Back in Top 10, No. 8 Wisconsin eyes win at Northwestern
EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) Coming off a tight victory and a return to the Top 10, No. 8 Wisconsin has every right to feel good about itself.
The Badgers can also be excused if they're a little nervous given who they play on Saturday.
Wisconsin visits Northwestern, a team that has given the Badgers all sorts of trouble in recent years.
''It's going to be a tough, tough challenge,'' Wisconsin running back Corey Clement said. ''We're ready to embrace the opportunity to go into their stadium and come out with a victory.''
The Badgers (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten, No. 8 CFP) beat then-No. 7 Nebraska 23-17 in overtime last week after letting a lead slip away in regulation, and came away with a program-record third win against a Top 10 team this season.
It vaulted them back into the Top 10 and put them a game behind the Cornhuskers in the Big Ten West race along with Northwestern (4-4, 3-2) and two other teams.
They're facing a different challenge this week, against a team that has given them fits in recent years.
The Wildcats have won four of six after a 0-2 start and nearly pulled off an upset at Ohio State last week, settling for a late field goal after driving to the 3 and losing 24-20.
''We're an average football team,'' Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. ''That's what we look like on tape. Saturday's another example of that. We had ample opportunities in all three phases, and we were really inconsistent fundamentally. I thought we were really inconsistent as a team in our effort, in our strain to not only finish, but to win in some one-on-one battles. I think that cost us in the long run.''
Here are some things to know as Wisconsin meets Northwestern:
WISCONSIN BADGERED: Wisconsin has had its difficulties with Northwestern in recent years, dropping six of their past 10 meetings.
The Badgers have dropped four in a row at Ryan Field since a win in 1999 and had no luck either at Camp Randall Stadium last year.
Wisconsin lost that game after three touchdowns were negated by calls from the officials, who had snowballs thrown at them as they left the field.
ONE OR THE OTHER: Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst says freshman Alex Hornibrook will start against Northwestern, though he still apparently intends to play backup quarterback Bart Houston, too. Hornibrook took over from Houston as the starter in Week 4. Houston has been playing more the last couple weeks in a designed move that is supposed to give the offense a change of pace. Houston, a senior, is more mobile. But the results of the two-quarterback system have been mixed. Houston was the quarterback for the overtime drive last week against Nebraska that led to the Badgers' go-ahead touchdown run.
THORSON'S RISE: Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson is settling in after a shaky start.
He has 10 touchdowns and two interceptions in the past four games after throwing for five TDs and getting picked off four times in the first four. He has also thrown for more than 250 yards the past three games and ranks third in the Big Ten in passing.
ON THE LINEBACKERS: The Badgers keep finding productive backups to step in for injured linebackers. Ryan Connelly was named Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Week last week for his 11-tackle performance against Nebraska. He helped fill in for leading tackler Jack Cichy, who is out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle. Leon Jacobs also had 11 tackles in his most extensive action inside to help replace Cichy. The Badgers' long-term plan to rotate players in spring ball and training camp has been paying off with productivity. They might have to dip into their depth again since outside linebacker T.J. Watt was questionable at midweek with a right shoulder injury. Garrett Dooley and Zack Baun would fill in for Watt if he can't go.
RUSH FOR MILESTONE: Justin Jackson needs 132 yards to become the first Northwestern player to rush for 1,000 in three straight seasons. The junior is the Big Ten's second-leading rusher this year.
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