Wisconsin-Northwestern Preview: Giving the People What They Want

Jeff RobbinsContributor INovember 19, 2009

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 10:  Wide receiver Nick Toon #1 of the Wisconsin Badgers runs with the ball against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on October 10, 2009 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Game Info:

Who: Wisconsin Badgers at Northwestern Wildcats.

Where: Ryan Field, Big Ten Network.

When: Saturday, Nov. 21, 2:30 PM CST.

Give the people what they want.

It’s the oldest axiom in show business and one that I saw confirmed this weekend as I attended two very different concerts—Sesame Street Live and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

There was nothing horribly wrong with the Sesame Street Live show, and my two-year-old daughter loved every minute of Bert, Ernie, and Elmo extolling the virtues of having a healthy imagination.    

But myself, my wife, and—most annoyingly—my six-year-old son were forced to use our imaginations far too often during the show as we all imagined ourselves being somewhere far more interesting.

The only time the three of us snapped to attention was during the show’s finale of “I Don’t Want To Live On The Moon,” which was literally the only chestnut from the television show amid a bunch of new songs that paled in comparison to Sesame Street classics like “Doin’ The Pigeon,” “Monster In The Mirror,” and “Honker-Duckie-Dinger Jamboree.”

With that kind of rich songbook to cull from, the folks behind Sesame Street Live would be wise to just do the hits. You know, what the people want to hear.

In contrast, Bruce Springsteen concert Sunday night in Milwaukee was about the hits and long-standing concert favorites. Rosalita . Dancing In The Dark . Badlands . Hungry Heart . The entire Born To Run album played in sequence.

In short ,the 60-year-old rock legend gave the people what they wanted. And it was a tremendous show, perhaps the best E Street show I’ve seen.

Professional and collegiate sports, which are certainly close cousins of show business, are also about giving people what they want, and the Wisconsin Badgers did that tremendously last Saturday in what may have been their most impressive all-around victory of the season, a 45-24 whooping of Big Ten rival Michigan.

You like offense? Wisconsin piled up 469 yards, their second highest total this season.

You like balanced offense? (Coaches do.) Saturday’s win was by far the most balanced the Badgers have been all year, with 229 yards on the ground and 240 yards through the air.

You like big-name players playing big-time football? How about Scott Tolzien throwing for four touchdowns and rushing for one? A performance good enough to get him his second Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week award of the season. How about John Clay gaining 151 yards and going over 1,000 yards for the season? How about freshman Chris Borland registering 11 tackles? How about O’Brien Schofield adding to his conference-leading 19.5 tackles for a loss? 

And how about the defense holding Michigan’s league-leading rushing attack to an itty-bitty 71 yards on the ground?

Wisconsin’s done a lot of good things this year, but outside of perhaps their running game and rush defense, they haven’t been particularly consistent.

Can they follow up last week’s pounding of Michigan with perhaps an equally impressive victory over a Northwestern team that has improved mightily since the last time the Badgers faced them in 2006?

Let’s look at the Channel 3000 three storylines for Saturday’s Big Ten finale:


Revenge Part II

Much was made about Bret Bielema and the Badgers seeking retribution over Michigan last week, but there is an even stronger vengeance plot here.

Saturday’s game is the first meeting between these teams since Bielema fired former Badgers defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz after the 2007 season. Hankwitz, now the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator, has done just fine in Evanston, as the Wildcats finished fourth in the Big Ten in team defense last year (four places higher than Wisconsin) and currently rank in the top half of the conference defenses in 2009.

The ousting of Hankwitz from Madison was by all accounts not amicable (Bielema this week admitted that “I’m sure I’m not very popular in the Hankwitz household), and you can be sure that Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald is plotting with Hankwitz on ways to settle the score with Hankwitz's former boss.

Look for the Wildcats—who have forced six turnovers in their last two games—to play very aggressively on defense. If John Clay can hold on to the football and if the Badgers offensive line can protect Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin should be able to create some big plays out of what could be an overzealous Northwestern defensive game plan.


Finishing Strong Part I

The window hasn’t completely closed on Wisconsin earning a share of the Big Ten conference title They need to Michigan to beat Ohio State in order for that to happen. And although Ohio State’s excellence is overrated, Michigan’s awfulness is not.

Heading into Saturday, it seems that the 5-4 Packers have a better chance to come back and win the NFC North over the 8-1 Vikings than the Badgers have of winning a share of the Big Ten title.  

But that doesn’t make Saturday’s game any less important. With a win, the Badgers should finish (assuming they beat Hawaii in two weeks) tied for second in the Big Ten, which would ensure them a very nice bowl invitation. With a loss, Wisconsin could finish fourth in the conference, which would leave them in a far less prestigious bowl.    


Purdue Part II or Indiana Part II?

Mike Kafka, the Wildcats quarterback, has been one of the best quarterbacks in the conference on one of the most pass-happy teams in the Big Ten, with only Purdue throwing the ball more. However, Kafka’s efficiency has been compromised in the past two weeks due to a hamstring injury that has limited his mobility.

In recent weeks, the Badgers have faced two other teams who, like Northwestern, have effective quarterbacks and below-average running games.

Wisconsin was able to completely shut Purdue down on Halloween in a 37-0 blowout at home, but it was a different story at Indiana the following week. The Hoosiers’ Ben Chappell carved up the Wisconsin secondary for 323 yards on 25-of-35 passing attempts. (Indiana only earned 63 yards rushing in the 31-28 Badger victory.)

Either way, the Badgers should be able to emerge victorious, but if Kafka is able to get hot, it could be a nail-biter, which is not what Wisconsin fans want.

Predicted final: Wisconsin 27, Northwestern 21.  



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