2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 3 - Wisconsin vs. NIU
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Sept. 17 Wisconsin 49 … Northern Illinois 7
CFN Analysis: COMING
(AP) CHICAGO -- Try and shut down Montee Ball and James White, and Russell Wilson will throw all day long.
Cover up his receivers, and Wilson will tuck the ball and run.
And even if a defense somehow manages to contain all three of Wisconsin's best weapons, well, the Badgers will find someone else to get it done.
No. 7 Wisconsin looked like an offensive juggernaut Saturday, piling up more than 600 yards in a 49-7 rout of Northern Illinois at Soldier Field. Wilson threw for 347 yards and three scores, Ball ran for a pair of touchdowns, White finished with 126 yards of total offense and four other players pitched in with 50 yards of offense or more.
"It's a positive thing that a lot of guys can make a lot of great plays," said Wilson, who was 23 of 32. "I just have to get the ball to the right guys, that's my job."
It was the 31st straight regular-season victory over a non-conference team for the Badgers (3-0), who have one last warmup before their much anticipated Oct. 1 game against new Big Ten member Nebraska at Camp Randall.
The only blemish for the Badgers was Wilson's interception in the third quarter, the first turnover of the season for Wisconsin.
After scoring 45-plus points in each of their first two games, Jasmin Hopkins scored the only touchdown for the Huskies (1-2). The loss dropped the Huskies to 4-27 against ranked teams, and spoiled new coach Dave Doeren's reunion with his old team.
Doeren spent the past five years as Wisconsin's defensive coordinator before taking over at Northern Illinois (1-2).
"We just didn't help ourselves," Doeren said. "That's a big thing when you're playing a team as good as Wisconsin. You can't beat yourself."
Wisconsin has been one of the better teams in the Big Ten for much of the last decade, and it won a share of the conference title last season. But those Badger teams were built on power: running backs who could bulldoze their way over opponents and a big, physical defense.
Thanks to the addition of Wilson, who transferred from North Carolina State, these Badgers have endless options.
"All of us are able to make plays when the ball comes to us," said Nick Toon, who had two touchdowns among his five receptions. "When we play clean, we're hard to beat."
Just look at the stats. Wisconsin put the game out of reach by scoring on six of its first seven possessions. The exception? A missed field goal on the second drive, after the Badgers set themselves back with penalties for a chop block (15 yards) and a false start (five).
"They've got a great team," Doeren said. "They're going to win a lot of games. There's no doubt."
Northern Illinois did manage to make things interesting for about 3 minutes at the end of the first quarter.
Following that missed Wisconsin field goal, the Huskies put together their best drive of the day. Chandler Harnish completed passes of 20 yards to Nathan Palmer and another of 39 yards to Ashford to set up a 3-yard run by Hopkins that tied the game at 7 with 1:59 left in the first quarter. Hoping to build on their momentum, the Huskies went for the onside kick.
"(Doeren) wanted to win this football game," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "He was going to do whatever he had to do."
But the Badgers recovered, and Wilson put a quick end to any hopes the Huskies had for the upset. He needed only three passes to give Wisconsin the lead again, connecting with Toon for the 16-yard score, then moved the Badgers 97 yards on their next drive after they'd been pinned to their own 3.
With the offensive line giving Wilson what seemed like hours to throw, he took his time until he spotted Jacob Pedersen sprinting up the left side of the field, hitting him in stride for a 55-yard gain that took Wisconsin to the 2-yard line. Two plays later, Ball ran from a yard in to give Wisconsin a 21-7 lead.
Ball has now scored in nine straight games, and has 22 touchdowns since last Oct. 23.
Not to be outdone, backfield mate White scored on Wisconsin's next drive. Wilson turned what should have been a sack into an 11-yard gain, and White scored two plays later on a 20-yard run, getting help from a great block by offensive lineman Peter Konz that allowed White to turn the corner and get outside.
It was White's second touchdown of the season.
"He's a good quarterback," Northern Illinois defensive end Sean Progar said. "Everyone talks about his scrambling and he got loose on us a couple of times, but he's a good quarterback. He put the ball on the money to his wide receivers."
Northern Illinois got to the Wisconsin 25 just before halftime. But Mathew Sims' field goal attempt was wide right and the Huskies never came close to scoring again.
In fact, they got past midfield just once in the second half.
Wisconsin (2-0) vs. Northern Illinois (1-1) in Chicago Sept. 17, 3:30, ESPN3
Here's The Deal … No team in college football has been more impressive after two weeks than Wisconsin. After a great 2010 and with a hot start to 2011, helped by the play of transfer quarterback Russell Wilson, the Badgers are starting to generate more and more of a buzz with the national title talk starting to build. However, there's only one problem.
They've played absolutely no one.
They blew away UNLV in the season opener, and a week later Washington State also had its fun blowing away the Rebels 59-7. The Oregon State team Wisconsin beat last week lost to Sacramento State at home to start the season. And now, this is it. This is the one big non-conference game for a UW team that's great at bullying the mediocre, but has problems with teams like NIU.
The Huskies are explosive and dangerous, jumping out on Northwestern to start the season and losing last week in a firefight in Kansas. Quarterback Chandler Harnish is playing as well as any quarterback in America, but he needs more help from a defense that's in need of rebuilding and repairing. Wisconsin isn't the team to go against when there's still tweaking to be done.
Technically, it's a home game for NIU, but it's being played in Soldier Field; it should be the Chicago version of Camp Randall. However, first year Huskie head coach Dave Doeren knows the Badgers up and down after serving as UW's defensive coordinator. He and Badger head man Bret Bielema are great friends, and it should be an terrific cat-and-mouse game to see which one comes up with the right adjustments.
Why Wisconsin Might Win: Northern Illinois is having a teeny, tiny problem stopping the run. That's not a positive against the nation's most brutal ground game.
Oregon State did a great job of stopping the Badger attack early on last week, but Wilson picked up the slack and made the throws needed to keep early drives alive to put the game away in the second quarter. NIU should be able to come up with a few stops early, but it doesn't have the man power or the line to hold up for a full four quarters. Army rolled for 303 yards and three touchdowns on the Huskies, working well inside and out, and last week, Kansas tore off 253 yards and two three scores. Yes, Doeren knows all about the Badgers and he knows exactly what they're going to do. He just doesn't have the defensive front to do anything about it.
Why Northern Illinois Might Win: Andy Dalton.
In the 2011 Rose Bowl, Dalton, who's now the Cincinnati Bengal starting
quarterback, completed 15-of-23 passes for 219 yards and a score, and he ran for an effective 28 yards and a touchdown. Most importantly, he managed to keep the chains moving and kept Wisconsin off the field as he and TCU converted 6-of-10 third down chances. NIU's Harnish has the same type of game
the former Horned Frog star.
Harish is the type of quarterback who traditionally gives Bielema's defenses fits, and he's playing at the
highest of levels. After rocking Fresno State for 300 yards through the air and 72 on the ground with two rushing scores in the Humanitarian Bowl, Harnish has come out rocking completing 75% of his passes for 510 yards and seven touchdowns with an interception, while running for 80 yards and a score against Army and 89 yards and three touchdowns against Kansas.
NIU might not have the defense to hold up against Wisconsin's might, but Harnish is an X factor who can control the game all by himself. He has to keep the Huskie defense off the field.
What To Watch Out For: The Badgers suffered a potentially devastating blow against Oregon State losing corner Devin Smith for the year with a broken foot. Wisconsin is paper thin in the secondary and couldn't afford to lose a playmaker of his caliber, and Doeren knows it. He'll attack Smith's replacement, Marcus Cromartie, time and again until the Badgers can stop it.
On the other side, Wisconsin will start out trying to pound the ball, but once again it'll be Wilson's show. The nation's second most efficient passer behind Baylor's Robert Griffin, Wilson has been flawless completing 79% of his throws for 444 yards and five touchdowns without a pick, while running for 73 yards and a touchdown. He'll be great on third downs, but so is NIU, who's currently second in the nation behind Illinois converting 71.4% of the time. The problem, though, is that the Huskies are 118th in the nation in third down defense allowing teams to convert 58% of the time, and that's where Wilson comes in with his deadly accuracy.
What Will Happen: Harnish will give the Badgers a nightmare of a time, and it'll be close for about a quarter, and then the hammer will drop. Wisconsin's offense will be too tough and too balanced for NIU to handle, and the game will be well in hand midway through the third quarter.
CFN Prediction: Wisconsin 41 … Northern Illinois 23
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