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How you doing...Northwestern edition

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How have the Wildcats fared so far this season?

Northwestern v Stanford Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

After taking the B1G West division crown last season in a landslide, Northwestern (1-2, 0-1) has hit some speed bumps to open the 2019-2020 slate. Northwestern’s results are as follows:

  • Loss at Stanford 17 to 7
  • Win versus UNLV 30 to 14
  • Loss versus Michigan State 31 to 10

In the latest of edition of B5Q’s upcoming “opponent at a glance” we take a deeper look at how Northwestern has looked so far this year.

Offense

Coming into the year the majority of the standard college football talking heads (Editor’s note: Bob, you made it!) assumed that former 5-star Hunter Johnson who transferred out of Clemson would be the next great Northwestern quarterback. Thus far that has yet to materialize.

In fall camp, Johnson battled with senior TJ Green, and the duo split time in the opener against Stanford. Since then Johnson has taken over the reins firmly, but has yet to demonstrate the consistency that most Wildcat fans had hoped for.

In three games he has thrown for 308 yards and one touchdown with four interceptions. Youngster Aiden Smith has also seen time as well.

At running back, Isaiah Bowser broke out at the end of last season, but has yet to really get started after a knee injury during the Stanford game. While Bowser has only amassed 93 yards rushing to this point, his running mate, freshman Drake Anderson, has stolen the show as of late. Anderson has rushed for 238 yards on the season. The son of former Northwestern back Damien Anderson has helped ease the sting of Bowser’s slow start.

Out wide, Bennett Skowronek is the only real threat in the passing game. He has reeled in 12 catches on the year for 141 yards.

Along the offensive line has been one of the primary reason for Northwestern's early struggles. The line has allowed six sacks in the three games and has shown times where they are unable to open up lanes for the running game.

While the running game is averaging exactly four yards per carry, in key moments, like along the goal line they have shown an inability to get a strong push.

Overall the Northwestern offense ranks No. 128 in the nation, and last in the B1G with just over 15 points per game. The passing game has taken a significant drop off from a year ago, as the Wildcats are No. 130 in the nation in passing efficiency and No. 121 in total offense.

Defense

The defensive side of the ball has decent to this point for Northwestern. Defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz has the defense giving up 20 points per game and 344 yards per game. Both statistics are good for middle of the road in regards of the nation at No. 41 and No. 48.

While the defensive stalwarts are at linebacker, the rushing defense has not been as strong as a year ago. The rushing defense is only No. 73 in the nation, while the passing defense is No. 40.

Paddy Fisher is an excellent playmaker on the defense, and has a game similar to that of Wisconsin great Chris Borland. He has rare abilities in making turnovers happen and being around the ball. So far this year he has a force fumble and an interception. Next to Fisher, Blake Gallagher was the leading tackler of the defense last year at linebacker with 127 tackles.

In the secondary safety Travis Willock has two fumble recoveries and is second on the team in tackles thus far this year. Interestingly, Fisher and Willock are former high school teammates of Wisconsin safety Collin Wilder, who is making his first start with the Badgers with Eric Burrell and Reggie Pearson each out for the first half with targeting penalties.

On the defensive line, senior Joe Gaziano has 2.5 sacks and two fumble recoveries. Alex Miller also has 2.5 sacks of his own along the line. The two lineman have shown the ability to get after the quarterback, as the defense is No. 20 in the nation in sacks per game with an average of three.

The Wisconsin offensive line will be up for a tall task against the Northwestern front seven which has stymied Jonathan Taylor in the past, and they can get after the passer.

Overall

Northwestern has been a team that has gotten off to slow starts the past few seasons. The Wildcats won the B1G West division after starting off by losing three of their first four games in 2018.

Northwestern has had Wisconsin’s number, winning three of the last five meetings. If Wisconsin is to win they will need to run the ball better than a season ago, and so far Northwestern has not been great against the run on defense.

Wisconsin, and Jack Coan, aim to take down the Wildcats in a revenge game Saturday at 11 a.m. in the friendly confines of Camp Randall Stadium.