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Dissecting the Season: B1G Football at Northwestern

Starting in June, Badger of Honor will preview the Badgers’ opponents during the upcoming B1G football season.

We will look at 5 key factors — past performances, offensive matchup, defensive matchup, freshman impact, and home field advantage —  that should cover the bases in the West division, plus Maryland and Rutgers.

The overall season will kickoff with the Badgers facing off against LSU (SEC) in Houston, followed by home games against Western Illinois (Missouri Valley Conference), Bowling Green (MAC) and South Florida (American), all before its first B1G challenge …

Week 6, October 4: At Northwestern

Past Performances

After another disappointing loss to The Ohio State the week before, the Badgers put a beatdown on No. 19 Northwestern, 35-6, on Oct. 12, 2013. Melvin Gordon ran for 172 yards and James White added another 101 as the duo scored a touchdown each. Joel Stave was on point in the second half and finished with 241 yards, with 3 touchdowns and two INTs. Both the Wildcats’ quarterback (Kain Colter) and running back (Venric Mark) exited with injuries.

Wisconsin beat Northwestern 70-23 in a Nov. 27, 2010 home meeting, but lost to the Wildcats 33-31 on Nov. 21, 2009 in Evanston.

Offensive Matchup

Melvin Gordon is back … goodnight everybody. Gordon’s 172-yard performance in a secondary role can easily be improved upon given sole possession of the rock. Add Corey Clement to the mix and all we need is a suitable QB.

I’m all on the McEvoy bandwagon. I liked what I saw in the spring game, and I think I’ll like him even more as we get into camp time and the early bits of the season. The Badgers will always rely on  running the football, and Joel Stave can serve as our Matt Flynn. McEvoy can give us the flash of Russell Wilson without the injury concerns we saw creep up on Stave over the last two seasons. Plus, he’ll have a possible 13 receiving targets at least 6-feet tall, and Kenzell Doe, to throw to.

The Northwestern defense is by no means vaunted. Safety Ibraheim Campbell had one of Stave’s interceptions, and had success early in the season. But when your safety is making around 10 tackles (assists included) per game, your defense is having problems.

Defensive Matchup

By week 5 it should hit us all that Chris Borland is gone. It will actually hit us in LSU’s first drive, but that’s for a different story. The 2014 defense doesn’t look that great on paper and has many holes to fill, namely the entire front seven, a slew of which are now in the NFL.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody really stands out to me in the 3-4 system. I liked what I saw in Sojourn Shelton last season, and he will definitely have to lead the only experienced defensive unit. Northwestern is no longer using a quarterback by committee, and it seems like Trevor Siemian is the go-to drop back quarterback, so the trouble of having an extra adjustment in your head is gone from this game and will help the less experienced front seven.

That said, look for Shelton to come up with an interception or two, but we’ll also see his DB crew make a couple of tackles on Mark when he breaks through the second level.

Freshman Impact

Wisconsin currently has the 34th-ranked 2014 class according to ESPN, while Northwestern is just a few spots below at 41. We all know true freshman starters aren’t the norm in Madison, but if anyone will get a chance to show themselves in the last three non-conference games, it’s likely to be OT Jaden Gault, WR Dariean Watkins, and DL Billy Hirschfeld. Gault could be plugged into the right tackle position should Rob Havenstein be moved to left for senior leadership. Watkins is a great 4-star recruit who is similar to Nick Toon is size, but just a shade slower. And if Hirschfeld can get a place in the front seven, his 6-foot-6 frame will be a force on the edge to Siemian.

Home Field Advantage

Sadly this one goes to Northwestern.

Wisconsin beat the Wildcats by a combined 105-29 in the last two home meetings, but whenever I remember Badgers rolling into northern Illinois I’ve always felt saddened on Saturday afternoons. Brett Basanez in 2005 and Mike Kafka in 2009 brought upon upset wins over the Badgers in Evanston.

So when I see  smeared purple paint on white unis, I know two things are going to happen — it’s going to be too close, and the color guy will have these two games in his back pocket.

Next week we will look at the October 11 home game against Illinois.

Next Badgers Game Full schedule »

Tags: Melvin Gordon Sojourn Shelton Tanner McEvoy Wisconsin Badgers

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