WHEN THE BADGERS HAVE THE BALL
The Badgers’ running game has picked up since the bye week, averaging more than six yards per carry in each of the past three games and now ranking fourth nationally in that category. UW’s coming off a 357-yard rushing performance against Illinois last week in which running backs Jonathan Taylor (159) and Taiwan Deal (111) both went over 100 yards. Taylor leads the country at 158.4 yards per game this season.
Northwestern held Rutgers to 188 total yards last week after allowing more than 400 each to Nebraska and Michigan State. The Wildcats rank 49th nationally against the run and 75th against the pass. UW quarterback Alex Hornibrook is coming off an up-and-down game against Illinois in which he threw three touchdowns and two interceptions, and he played his worst game of the season the week before in a 38-13 loss at Michigan.
EDGE | UW
KEY STAT | THIRD-DOWN WEAPON
UW has targeted redshirt freshman tight end Jake Ferguson 15 times on third down, leading to 11 catches and nine first-down conversions. Ferguson’s 15.3 yards per catch rank sixth nationally among tight ends.
WHEN THE WILDCATS HAVE THE BALL
Four-year starting quarterback Clayton Thorson is averaging more than 40 pass attempts per game this season as Northwestern tries to overcome injury issues at running back. Starting tailback Jeremy Larkin rushed for 346 yards and five touchdowns through three games before retiring due to a neck condition. Thorson’s completed 61.1 percent of his passes this season for 1,905 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s coming off his worst performance of the year at Rutgers, but the week before he led a 99-yard touchdown drive in the final two minutes to force overtime in the Wildcats’ win over Nebraska. While the Badgers forced five first-half turnovers against Illinois last week, they’re still susceptible to giving up big plays.
Wisconsin ranks 79th nationally against the run, a category it hasn’t ranked outside the top 25 in since 2011. Four potential starters on defense for the Badgers — nose tackle Olive Sagapolu (left leg), defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk (left leg) and safeties D’Cota Dixon (right leg) and Scott Nelson (right leg) — could miss Saturday’s game. Cornerback Faion Hicks (left leg) is expected to return.
EDGE | NORTHWESTERN
KEY STAT | NAGEL’S STREAK
Northwestern wide receiver Flynn Nagel’s 25-game catch streak is the second-longest in the Big Ten behind only Ohio State’s KJ Hill. Nagel currently ranks third in the conference with 693 receiving yards and second in catches with 56.
Northwestern’s Drew Luckenbaugh has made 3-of-4 field goals the past two weeks filling in for injured starter Charlie Kuhbander.
Rafael Gaglianone is 5 of 7 on the year after missing a chip-shot 27-yarder against Illinois last week. Both teams average just under 40 yards per punt.
UW’s Zach Hintze ranks eighth nationally in touchback percentage on kickoffs (85.71 percent). The Wildcats only force a touchback 25 percent of the time, although their solid kickoff coverage typically makes up for it.
EDGE | EVEN
Pat Fitzgerald has put together a solid 91-68 record in his 13 years at Northwestern, and coordinators Mike McCall (offense) and Mike Hankwitz (defense) have been part of that success for about the past decade.
In his fourth year as UW’s coach, Paul Chryst has compiled a 39-9 record, including a top-10 ranking in each of the past two seasons.
EDGE | UW
The winner will enter November atop the Big Ten West standings. Ryan Field has been a difficult place for UW to play in the past, as the Badgers have won there just once since 1999.
The Wildcats will play another big game next week when they host third-ranked Notre Dame.
EDGE | NORTHWESTERN
STATE JOURNAL’S PICK
It won’t be easy for the Badgers to leave Evanston with a victory, but they may have to in order to win the Big Ten West for the third straight year.
BADGERS 28, NORTHWESTERN 27
THE NUMBER (UW)
12 | straight road wins against Big Ten West opponents for the Badgers since they lost at Northwestern in 2014.
THE NUMBER (Northwestern)
11 | victories for Northwestern in its last 12 Big Ten games. A win Saturday would give the Wildcats their first 5-1 start in conference play since 2000.