Bet Northwestern +7 Over Wisconsin Badgers
Wisconsin Badgers (5-2 SU, 2-5 ATS) vs. Northwestern Wildcats (4-3 SU, 3-3-1 ATS)
College Football Week 9
Date and Time: October 27 at 12pm ET
Where: Ryan Field
by Ted Walker, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: WISC -7/NW +7
Over/Under Total: 51.5
Being pesky is an intangible trait for a college football team. A pesky nature isn’t often associated with very good teams and that general peskiness doesn’t often lead to surprising upsets but there are just some teams that are sure to fluster their opponents. The Northwestern Wildcats are among those plucky, frustrating and pesky teams and one opponent they have routinely pestered is the Wisconsin Badgers. UW heads to Evanston Saturday for another battle that is sure to be cause frayed nerves for the favored Badgers. Wisconsin is an even 5-5 against the spread in the last ten against Northwestern but just 1-7 in their last 8 meetings at Ryan Field. Wisconsin has been anything but predictable this season but let’s see if we can break this one down.
Shell of Itself
To put it rather simply, Wisconsin is just not very good this season. They aren’t bad, they will see a bowl game and are still favored to represent the West in Big Ten Championship but they are not close to the playoff hopeful team that many thought they were. The Badgers best win came in Iowa as three point favorites but they were routed at Michigan and handed a rare home loss by BYU. Bucky has been doing the pushing around in recent seasons but 2018 has seen them overpowered at times. The once elite UW defense has slipped due to inexperience and injury with the latter being more problematic this week as no fewer than seven defensive contributors appear on the injury report. Safeties D’cota Dixon and Scott Nelson are likely to miss the game and that is not a good sign with Northwestern owing the 20th best passing offense in the land. Wisconsin has struggled to get pressure on the passer with only 11 sacks for to this point and D-linemen Isaiahh Loudermilk and Olive Sagapolu are questionable to play in Evanston. Leaving Wildcat QB Clayton Thorson upright is not going to play well, especially as Wisconsin tries to get its defense off the field and win the field position battle.
Win or lose, Northwestern has made it a regular occurrence to play in close games. They gave Michigan a three-and-a-half quarter scare before falling 20-17 to the Wolverines and nipped the Huskers in overtime after going 90-yards to tie the game as time wound down in regulation. An ugly three point win at Rutgers and five point loss to Akron aren’t going to make the Northwestern highlight package but those two are just further proof that the Wildcats are going to be in a fight nearly every game. This game opened with NW getting six points but roughly 2/3rds of the early betting came in on Wisconsin so you should have no trouble finding the Cats at +7. Given that this one is seemingly certain to be close, that full touchdown is big.
Can NW stop Taylor?
Any success for Northwestern this week hinges on their ability to at least slow Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor. The Badger run game ranks 4th in the country at 282 yards per game but the Wildcat defense is allowing just 143 yards per game on the ground and a very respectable 4.2 yards per carry overall. Taiwan Deal and Garrett Groshek give Wisconsin three backs that average at least 6.4 yards per rush so the Wildcats have to put in an all day effort to stop the run but they held UM’s Karan Higdon to 115 yards on 30 carries. If they can limit Taylor and Co. to similarly pedestrian numbers, Northwestern will force the 109th ranked Wisconsin pass offense to contribute at a higher rate than what they have shown they are capable of so far.
Northwestern is similarly one dimensional on offense but they have a very legitimate passing game to utilize against Wisconsin’s depleted secondary. Clayton Thorson is all but a lock to pass the 2,000 yard mark early on Saturday and the Cats have the second best playmaker on the field in Flynn Nagel. NW’s leading receiver has caught 30 passes in just the last three weeks and crossed the ten catch barrier in three separate games this season. Slot WR Cameron Green is going to pose another challenge for the Badgers in coverage. Green is second on the team in receptions and while he hasn’t shown a big play ability, he is invaluable on third down and in the redzone as he leads the team with three touchdown grabs.
Wisconsin could be in real trouble if they can’t get the ground game going. Alex Hornibrook is an experienced starter but is averaging just 150 passing yards per game in this last three with five interceptions over that span. Wisconsin’s leading receiver is freshman tight end Jake Ferguson (21 rec, 3 TD) and while he is a legit tough guy to guard, the lack of consistent playmaking by the wide receivers is a big reason why UW has slipped outside the top-100 in the passing game. The Badger offense is just not able to hit that high gear, even though their total offensive output still looks good at 30th in total yards per game. They just hung 49 on Illinois but that total was buoyed by five first half turnovers by the Illini and the game was in Madison. I don’t expect Northwestern to be as accommodating in Evanston.
I do think there is a better than average chance that Wisconsin has enough on offense to win this game. Even during the drubbing in the Big House, Taylor was able to crack the century mark on the ground and he should keep the Badgers moving the ball. Good gains on first and second down allow Wisconsin to convert 44% of their third downs but Northwestern has been tough in allowing just 33% conversions. Northwestern is one of the more inefficient teams as they are just 104th in scoring despite owning a top-20 passing offense. That is why I think they won’t pull the outright upset but they should get 20 on the board. Wisconsin gets to 23 or 24 so I think the under is a good play as well with the pesky Wildcats getting the ATS win.
Ted Walker’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Northwestern +7