Evanston, IL (SportsNetwork.com) – Melvin Gordon and the 17th-ranked Wisconsin
Badgers will get their first shot at a Big Ten Conference opponent this
weekend when they visit the Northwestern Wildcats at Ryan Field.
Since battling LSU on a neutral field in the season opener, which led to a
28-24 defeat, the Badgers have enjoyed three straight home contests against
lesser foes. However, after dominating Western Illinois (37-3) and Bowling
Green (68-17), they had trouble against South Florida last weekend. The two
squads were locked at 3-3 going into halftime, but a third-quarter burst
allowed Wisconsin to earn a 27-10 win.
Northwestern did what USF couldn’t and pulled off an upset last weekend. The
Wildcats visited an undefeated Penn State team in Happy Valley and dominated
from start to finish to earn a 29-6 victory. They are now 2-2 overall, but off
to a 1-0 start in Big Ten play.
“I don’t know how much you’ve watched us play, but we’ve just made mistakes
that have cost us games. We’re about three or four catches away from being
undefeated,” Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said, clearly optimistic
about his team’s chances going forward.
In a conference rivalry that dates back to 1890, the Badgers hold a 57-33-5
advantage. Last year’s contest was another on that long list of Wisconsin
triumphs as it rolled to a 35-6 verdict versus the Wildcats.
Gordon rushed for 172 yards and a touchdown in that contest, and he will be
the focal point for the Badgers offense once again as he continues to pad his
impressive season stats. Gordon currently ranks fifth in the country in
rushing yards per game (153), and he has found the end zone eight times on the
ground. Gordon got off to a slow start against USF, but ended up with 181
yards and two scores.
Running the ball is the absolute key to Wisconsin’s offense, which ranks
fourth in the Big Ten in yards gained (496 ypg). That impressive total has
come despite a large disparity between rushing (1,373) and passing (611)
Helping out Gordon are Corey Clement (290 yards, three TDs) and quarterback
Tanner McEvoy (276 yards, two TDs). McEvoy has thrown for 605 yards on a
dismal 49.3 percent passing, and he has five touchdowns compared to four
Alex Erickson (21 receptions, 256 yards, TD) is the only player on the roster
with more than 10 catches. He had six grabs for 91 yards against USF. The rest
of the team had five combined.
Wisconsin’s old school ways also are evident on the defensive side, where it
is among the top teams in the country in yielding just 260.8 yards and 14.5
points per game. Additionally, the team has 26 tackles for loss and 10 sacks.
“We expect to play great defense. But to be in the position that we’re in and
the bottom line is points and 14 some odd points a game is what they’re giving
up, which is great to see,” Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen said. “I think
we got even more understanding this last game a little bit of who we were on
the defensive side. But kids understanding handling multiple units has been
the most impressive thing to me. Sounds easy, but that’s the most difficult”
Facing such a tough unit will cause tons of problems for a Northwestern
offense that has been less than impressive to this point in the campaign. The
Wildcats are scoring only 23 points per game, while ranking 12th in the Big
Ten in total offense (348 ypg).
Trevor Siemian is tasked with leading the team from under center. He has been
serviceable, but certainly not one of the league’s best. In all, he has
completed 58.5 percent of his pass attempts for 872 yards. He only has two
touchdown passes and has been picked off four times.
Dan Vitale (18 receptions, 216 yardS) has developed into Siemian’s favorite
receiver, as he leads the team in receptions and receiving yards. He did a ton
of damage against Penn State, finishing with season-bests of seven catches and
113 yards. Cameron Dickerson (eight receptions, 138 yards, TD) and Kyle Prater
(12 receptions, 130 yards, TD) are the only other players with more than 100
Justin Jackson has handled the bulk of the work out the backfield, as he has
tallied 234 yards and two scores on 56 carries. He picked up 50 yards on 15
attempts against Penn State.
Fitzgerald may not have a fantastic offense to lean on but his group’s efforts
on defense have been pleasing. The Wildcats are surrendering only 16.8 points
and 364.2 yards per game. They also have 12 sacks and have limited foes to
just a 32 percent success rate on third down. Keep an eye on Dean Lowry (3.5
sacks) and Ifeadi Odenigbo (3.0 sacks) as they try to apply pressure on the