November 21, 2009

Five things to watch: Northwestern

EVANSTON - For Wisconsin, Saturday's Big Ten finale represents a chance to improve its bowl prospects before the season concludes at Hawaii. For Northwestern, a win over the Badgers would equal the two schools conference records and help the Wildcats move up in the bowl pecking order.

With the game set to begin in a matter of hours, gives you, the viewer, five things to watch.

1.) Scott Tolzien heads home:

Though he's not from Evanston technically, Tolzien still grew up the area and today's game will be his homecoming of sorts. Against the Wildcats, it will be vital for Tolzien to play at a high level similar to games of recent weeks.

When Tolzien plays well, the Badgers usually play well. If the Badgers have an established passing game, it usually means John Clay and the rest of the running backs are having a good start. So hopefully, for Badger fans, the offense will continue to click against a Northwestern defense that gives up nearly 23 points per game.

2.) Can Nick Toon keep it going?

Over the past two weeks, Toon has compiled 221 yards receiving and three touchdowns. He has become the playmaking threat at the receiver position the Badgers were looking for. He has continued to make strides in his development and has become Tolzien's go-to man.

Most importantly, Toon has shown that he wants to be the offense's most dynamic weapon. He proved he is athletic enough to haul in a pass that was thrown in his direction when he went over the Michigan defender for the touchdown last week. Two weeks ago, his catch on third down late in the game at Indiana was one of beauty.

3.) Defensive line with a lot to play for:

Should the Badger defensive line hold Northwestern's rushing attack in check and keep any individual rusher under 100 yards, it will be the first defense to keep every Big Ten running back on the schedule under the century mark.

Considering the turnover after the season where three of last years four starters were lost to graduation, the progress of the defensive line has been nothing short of surprising, especially considering most of the players making an impact outside of O'Brien Schofield really hadn't played much prior to this year.

4.) Senior day for the Wildcats:

If last week in Madison was any indication, the emotions at Ryan Field today will be running high. For Northwestern, it's group of seniors have been a part of one of the most successful classes in school history. With players such as Corey Wootton leading the defense and Mike Kafka running the show on offense, you can bet the Wildcats will playing with a lot of enthusiasm.

5.) Another shootout in Evanston?

It seems like every time the Badgers head down to Ryan Field it becomes a shootout that favors the Wildcats and their style of play. Since Pat Fitzgerald has become a head coach, though, there has been more focus on defensive football.

The Badgers haven't played in Evanston for a number of years so UW doesn't have much experience with an improving Northwestern program under Fitzgerald. With a chance to still win 10 regular season games on the line and an outside shot at a BCS bowl, Wisconsin knows what's on the line in this game.

And with an offense that averages over 30 points per game and a secondary that has allowed a certain number of big plays defensively, today's game might be like those of the past. That being an entertaining, high-scoring affair.

Lea's Prediction:

For the first time all season I got the feeling that the team is a little bit over confident. I understand the fact that UW doesn't beat Michigan that often and it was a big and impressive win, but it seemed like the players were a bit too high , too late in the week.

I am not saying the Badgers aren't prepared for the Wildcats and everything they have to offer, but I just have the classic trap game feel to this game. Then you add in senior day with a pretty decent squad, and I think the emotions of the game will favor NU.

Wisconsin simply can't turn over the ball and will have to play tough defense against Northwestern's version of the spread. Unfortunately, I feel UW is running into a buzz saw in Evanston.

Northwestern wins 35-31.

Lea's Season Record: 8-2

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