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Wisconsin football: keys to victory against Northwestern

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What do the Badgers need to do to come away with a win over Northwestern?

NCAA Football: Michigan at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Badgers are 3-0 thanks to a dominating effort on both sides of the football against Michigan. They won the time of possession battle by more than 20 minutes, they forced the poor passing game of Shea Patterson to try and beat them and they most certainly took advantage of the home crowd as Camp Randall was rocking on Saturday afternoon.

It was apparent what the Badgers needed to do to win, and they accomplished it in all three phases. Now the page turns to Northwestern, who stumble into Wisconsin at 1-2. It’s been a sluggish start for the Wildcats but they’re still a team that has beaten the Badgers three of the last five times they’ve played, so they shouldn’t be taken lightly.

What do the Badgers need to do to come away with a victory? Let’s take a look (PS: “Score more points than the other team”, while correct and sooooooo funny, is not something I have included).

Take away the run

Wisconsin has done an incredible job on defense this season and currently rank No. 1 in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense and passing efficiency defense. While those stats are very telling, I think this key comes back more so to the struggles that Northwestern has faced on offense, especially in the passing game.

The Wildcats currently rank No. 121 in total offense which is just one spot ahead of UMass. However, the struggle has mostly been one sided. Northwestern ranks No. 64 in rushing offense and No. 123 in passing offense. They haven’t run the ball that well, but they’ve thrown it way way worse.

It’s clear that Northwestern is missing Clayton Thorson and are searching desperately to find some of that production with the likes of Hunter Johnson and TJ Green. That has caused them to lean on leading rusher Drake Anderson who is currently averaging 5.3 yards per carry. If the Badgers want to make things easier on themselves, they’ll likely focus their attention to the run game.

Similar to Michigan, we’ve yet to see the NU passing game beat anyone. Until they prove they can do it consistently, I expect Jim Leonhard to key on the run game, even with safeties Eric Burrell and Reggie Pearson out for the first half while serving targeting suspensions.

Get JT going

I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out. Yes Jonathan Taylor is having an incredible season, and he’s had an incredible career since the minute he touched the field against Utah State years ago. However, he’s still had a few games where he’s been held in check.

Not many, though, and you can actually count them on just one hand. Jonathan Taylor has been held under 100 yards in only five games over the course of his career. Of those five games, who’s the only team to be able to do it twice? Yep, you guessed it, Northwestern.

In his two games against the Wildcats JT has been limited to just 80 yards in 2017 and 46 yards in 2018 to pair with two lost fumbles. Sure, you can point to poor quarterback play over those games that allowed Northwestern to key on him, but Wisconsin has had a lot of bad quarterback outputs in his time and JT was still able to get his numbers. Whatever it may be, Pat Fitzgerald has always found a way to limit the damage that Jonathan Taylor has done.

Getting JT going will obviously help the offense continue to roll, but it will also allow JT to get the Northwestern monkey off his back. Additionally, Jack Coan’s worst game of his career came against Northwestern, so having JT being his normal self will help take some of that pressure off Coan too.

He’s looked great so far, and much more confident than he was at that point last year, but it would still be nice to have a back dominating to ease some of the pressure...just in case.

Come out strong

So far the Badgers have dominated out of the gate each week. Last week was incredibly impressive, and you hope that that momentum carries over into the Northwestern game. However, it doesn’t change the fact that the game was incredibly emotional and had a huge amount of build up.

Coming out strong to keep that momentum going will be key in this game. If this game were on the road, it would be nightmare fuel for me. The Badgers always struggle with Northwestern and seem to come out a little slow and sluggish against them. With the Wildcats struggling in so many areas of the game, you want to see the Badgers come out and put them away early.

The longer a team like Northwestern hangs around, the more confident they get. Pat Fitzgerald is an excellent head coach, and you expect them to get some things figured out each week to improve. If the Badgers want to ensure that the Michigan win doesn’t go to waste, they’ll want to keep clicking early and often to build on that momentum.

As mentioned earlier, they’ve lost to Northwestern three of their last five times, so I don’t expect anyone on UW’s sideline to be taking them lightly. If they come out strong like they have, this thing should be put away early.