The No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers (2-0) take on the perennial MAC powerhouse Northern Illinois Huskies (1-1) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon in Chicago at Soldier Field. Here is a quick scouting report of Northern Illinois.
Side note: If you’re looking for this game on TV, don’t bother. For the first time in five years, Wisconsin football will not be on live television. Log on to ESPN3.com to stream the game online. Hopefully you have an internet provider that has free access to this feature.
As senior quarterback Chandler Harnish goes, the NIU offense goes. And so far this season, it’s been going pretty well. Already this year, Harnish is 39-of-52 passing for 510 yards and seven touchdowns with just one interception. Oh, he’s also second on the team with 169 yards rushing— averaging 7.7 yards a carry— and has four touchdowns on the ground. There’s no way around it: without Harnish, the Huskies would not be averaging 45.5 points a game going into week 3.
If Wisconsin hopes to slow down this powerful Husky offense, they’ll need to pressure Harnish, disrupt his timing and keep him in the pocket. He’s probably one of the most underrated quarterbacks in America and the Badgers could be in trouble if he gets going.
Although Harnish is by far the Huskies greatest weapon, they’re not too shabby at running back either. Jasmin Hopkins, a small 5’9″, 181-pound darter, already has 185 yards and a touchdown on the ground this year on just 27 carries. He hasn’t faced a defensive front seven like Wisconsin’s yet, but he’s still dangerous if he can get in space. The Badgers will need to keep him contained.
Jamal Womble also has 48 yards on 11 carries this year.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
The Huskies have a number of dangerous assets catching the ball this year. So far, 5’11” senior Nathan Palmer has been the most productive receiver, hauling in 10 passes for 105 yards and a touchdown going into this week’s game.
But 6’2″ Martel Moore might be a greater threat against the Badgers this weekend. He’s taller than every Badger defensive back and has eight catches for 91 yards and two touchdowns this year.
However, that’s not it. Backup running back Akeem Daniels is great catching the ball out of the backfield, already hauling in six passes for 76 yards and a touchdown this season and backup wide receiver Perez Ashford has five catches for 67 yards.
Without cornerback Devin Smith on the field, this will be the Badger pass defense’s toughest test up to this point.
So far this year, the Husky offensive line has been absolutely outstanding. They’ve given Harnish tons of time to pass (only one sack on the QB this year) and have paved the way for 436 yards rushing and 5.7 yards a carry. If they play that well against Wisconsin on Saturday, the Badger ‘D’ will be at the mercy of Harnish and Co.
As well as the offense has been playing, that’s how bad the NIU defense has been playing. And, unlike Oregon State, the Northern Illinois defensive line is probably the team’s weakest unit.
Although the line does have three sacks this year, they’re heavily responsible for 278 yards rushing a game and six touchdowns on the ground. Simply put, if the Wisconsin offensive line doesn’t dominate the NIU front four, they have some serious problems. As with most mid-major teams, the NIU defensive line is completely undersized. Their biggest player is 5’11”, 281 pounds. Every single Badger offensive lineman is bigger than that.
Like the defensive line, the Husky linebackers have struggled this year. Although stopping the run ultimately does fall on the front four, the linebackers are still responsible. This unit is very small and seems much better suited for pass defense. If Wisconsin linemen can get to the second level, Wisconsin running backs should get to the defensive backfield at will.
Although much of NIU’s failures on defense can be attributed to their run defense, their pass defense hasn’t been all that stellar either. They’re allowing 193.5 yards passing a game and opposing offenses are 28-of-46 passing.
If the Badgers wanted to, they could probably take advantage of this pass defense. But, they probably won’t need to.
As a defense, the Huskies are giving up 35.5 points a game. If the Badgers don’t score 50, they’ll have underperformed.
It’s tough to judge NIU’s placekicker, Mathew Sims, because he hasn’t attempted a field goal this year. But he is 13-of-13 on PATs.
So far, punter Ryan Neir has not been good for the Huskies. On four punts, he’s averaging just 34.5 yards a punt.
NIU has primarily used two kick returners this year. Safety Tommy Davis and running back Akeem Daniels are averaging 19.4 and 18 yards a return, respectively, this season.
Davis is also the primary punt returner. On two returns this year, he’s gained eight yards.