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October 11, 2013
Fearless predictions: Wisconsin
Will Northwestern rebound from a heartbreaking loss to Ohio State, or will the Wildcats allow the Buckeyes to beat them twice?
Will the Badgers three-headed tailback monster run over Northwestern, or will the defense follow up its strong showing against Ohio State with another impressive performance against Wisconsin?
Will the Wildcats avenge their 70-23 blowout loss the last time they were in Madison?
Will Fitz order sauerkraut, red cabbage or cole slaw at The Brat Stop on the way home?
Our crack staff has the answer to those questions and more in our fearless predictions.
Northwestern wins if... the team can channel the disappointment from last week's game into a fast start on Saturday. Get ahead early, and the Badgers will be more apt to move away from their powerful run game.
Northwestern loses if... it continues to settle for field goals in the red zone. The play-calling, which was top-notch for the most part against Ohio State, seemed too predictable in the "tight zone," which left quite a few points on the board.
The bottom line: We haven't quite reached "must-win" territory for the Cats. That's good for Northwestern, because the Cats will struggle to slow down the Badgers' rushing attack. The Cats fall short for the second straight week.
Prediction: Wisconsin 31 Northwestern 21
Northwestern wins if... they avoid turnovers in their own territory. The 'Cats defense has forced a crazy 14 turnovers but they will be for naught if interceptions, like the one Trevor Siemian threw at his own 29 against Ohio State, will sink them if they continue.
Northwestern loses if... a player not named Jared Abbrederis catches five or more balls. I believe Abbrederis will get his catches; the key will be not allowing anyone else to get involved in the passing game.
The bottom line: The Badgers don't have a running back with the power of Carlos Hyde, but the combination of Melvin Gordon, James White and Corey Clement will give the Wildcats issues, particularly coming off such a bruising game the week before and with no Sean McEvilly.
Prediction: Wisconsin 28 Northwestern 24
Northwestern wins if... the 'Cats can keep Wisconsin's run game in check. If they can hold the Badgers to under 200 yards on the ground, they should win this game.
Northwestern loses if... it loses the turnover battle. When the Wildcats gave the game away against OSU, it was on turnovers.
The bottom line: The Wisconsin run game is just too strong, especially considering how the D-line looked against OSU last week. The Badgers will have a field day.
Prediction: Wisconsin 31 Northwestern 27
Northwestern wins if the defense contains Gordon, White, Clement and the Wisconsin ground game. If the Cats can force quarterback Joel Stave to beat them through the air, they'll be in good shape.
Northwestern loses if Wisconsin is able to pound it between the tackles and the defense wears down. Once the rushing attack gets going, the Badgers can then burn the Wildcats with play-action passing.
The bottom line: Northwestern has traditionally done pretty well against one-dimensional, run-heavy teams. The Cats' offense will score some points, and Wisconsin doesn't have as explosive an offense as Ohio State does. Northwestern rebounded to win every game after a loss last season, and that streaks continues on Saturday in Madison.
Prediction: Northwestern 34 Wisconsin 31
Northwestern wins if... it eliminates the little mistakes and shuts down the Badgers' run game.
Northwestern loses if... the Badgers run wild and allows Ohio State to beat them twice.
The bottom line: Wisconsin has weapons at every position on offense. The Badgers are averaging over 300 yards per game on the ground, led by the Human First Down, Gordon (10.3 ypc). Stave is one of the most improved quarterbacks in the Big Ten and receiver Abbrederis is a huge threat. Defensively, Chris Borland may be the best linebacker in the Big Ten. The Cats must seize the momentum early and sustain it for 60 minutes.
Prediction: Wisconsin 28 Northwestern 10
Northwestern wins if the defense becomes the dominant factor for the Wildcats. They're going to have their hands full no matter what, but if they can execute fundamentals (winning control of the line of scrimmage, gang-tackling, not letting receivers get behind the safeties), then they won't need to rely on offense or special teams more than they should. I'd have said winning the turnover ratio, but capitalizing on turnovers means just as much.
Northwestern loses if we see a repeat of that dreadful performance against Army in 2011. The Black Knights were running a triple-option offense that was unspectacular, but gained yardage on a consistent basis and kept the ball out of Northwestern's hands for long stretches of time. Wisconsin could alternate between I-formation power rushing and deep passes to Abbrederis and have this game well in hand before halftime.
The bottom line: I really think that this Northwestern team was much better suited to match up with Ohio State than Wisconsin. Northwestern has every good reason to think they can win a shoot-out, but Wisconsin has the offense to bleed the clock away with long, slow rushing drives (think NU's winning drive against Nebraska two years ago), and Northwestern won't have the front seven that will force the Badgers to fight to convert on third down.
Prediction: Wisconsin 34 Northwestern 24