Hello? Is anybody out there?
The Northern Illinois Huskies will face the Wisconsin Badgers this Saturday, but will there be anybody around to see the game? Only 35,000 tickets or so have been sold and the game is only going to be broadcast on ESPN3.com. Yes, ESPN3.com is a thing, it's not just a joke from Dodgeball. There could be numerous reasons why the ticket sales haven't been up, but tickets were a touch too expensive and NIU to the Badgers is like a distracting rock in a pond of 5 home games to start the season (when is Nebraska coming to Madison?)
Wisconsin has been VERY, VERY good this season, dominating their first two games against UNLV (51-17) and Oregon State (35-0). Now make no mistake, these are a couple extremely bad teams. The Beavers were supposed to provide a challenge to UW, but lost to FCS Sacramento State in week one. The only reason UNLV scored points is that because they busted out the pistol offense, something that the Badgers hadn't prepared for early on.
Trying to figure out how to judge the Badgers from their first couple games is hard, but in the same vein easy: These guys are good. Oregon St was able to move it a little while throwing off the UW defense, so maybe that is a possibility. Meanwhile, Wisconsin's offense is balanced, able to both run and throw the ball with new QB Russell immaculately putting the ball in the right places. This Badger squad has unbelievable momentum so far and is about to take that into Soldier Field this Saturday against the Huskies.
It all starts with the offensive line at Wisconsin and pretty much everywhere else in college football. The Badgers only lost two players on the left side, but they were both All-Americans. That's fine, they just took their RT Ricky Wagner and stuck him over at LT. New starters are RT Josh Oglesby and LG Travis Frederick, who will be returning to face the Huskies after sitting out the OSU game with a bad knee.
In the backfield you have the two-headed monster of Montee Ball (28 car, 181 yds, 5 TDs) and James White (28 car, 117 yds, 1 TD) in the backfield running behind bulldozers. White's the speedier back, but they both can beat you in all sorts of ways.
At WR you have Nick Toon who has been playing for the Badgers for what seems like forever now with 9 catches for 123 yds and a TD. He provides enough attention so that Jacob Pederson, a sophomore can make an impact with 8 catches for 100 yds and 3 TDs of his own.
Strategy: Wisconsin has about as traditional of an offense as you can get. They will try to grind it out on the ground and the Huskies will be in a battle all day long.
The only new starter on the Badgers DL is DE David Gilbert. Who did he replace? J.J. Watt. That's some big shoes to fill and the Badgers. Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu on the other side both lead the team with 2 sacks a piece.
WLB Mike Taylor is the only linebacker that returns as a stater this year, but MLB Chris Borland was B10 freshman of the year before he used a medical redshirt last season. I'm not so sure there is going to be that much of a drop-off at this position for the Badgers this season. Borland and Taylor are #1 and #2 in tackles with 16 and 15 respectively.
Strategy: It's going to be a lot of the same strategy the Huskies had against Kansas last week. The offensive line is going to protect Harnish just fine. NIU is going to spread the ball around to everybody and try to tire out this Wisconsin defense. They weren't a "great" defense last year and are a little weaker this year. So far their pass efficiency defense is only 8th in the Big 10. Once the defense is tired, then we'll start running the ball up the gut a tad bit more.
Wisconsin, we have your former defensive coordinator, so no tricks are going to be pulled in this one by the Badgers. Advantage: Doeren.
This one's going to be a shootout early on, but from what I saw against Kansas the NIU defense just doesn't have the horses to grind it out late in the game against a team like Wisconsin. Huskies 27, Badgers 38.