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Wisconsin football: How you doing...Northwestern

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Northwestern is not the same team from a year ago, let’s dig in.

Northwestern v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Our “how you doing” feature is back for year three! Each week we at B5Q will review how each of Wisconsin’s opponents has fared heading into their contest with the Badgers.

Sporting five straight wins, the No. 21 Wisconsin Badgers (6-3 overall, 4-2 Big Ten) are back at home this weekend. Their opponent, Northwestern (3-6, 1-5 Big Ten), has lost three in a row.

In an attempt to preview what to expect on Saturday, here is a breakdown of the results through nine games for Northwestern, and a preview of their team on each side of the ball.

  • Loss vs. Michigan State 38-21
  • Win vs. Indiana State 24-6
  • Loss at Duke 30-23
  • Win vs. Ohio 35-6
  • Loss at Nebraska 56-7
  • Win vs. Rutgers 21-7
  • Loss at Michigan 33-7
  • Loss vs. Minnesota 41-14
  • Loss vs. Iowa 17-12

Status of the offense:

Northwestern’s offense has been pretty bad this year. There is no way to sugarcoat it.

The Wildcats rank outside the top-100 in nearly all offensive categories outside of rushing offense, where they are No. 77 in the nation at just over 150 yards per game. As a team, they come into this contest averaging roughly 18 points per game and, like Wisconsin, also sport a negative overall turnover margin.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 30 Minnesota at Northwestern
Northwestern running back Evan Hull is a key player for the Wildcats.
Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The primary playmaker to watch for Northwestern’s offense is running back Evan Hull who is having a solid year. He is averaging over six yards per attempt this season and has amassed 791 rushing yards in nine games. The 5-foot-11 sophomore is not an overly imposing player, but he is a capable runner and receiver out the backfield. In each of Northwester’s three wins this year he has touched the ball at least 20 times.

Behind Hull, graduate student Andrew Clair and freshman Anthony Tyus III have also earned carries this year and both average over four yards per carry.

Beyond the rushing game, Northwestern has had an inconsistent passing attack. Hunter Johnson started the year at quarterback, but he was replaced by Ryan Hilinski during the Duke game. Hilinski, who like Johnson, was also a decorated four-star recruit out of high school, went on to start the next five games with similarly mixed results.

Recently, Andrew Marty has seen more playing time, but he had a three-interception performance against Iowa last week. There is a decent chance that the Badgers must prepare for multiple quarterbacks in this game.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 11 Indiana State at Northwestern
Malik Washington and Stephon Robinson Jr. are the two wide receivers to look out for come Saturday.
Photo by Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The quarterback struggles have put a damper on the offense at times this season for Northwestern. Two players that teams need to account for regardless of who is throwing the ball though are Stephon Robinson Jr. and Mailk Washington. Robinson leads the team in receptions (35) and yards (489) despite missing the Minnesota game, while Washington is a smaller-statured player that averages three to four touches a game and is second on the team with 34 receptions and 426 yards. Beyond the duo of Robinson and Washington, running back Evan Hull is the only other player with double-digit reception numbers now that sophomore Bryce Kirtz is done for the year with an injury.

Northwestern has had a ton of injuries this season along the offensive line as well, which has played a part in the offensive struggles.

Status of the defense:

Last season Northwestern had one of the nation’s best defenses. This season they have taken a significant step back, however.

The main area that has hurt the Wildcats this year is the play of the front seven. Northwestern ranks No. 125 (out of 130 teams mind you) in the FBS against the run, allowing about 225 yards per game. Overall, the defense is middle of the pack in points allowed and sacks, but their inability to stop the run has been pretty eye-opening.

Against the pass, Northwestern has fared much better. The Wildcats are No. 18 in the country in passing yardage allowed per game and are in the top-30 in passing efficiency against as well.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Conference Media Days
Safety Brandon Joseph is very good at forcing turnovers.
Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports

In the linebacking corps, the player to watch out for is senior linebacker Chris Bergin. He leads the team by a wide margin with 110 tackles on the season, and he is a hard-nosed player. Fellow linebacker Bryce Gallagher is a solid player as well.

You could argue the best player on Northwestern is sophomore safety, Brandon Joseph. He is third on the team in tackles and leads the team in interceptions. He is a very talented and versatile player, and he is a big reason why the Wildcats are better against the pass than the run. Cornerback A.J. Hampton has a whopping 10 pass breakups as well, which is one of the better marks in the Big Ten.

Up front, Adetomiwa Adebawore is the team’s most disruptive pass rusher. He has 4.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hurries this season. Fellow defensive linemen Jeremy Meiser and Jeffery Pooler have combined for 7.5 sacks this year too.

Overall:

This season has not gone according to plan for Pat Fitzgerald and Northwestern. The Wildcats are perpetually a thorn in Wisconsin’s side though, and these two teams rarely can separate from one another. The strengths of the Badgers mesh well with the weaknesses that Northwestern has this year though, so there is a path for a wider margin.

NCAA Football: Iowa at Northwestern
Northwestern QB Andrew Marty has taken on a larger role of late.
Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin and Northwestern are very familiar with one another, and I would once again expect a physical battle come Saturday. I just think this is a bad season for Northwestern given all of the turnover and injuries they have endured this year, and the Badgers would be wise to take advantage of it before Fitzgerald conjures up another good run in a year or two.