second-ranked Ohio State in 2003, the Badgers, without starting quarterback Jim Sorgi, dropped a 16-7 clunker.

In 2005, the last time the two teams met in Evanston, UW and Northwestern combined for 99 points (including 72 in the second half) and 1,185 yards of total offense, a game NU won, 51-48, and still sticks deeply in the mind of two coordinators who are now head coaches.

"It was one of my more somber days as a defensive coordinator," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "It was like a basketball score."

"It's one of those games, I'll never forget," said NU coach Pat Fitzgerald. "It was a track meet. As a defensive coach, you don't want to see over 1,000 yards put up on either side."

Maybe not a grand, but Saturday's contest has the potential for another shootout with two solid offenses led by two solid quarterbacks.

Northwestern's spread attack is triggered by fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Kafka, who is second in the conference in total offense, third in the league in passing yards per game (233.8) and has seven rushing touchdowns.

"He's a very good football player," Bielema said of Kafka, "not only throwing the football but making good decision with his mind and his feet."

Although he has been sacked 28 times, Kafka, like UW junior quarterback Scott Tolzien, uses a bevy of receivers, as the Wildcats have eight receivers with at least 11 receptions. His main target is senior Zeke Markshausen, who has 76 catches for 737 yards and three scores, not bad for a guy that entered the season with one catch for six yards.

"He's been very patient," Fitzgerald said. "He's worked his tail off and has a tremendous attitude."

"They don't run anything crazy, but I think that means that they are good at what they run," Moffitt said of Northwestern. "They aren't running a ton of schemes, but they know how to run it and run it well."

This defense, coordinated by 2006 and 07 UW defensive coach Mike Hankwitz, have had 20 different starters, but have still manage to force 24 turnovers in 11 games, the fourth-highest total in the league.

They also are second in the league in red-zone defense, allowing a conversion rate of 75.8 percent (18 TDs, 7 FGs in 33 chances). Those numbers should test UW, who has scored on their last 18 trips, including 13 touchdowns.

"It all starts with the week preparation and practice," said Tolzien, who led UW to a perfect 6-of-6 on its chance in the red zone against Michigan. "Typically when we practice well during the week, we've played well on Saturday. Every game is another chance to boost your confidence if you play well."

A win coupled with an Ohio State loss to Michigan would give the Badgers a share of their first conference title since 1999. UW is No. 16 in the BCS standings and has to move up to No. 14 in order to be eligible for an at-large berth. While Wisconsin has been pleased with what has happened so far, the journey over the next three weeks will have a huge impact on its season.

"We're pleased, up until this point things have gone well, except the Ohio State and Iowa game," Tolzien said. "At the same time, there are still two games left in the regular season and a bowl game. We have to take it one at a time, so everything is on Northwestern right now."

No.14/17 Wisconsin (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) vs. Northwestern (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten)

Date/Time - Saturday, November 21 at 2:30 p.m. CT

Stadium – Ryan Field (47,130 / Natural Grass)

Television - Big Ten Network (Wayne Larrivee, Chris Martin and Charissa Thompson)

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

Series – Wisconsin leads 55-32-5 (UW leads 28-17-1 in Evanston)

Last Meeting - Wisconsin won, 41-9, on Oct. 7, 2006 in Madison

Wisconsin Notes:

The Badgers currently lead the Big Ten in rushing offense and rushing defense in conference games. The only time in school history UW has led the league in both categories (conference games only) was in 1951. The last time any team led the league in both categories was Ohio State in 1996.

Wisconsin has not allowed a conference foe to rush for 100 yards through seven games this season. That is a school record, surpassing the former mark of five held by three teams (1951, 2003 and 2005). The last team to go an entire Big Ten season without allowing a team to run for 100 yards was Ohio State in 1998.

Wisconsin is bowl-eligible for a school-record eighth consecutive season. The Badgers' current streak of seven straight bowl appearances is the second-longest in the Big Ten (behind Ohio State – 9) and tied for the 13th-longest in the country.

Wisconsin is tied for 13th in the country and ranks third in the Big Ten (behind Iowa and Penn State) in fewest penalties, averaging just 5.0 per game. The Badgers' 44.1 penalty yards per game are 18th-fewest in the country.

The Badgers have recorded at least seven wins in each of the last eight seasons, a school record. The previous record was six straight seasons from 1896-1901.

Wisconsin is averaging 31.1 points per game this season. It would be the first time since 2005 (and just the second time in the last 10 seasons) that the Badgers have averaged at least 30.0 points per game. The Badgers lead the conference with 29.3 points per game in league games. This would be just the sixth time in school history (and first time since 1999) UW has led the Big Ten in scoring offense during conference games.

Northwestern Notes:

Northwestern has won six of its last eight Big Ten road games, going 3-1 away from home in both 2008 and 2009. Under fourth-year coach Pat Fitzgerald, NU's Big Ten road record is now 8-8.

Since 1995, only five Big Ten programs have managed to compile a winning record against Northwestern. Those five are Michigan (4-8), Ohio State (1-9), Penn State (3-8), Michigan State (6-5) and Purdue (6-8). Against the other five schools, NU is .500 or better in the last 14 years: Indiana (8-3), Illinois (10-5), Iowa (8-5), Minnesota (6-5) and Wisconsin (5-5). Northwestern has now won six or more games nine times since 1995 (with six bowl appearances).

Last year, Northwestern broke a 13-year-old record for rushing yards allowed per game. Last year's unit set the school mark with a figure of 126.4 yards per game. With one game remaining in the 2009 regular season, and facing the Big Ten's most potent rushing attack, the Wildcats are giving up just 125.7 yards per game. Northwestern has held four 2009 opponents to less than 100 yards rushing per game.


How's this for balance? UW is averaging 410.2 yards of total offense this season, which would be the fifth-best single season average and the best since 1999. Defensively, UW has limited six opponents to less than 300 yards of total offense this season, including four of the last five.

All that effort will be needed against Northwestern. The Wildcats are an intriguing group. They barely beat Eastern Michigan (0-10) and Miami (OH) (1-11) in the non-conference, but managed to beat No.8 Iowa in Iowa City, handing the Hawks their first loss. Who are these guys?

The spread started at 6.5 points and has jumped to 7 in favor of the visiting Badgers, who have won three in a row since back-to-back clunkers in October. In the last 20 meetings dating back to 1985, the Badgers have 10 wins and 10 losses, six of which have come at Ryan Field, which is a weird place to play.

I actually lost some sleep over this pick until I thought back to my Tuesday conversation with a shaven John Moffitt. He admitted that shaving during was a dumb thing to do because a) UW is winning and b) his face was cold. Don't blame me, blame Moffitt, as Northwestern will win a close one on its Senior Day.

Northwestern 27, Wisconsin 24

Worgull's Predictions

Straight up: 8-2

Against the Spread: 6-4

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