Wisconsin at Northwestern Preview

The Badgers and Wildcats play tomorrow morning at 11:00 am (CT) at Ryan Field with the game being aired on Fox. The Badgers opened up as 5-point favorites.

Wisconsin leads the all-time series against the Wildcats 59-35-5.

Wisconsin Injury Report:

Questionable:

D’Cota Dixon (leg)

Olive Sagapolu (leg)

Alex Hornibrook (head)

Out:

Game:

Travian Blaylock (leg)

Isaiahh Loudermilk (leg)

Deron Harrell (leg)

Scot Nelson (leg)

Season:

Garrett Rand (Achilles)

Blake Smithback (leg)

Mason Platter (leg)

Zander Neuville (leg)

Suspended:

Quintez Cephus

For the first time since the 2016 Big Ten Championship game, Alex Hornibrook will likely not be under center for the Wisconsin Badgers. It was reported Thursday, first by the Wisconsin Radio Network, that Hornibrook is in the concussion protocol and unlikely to be cleared in time for the game. That means that sophomore Jack Coan is expected to make his first career start in a game with major Big Ten West implications.

Coan, a three-star recruit, played in six games last year and completed all five pass attempts. The New York native hasn’t played this season with the Badgers trying to take advantage of the new redshirt rules that allow players to play in four games or fewer. That led redshirt freshman Danny Vanden Boom to replace Hornibrook in mop-up duty in two games this year.

Saturday will be anything but mop-up duty for Coan. Coach Paul Chryst will probably try to create a game plan that won’t put a lot of stress on him, but Coan is going to have to produce in the passing game for Wisconsin to have a chance.

The run game will obviously help Coan out. The Badgers rushing attack has picked up in recent weeks, averaging 303 yard per game and 6.9 yards per carry over the last three games.

Northwestern won’t be a pushover. Though they are ranked 48th in the country against the run, the strongest part of the defense is the front seven. The Wildcats have allowed one team all year, Purdue in the season opener, to average 4.9 yards per carry. Last season, Northwestern held the Badgers to just 109 rushing yards, the second fewest of the year for what was a powerful run game. That can’t happen again.

While Hornibrook is the headliner on the injury front, Wisconsin is banged up elsewhere, especially on defense. The Badgers are going to be without strong safety Scott Nelson and another potential starter in cornerback Deron Harrell. Defensive lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk will miss another game, while nose tackle Olive Sagapolu and safety D’Cota Dixon are both listed as questionable.

What it means is that a veteran quarterback for Northwestern in Clayton Thorson will almost surely be facing a defense featuring quite a few freshman along the defensive line and in the secondary. While the Northwestern rushing attack has been horrible this year, they’re averaging 2.3 yards per carry, the passing game has had success. Thorson has topped 400 yards twice and went for more than 300 yards another time.

All of this is to say that the Badgers secondary will be challenged. Will they be up for it?

Wisconsin’s season hasn’t gone as planned. With preseason expectations that had the Badgers challenging for a spot in the College Football Playoff now off the table, many have written the year off as a failure already. But the players certainly haven’t, not with a chance to win a third-straight Big Ten West title and an opportunity to win their first conference title since 2012. Despite the up and down nature of the team through seven games, the confidence they can do it remains high.

Prediction:

Wisconsin 28, Northwestern 20.

 

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