As the Wisconsin Badgers take on their neighbors to the south at Soldier Field (italics for added effect), they’ll face a very unique challenge. Former UW defensive coordinator Dave Doeren is Northern Illinois’ head coach. And he knows this team intimately. Like ‘first-name basis’ intimate. He knows the team’s strengths and weaknesses like the back of his hand. Yes, Bret Bielema changed the defensive and offensive signals, but Doeren still knows this team.
But, all that being said, the Badgers are still a much better team than the Huskies. Northern Illinois has struggled immensely on defense this year, giving up 45 points to projected Big 12 cellar-dweller Kansas last Saturday, and will be absolutely overwhelmed by a bigger, stronger and faster Badger offense. The Huskies will not be able to stop the run. No ‘buts.’ They won’t. Montee and James should go wild. Unlike last week against Oregon State, Wilson shouldn’t need to carry the burden.
On the other side of the ball is where it gets interesting. Yes, Wisconsin shut out the Beavers last week, but they still gave up a decent amount of yardage. And, let’s remember, Wisconsin was playing against a true freshman quarterback, a back-up running back and no James Rodgers. Oregon State was far from being at full strength. NIU, on the other hand, has Chandler Harnish at QB. Because he plays in the MAC, he gets no respect, but Harnish has been lights out this year and for the past three years. Wisconsin will have it’s hands full with him and the Husky offense, which is currently averaging over 45 points per game.
Unfortunately, what could be one of the most entertaining games of the day won’t be on TV. Hope you have high-speed internet.
Prediction: Wisconsin 55, Northern Illinois 20
Interesting points, Sam. And while I agree on almost all the points you make, I can’t help but come to a slightly different outcome. Do I think the Badgers will win? Yes, I do. Will the Wisconsin offense light up a porous Huskies defense? Probably. Will Northern Illinois’s offense challenge the Badger defense? More than likely. Will I spend the majority of the Badger/Huskies game screaming at my computer screen regardless of what’s happening? Absolutely. However, after watching the Badgers for two weeks and analyzing how the Huskies have fared over that span, I have a hard time believing the Badgers will roll for a 35 point win at Soldier Field.
Call it a hunch, call it a bout with Post-Traumatic No Devin Smith Disorder, hell, call it a bad case of the Debbie-downers, I don’t care. All I can tell you is that I can’t help but feel a little uneasy heading into Saturday’s game. Let me explain:
It’s a well known fact that the Badgers square off against a very familiar foe in ex-defensive coordinator, Dave Doeren, on Saturday. Now, I know Brett Bielema has noted he will be changing signs to disguise calls on Saturday, but I don’t care. Only an idiot would think Bielema waving around his arms differently on the sidelines is going to send Doeren into a state of confusion. If you live, eat, and sleep Badger football like Doeren did, it’s going to take a lot more than some new side-line dance moves to confuse the Huskies coaching staff. Doeren knows this football team. He understands how the Badgers operate, attack, and defend, and thus, how to counter it. If there’s any coach in the country who knows the nuances of how to play the Badgers, it should be the guy who, less than ten months ago, was sipping lattes with Paul Chryst and Brett Bielema in the Badger coaches office. As you can tell, I’m a little concerned.
I don’t know about the mind-thought of the Badgers, but I would have an awfully hard time getting jacked to, coming off of two big wins in front of a crazy, packed Camp Randall, travel to a half-filled, non-college, non-televised game against an MAC football team—Dave Doeren or not. So yes, I am definitely waving my “Flat Start Caution” flag above the Badger racetrack.
Now let’s get to the big one. Last week the Badgers lost Devin Smith for the season to a foot injury. Enter Marcus Cromartie. Now Cromartie did a very nice job against a hapless Oregon State JV team, so naturally, Marcus Cromartie, meet your first college football start. Congrats.
“Now, Marcus, I’d also like to introduce you to someone else. Marcus, meet Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish. Chandler, meet Marcus Cromartie. Chandler, this will be Marcus’s first college start. Marcus, this is Chandler’s third year starting. All he’s done so far this year is throw for 510 yards for 7 touchdowns. Yes, you’re right Marcus, that is even more than our precious Russell Wilson. O, and yes, I definitely agree, I’m sure you and Chandler will be very well acquainted with each other by the end of Saturday’s game.”
OK, I’ll stop being obnoxious.
But seriously, the Huskies have been lights out on offense this year by averaging 45.5 points and 485 yards per game. And yes, both of those are higher than your vaunted Wisconsin offense. Make no mistake about it, these Huskies can score. And despite locking the Beavers out of the scoring column last week, I still haven’t seen the Badgers show that they can be anything more than an average defensive unit. I hope I eat my words on Saturday night, but I see the Huskies exposing some holes in the Badger D.
Between Doeren’s familiarity with the Badgers and a high-flying offense, I see the Huskies causing the Badgers some problems. That being said, Northern Illinois is going to have an even tougher job in handling a more balanced, dynamic Wisconsin offense. I see this being a very close, high-scoring, computer screen-clutching affair—at least for the first three quarters. And while I have been a bit pessimistic, I eventually I see Ash’s Badger defense tightening the screws and getting some clutch stops down the stretch as Wilson takes over and scores two daggers late to ice the game.
Prediction: Wisconsin 48, Northern Illinois 38
-Mitch “Doom and Gloom” Larson