Mad Respect in Madtown?

You’d be hard-pressed to find an objective college football fan who watched the Buckeyes’ these past two weeks actually claim that Wisconsin was more impressive than NU in their respective efforts to take down the B1G’s top-rated team. Then again, when was the last time you found an objective college football fan?

Northwestern is ranked #18/#19 and captured quite a few fringe fans this past weekend as their primetime near-upset performance grabbed a 4.4 rating, which equates to more than 7 million viewers, according to an ESPN press release yesterday. It was the highest non-NFL game TV rating of the weekend.  So, with so many people still buzzing about NU, this week matters that much more. A 3:30 pm et ABC telecast and a 10.5 underdog point spread await the Wildcats who are eager to prove they are a contender for a re-match with Ohio State in Indy. Forgive Wisconsin fans for having confidence in this one.

The Badgers boast a ridiculous 90% winning percentage in Camp Randall since 2004, posting a 58-6 record during that span. If you’re not in to that kind of history, then the present team roster stats should more than compel you to take notice of the best unranked team in America. If you want just one tidbit, consider the fact Wisconsin’s third string RB is currently ranked 8th in the B1G in rushing.If you’ve watched any Wisconsin games this week then you know the basic drill. The Badgers OL has been (yawn) producing gaping holes in every game not named Ohio State enabling the 1-2-3 punch of RBs Melvin Gordon, James White and Corey Clement to rack up video game-like rushing stats. QB Joel Stave has been surprisingly steady overall and downright lethal in the red zone. And, then there is the Eric Decker reincarnated WR Jared Abbrederis, whose 200+ receiving yard domination of Ohio State was even more impressive considering everyone knew he was the first, second and third option (just like former Gopher, Decker was).

The Badgers sport the uber-likable LB Chris Borland, who would win every conceivable collegiate defensive award if Pat Fitzgerald and ABC commentator Chris Spielman were the judge and jury. Seriously, his performance against Ohio State was the most dominant I’ve seen since Andy Katzenmoyer roamed the middle of the Buckeyes defense. The Badgers aren’t perfect, though. If you watched the Arizona State game you saw the Sun Devils torch Wisconsin on the back shoulder pass. It was a clinic. The Badgers secondary has been average at best. Yet, despite the weak link unit that favors Northwestern’s strength, you may not know that Wisconsin is currently ranked 10th in the FBS in scoring defense at 14.6 ppg and an eye-popping 6th nationally in total defense yielding just 272.6 ypg. Those numbers are a bit slighted by a pair of shutouts against lighweights UMASS and Tennessee Tech.

Make no bones about it, this one will come down to us stopping the Badgers seemingly unstoppable ground game. With DT Sean McEvilly on crutches, a dinged up Jack Konopka and bruised egos from Ohio State’s manhandling of our D-line after the Mack truck known as Carlos Hyde ran it for 168 yards down our throats, you can bet the Badger backs are salivating. It was the first 100+ yard rushing effort by an NU opponent since last year’s Iowa game.  Wisconsin doesn’t do 100-yard rushing games. They like to do it in 300-yard chunks. Consider these silly stats:

  • Melvin Gordon is STILL averaging 10.3 ypc after his sub-100-yard game at the Shoe. He led the FBS in ’12 with a 10.0 ypc average and is currently averaging .1 ypc less than the best (9.5 ypc) career average mark in the past 15 years. Oh yeah, he leads the B1G in rushing with 139 ypg. 
  • Gordon, in his last 7 games has had nine runs of 30+ yards, five of 50+ and three 60+. Yes, folks, it is pretty simple. Just like the NU secondary did last week against Braxton Miller, the key is to limit explosion plays in this one.
  • Did we mention he’s the back-up? James White, the senior “starter”, is the current career TD leader with 37, including 36 on the ground. White is the steak and Gordon is the sizzle, meanwhile Corey Clement is the star in waiting. Yes folks, Wisconsin is THAT good on the ground. They regularly have two backs over 100+ yards in the same game and the Badgers average 518 ypg of total offense. THEY AVERAGE 300.6 YPG ON THE GROUND!
  • Did we mention they lead the country in fewest fumbles? Not only this year, but since 2010, a span that has them surrendering way less than their closest competitor (Navy) on a fumble per attempt ratio. Wisconsin fumbles once every 135 attempts during the past four seasons.
  • While the Badgers RBs get all the love, the Badgers’ “D” gives up just 99 rushing yards per game, 12th best in the FBS.

You get the point. The offense is explosive and scary good at running back. Then, there is Jared Abbrederis, a one-man wrecking crew. Wisconsin is one of just four FBS programs with 1,500 rushing yards and 1,000 passing yards through five games. I won’t scare you by sharing the percentage of the passing yards that go to Wisconsin’s elite WR.

The bigger picture context is that Wisconsin is perceived to be an elite program. Obviously their 8-4 regular season record last year was a downer for Badgers fans, but they back-doored their way in to their third straight Rose Bowl. They’ve been to five Rose Bowls since the start of the BCS. They’ve got the 11th best record in the FBS during that time span and only Ohio State has sent more first round picks to the NFL this century (12).

Simply put, they’ve built a monster of a program. Winning at Wisconsin turns heads. Across the country. Sure, the Badgers may be unranked, but their two losses are a respectable loss at Ohio State and the scandalous finish at Arizona State, which seemed destined to be a win.

While we may be ranked higher than the Badgers, a win on Saturday would create some head turns, of the good variety, across the country. I’m quietly confident this 2013 edition of the Wildcats can do just that. Venric Mark’s spark, senior leadership and a true hunger that seems palatable are elements of a team and a program that seem on the verge of breaking through. It’s a huge one, as NU can’t afford to go 0-2 in the B1G and hope to really make it to Indy. They’d have to 6-0 the rest of the way to even have a shot. Possible, but no room for error.  I believe this is the toughest team we’ll face the rest of the way. The 2012 ‘Cats were resilient, never losing back-to-back games. If the carryover from 2012 is in effect and this team aspires to really take the program to the next level, a win at Wisconsin – a place so few teams escape with a win – would go a long way to legitimizing the ‘Cats.



  • Mark

    This game will be a real challenge. I think OSU, Wisco, and the Cats are the three best teams in the conference and really don’t understand why Wisco isn’t ranked like the Cats. But with Mark back and the Cats opening up the offensive playbook I like the Cats. (Opening up in the sense of having Siemian, Colter and Mark all on the field at the same time with Jones, Jones, Lawrence, Vitale, and Jensen. That’s a scary grouping for any defense.) I hope we see more action to Vitale as he will pull the safeties into the middle of the field and open up the boundaries to Lawrence and T. Jones. Also, against OSU we saw Harris in the rotation at CB, Odenigbo get a big play on Miller, and hopefully McEvilly will be back in the DT rotation. Go Cats!

    • Richard

      McEvilley was on crutches, so we won’t see him on the field soon. Maybe by the Michigan game. Probably by the bowl game.

    • GoU_NU

      That lineup you speak of would only give us four offensive lineman. Just sayin :)

  • Scott Feeney

    Hopefully, the coaches will get Williams to speed up his punts this week. I could shower and shave by the time he gets off a punt. Although I blame the coaching staff for that block. Williams was punting that slow all last year. It is a miracle we have not had more punts blocked.

    • Broadcasting Wisdom

      Williams has been a disappointment. He loves taking his time and punting balls into the endzone. And I know Daniel Jones gets the goat tag for the Michigan hail mary, but if Williams could have had a decent punt requiring a fair catch at the 10 instead of a shank returned to the 30, a completed hail mary would have put Michigan at the 40. Maybe they still make the field goal, but a 57 yarder for a college kicker is the real deal.

      Yes I’m still bitter about that game, more than any loss in the last 10 years.

      Ok back to Wisconsin…

      • Old Fat Bald Guy

        The Michigan game was by far the most upsetting of those three losses last season, BW, but when you feel bitter, remember that if they’d won that game they would have had a much tougher bowl opponent. Since we’re all obsessing over national perception these days, blowing that game might have been a blessing in that respect. You’re not hearing about it every week, and you’d still be hearing about the bowl losing streak if there still was one.

        • timc

          Totally agree. Even Brian Griese in the booth was amazed that UM had 2 men back and didn’t load the box to block the kick as their only remaining chance to win the game since the kick “will obviously go into the end zone”. Still have nightmares about that. OK, back to the present!

  • MF

    I would love to see us get a fast start in this game and put some points on the board. If we could get a lead and force them into playing catch-up, we’d reduce the power of their ground game.

  • Mark

    Re the punt. When your “tackles” split out so you only have your long snapper and “guards” in the interior box you need to be more aware of the other team stacking the box. OSU obviously noted that NU only kept 6 or 7 guys to protect the punter (depending on the ball spot re the hashmarks).

    Someone on the punt team should have called a timeout to bring in the split “tackle” or “tackles.” Especially given the field position; might be different if you’re on OSU’s 40 yard line. I still think this is the play that cost the Cats the game, even more important than the interception or the fourth and inches play. You have to protect your punter. I can’t comment on whether Williams is low or not, but note that this is the first punt of his I can remember being blocked.

    • das429

      This is something that has bothered me for a really long time. Why do so many college teams (NU is far from the only school to do this) line up their punt protection in the manner described above? I’ve never once seen a pro team use this ridiculously spread-out punt formation, but it seems to be fairly prevelant in college. It’s bothered me for a long time (even moreso now, given the block against OSU); does anyone know what the benefit is to using such a punt formation?

      • gocatsgo2003

        Better downfield coverage, as your “gunners” are able to fill more lanes and get downfield more quickly. In the NFL, all the players are fast and athletic enough to cover the entire field from a tight punt formation.

        • timc

          But it won’t work with a slow release punter. Same as a QB and the need for a quick release.

        • Mark

          Yes, that’s the strategy. But when the other team stacks the box it may be necessary to make sure that at least your “tackles” are inside. I agree that bringing your “tackles” in could result in extra yards on the punt return. Maybe you then need a punter who can get 35-40 yards but put it out of bounds.

          • gocatsgo2003

            This is exactly what you will see Northwestern (and other spread punt teams) do on most occasions. Why that didn’t happen on the punt block against OSU… I have no idea.

  • zeek

    Full week article by Rittenberg on the NU-OSU game. Worth a read; huge amount of inside detail.

    • LTP

      Great work by Adam. Like our own version of the journey.

  • Nate

    I don’t know if NU will be able to stop the Wisc run any better than they did against Carlos “Adrian Peterson Jr.” Hyde. At least we don’t have to worry a lot about a shifty QB back there, right? Looking for another high-scoring affair until NU proves it can withstand the barrage of road-graters and lightening quick RB’s that the Badgers will continually throw NU’s way.

  • NU_Roger

    It’s also Homecoming so we’ve got a party to spoil.
    There are a few more spots on the NU Club of Chicago’s bus trip to Camp Randall. Register here: