Breakdown: No.19 Northwestern at Wisconsin

Chris Borland (USA Today Sports)

Likely its final game against a ranked opponent in the regular season, Wisconsin host No.19 Northwestern in a pivotal Big Ten conference game for both teams. Badger Nation breaks down the matchup.

No.19 Northwestern (4-1, 0-1 Big Ten) vs. Wisconsin (3-2, 1-2 Big Ten)

Date/Time - Saturday, October 12 at 2:30 p.m. CT

Stadium –Camp Randall Stadium (80,321/FieldTurf)

Television –ABC/ESPN2 (Sean McDonough, Chris Spielman, Shannon Spake)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas and Mark Tauscher), Sirius 113, XM 193

Series –Wisconsin leads 56-33-5 (Wisconsin leads 25-14-2 in Madison)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 70-23, on Nov.27, 2010 in Madison

Last week's Badger Nation game coverage

Last meeting's Badger Nation game coverage

Series Notes

The Badgers have won 7 of their last 9 Homecoming games, dating back to a 24-12 win over Northwestern on Oct. 23, 2004.

Wisconsin seeks its fourth-consecutive win over Northwestern at Camp Randall Stadium, a streak that dates back to 2004 and includes a 41-9 victory in 2006 and a 70-23 win in 2010.

Overall, Northwestern and Wisconsin have split their last six meetings, dating back to 2003.

After two seasons without seeing one another, Northwestern and Wisconsin resume what has been an entertaining Big Ten series in recent decades, with each squad winning 11 of 22 games played since 1985. The teams are also 3-3 in the series since 2003, a stretch which includes two wins by unranked Northwestern teams over top-20 Wisconsin squads (2003, 2009).

Pat Fitzgerald, who is 1-2 against the Badgers in his head coaching career, was part of four memorable games vs. UW in his playing career. After two lopsided defeats to Barry Alvarez' Badgers in 1993 (53-14) and 1994 (46-14), 11th-ranked NU hosted Wisconsin in 1995 and blanked the No. 24 Badgers 35-0 en route to the Big Ten title. The 'Cats then won a 34-30 outcome on the road in 1996 for their first victory in Madison since 1987.

The Wildcats and Badgers will be seeing more of each other following the upcoming divisional realignment of the Big Ten. The two teams will meet again less than a year from now when the Badgers visit Evanston on Oct. 4, 2014, and Northwestern is slated for a return trip to Camp Randall on Nov. 21, 2015.

Northwestern defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz arrived in Evanston in 2008 following a two-year stint as defensive coordinator at Wisconsin (2006-07). His 2006 Badgers unit ranked No. 1 nationally in pass efficiency defense, No. 2 in scoring defense (12.1 ppg) and fifth in the country in total defense (253.1 ypg). The Badgers finished 12-1 that season en route to a win over Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl.

Wisconsin tight ends/special teams coach Jeff Genyk has a long history with Northwestern, where he began his D-I coaching career as a GA in 1992-93. He moved into the role of director of operations during NU's storied 1995 Rose Bowl campaign, and then was Pat Fitzgerald's linebackers coach during Fitz' 1996 senior season (through 1998). The last five of his 12 years in Evanston were spent as Randy Walker's running backs coach and special teams coordinator. Genyk then moved on to become head coach at Eastern Michigan, where he hired current NU running backs coach Matt MacPherson as his safeties coach.

NU senior PK Jeff Budzien attended Arrowhead High School in Wisconsin with UW junior LB Derek Landisch and sophomore punter Drew Meyer.

Wisconsin Notes

The Badgers enter Saturday's game ranked sixth nationally in total defense (272.6 yards per game) and 10th in scoring defense (14.6 points per game). Wisconsin ranks 15th nationally and second in the Big Ten in total offense, averaging 518.0 yards per game.

Dating back to 2009, the Badgers have won their last five regular-season games following a bye week, outscoring their opponents by a combined 243-44 in those games for an average score of 48.6-8.8. The Badgers are 7-2 following a loss since the beginning of the 2010 season.

UW has averaged 7.73 yards per play this season, the sixth-best average of any FBS team. Baylor leads the nation with an aver- age of 9.62 yards per offensive play.

The Badgers rank No. 12 nationally in rushing defense, allowing just 99.4 yards per game. Michigan State is the national leader at 51.2 rushing yards per game. UW has allowed opponents an average of just 3.01 yards per rushing attempt, the 12th-best mark of any FBS team. Michigan State leads the nation at 1.97 yards allowed per rushing attempt.

The Badgers' defense has allowed an aver- age of just 168.3 total yards at home this season, the best mark of any team in the nation. UW's defense also leads the nation in passing defense at home (105.3 ypg) and ranks sixth nationally in rushing defense at home (63.0 ypg).

Northwestern Notes

Northwestern currently ranks fourth nationally and No. 1 in the Big Ten in completion percentage at 72.3 and is ranked 12th in passing efficiency at 165.00. The Wildcats are accustomed to compiling high completion percentages under McCall. NU ranked fifth nationally in the stat in both 2010 (68.3) and 2011 (71.0) as Dan Persa was on his way to graduating as the NCAA's all-time leader in completion percentage (72.7, 460-of-633).

Offensive coordinator Mick McCall's unit has once again found a place among the top 30 teams in the country in third down conversion percentage, ranking 26th (48.6). Since McCall arrived in 2008, the Wildcats have ranked 21st, 16th, 18th, 13th and 29th nationally in that category.

For the second year in a row, Northwestern's primary deep threat has been speedy wideout Tony Jones, who paces the Wildcats in receptions (27), yards (385) and TD catches (3) and ranks third among Big Ten receivers with 90.5 receiving yards per outing.

Breakdown

Gary Andersen is used to dealing with a tough postgame locker room. Taking on a couple of rebuilding projects, Andersen lost 31 times in five seasons at Southern Utah and Utah State, and had some tough pills to swallow. He lost by two points to Wisconsin last season while coaching Utah State and his 2011 Aggies team lost five games by one possession and six games by a combined 26 points.

It's eerily similar to last season for Wisconsin, as the Badgers lost six games by a combined 25 points and all by one possession. The problem is those same hard-to-swallow losses are still hovering over the program.

Wisconsin is outside of the top25 because of two hard-luck losses in the first five weeks of the season: one coming in a controversial ending in the desert and the other two weekends ago because of mental first-half gaffes. Since the start of the 2010 season, all 13 of UW's losses have been by 10 points or less. While both painful, the last loss probably will result in the Badgers watching the Big Ten championship game at home for the first time since the game's inception two years ago.

"Close games are hard," said Andersen. "For that senior class, it will be difficult to absorb that, swallow that. I think that will trickle down to the rest of the kids of the team."

The trickle-down effect, despite all the listed negatives, has been noticeable. Fortunate to have a bye week last week, Wisconsin was able to get healthy, regroup and process where they are at as a team. Tailback Melvin Gordon said great teams respond to adversity; defensive tackle Beau Allen said he hasn't seen any quit in any players while Chris Borland recognizes UW can play a full four-quarter game against anybody.

"We feel like we put ourselves in a position to win," added tight end Jacob Pedersen. "I expect the team to deal with the adversity the same way we dealt with it in the games and bounce back."

Because of a scheduling quirk, Wisconsin's game tomorrow against Northwestern will be the Badgers only home game this month. And because of the weak Leaders Division, this will likely be UW's last regular season game against a ranked opponent.

Northwestern brings a potent offense that's scored over 30 points the last seven games and has playmakers at every position that can hurt defenses. But while the offense has been putting up points, it's been the Wildcats' defense that usually determines a win or a loss.

Northwestern's defense is tied with Missouri for first nationally for most interceptions per game this season (2.20), and has two games this season where it's recorded an interception from the defensive line, linebackers and secondary.

Northwestern ranks first in the conference and 10th nationally with 14 takeaways (11 interceptions, three forced fumbles), something that former Wisconsin and current Northwestern defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz harps on every day in practice for the last six seasons.

"Hank really emphasizes it and so does our entire defensive staff," said Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, as the Wildcats forced three Ohio State turnovers last week. "Our guys are the ones that own it by working on taking the football way. We had a few more that were really close to coming out on Saturday.

"We work on it on every play every day. I am really proud of the job this point the guys are doing taking the football away."

Since the start of the 2010 season, no team has valued possession of the ball better than the Badgers. UW leads all FBS programs with just 36 turnovers over the course of the last four seasons (Alabama ranks second with 46 total turnovers). Ball security was an extra emphasis in practice among the running backs all week, especially with Gordon carrying two football and running back coach Thomas Hammock doing his best to give his star sophomore some resistance.

"I've never felt these kids have not not been prepared," said Andersen. "Their care factor is huge."

Despite Northwestern's ranking and strength in multiple area, Wisconsin is a 10.5-point favorite. Why? For one thing, according to Fitzgerald, Ohio State and Wisconsin use different formations in its running style, but have similar athletes on the offensive line, at tight end and at running back. That's good news for Wisconsin considering Buckeyes back Carlos Hyde ran for 168 yards and three touchdowns last weekend, as Gordon and James White should be primed for a big day.

This is a statement game for the Badgers. Wisconsin's defense, particularly the secondary, has struggled against good spread offenses for the last decade it seems, so the Badgers will have their work cut out for them. UW's running game was stymied two weeks ago and is itching to go, and the Badgers are finally at full healthy for the first time in weeks.

"They should know they can be a good football team, but they've got to make themselves a good football team," said Andersen. "Then they'll have the opportunity to possibly be great somewhere down the road."

If Wisconsin wants us to be believers, this is really its last chance to do so this season. Playing at home for an afternoon, having a healthy team and against a team that is susceptible to the run, banged up and coming off an emotional home loss the week before, the Badgers get us to believe they're on the right track.

Wisconsin 38, Northwestern 28

Worgull's Predictions

Straight up: 4-1*

Against the Spread: 4-0-1

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