Football: What to Watch For: Northwestern looks to snap four-game losing streak at home versus Wisconsin


Joshua Sukoff/Daily Northwestern

Northwestern readies to snap the ball against Miami (Ohio). NU returns home this weekend to face Wisconsin in search of its first home victory this season.

Lawrence Price, Audio Editor

The one contest of the season that Northwestern fans from across the country and world return to Evanston for is finally upon us. Homecoming has arrived.

After falling to No.11 Penn State last weekend, NU (1-4, 1-1 Big Ten) welcomes in Wisconsin (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) this Saturday for each team’s third conference matchup of the season.

Considering each team’s disappointing 2022 results so far — the Wildcats riding a four-game losing streak and the Badgers firing their head coach last Sunday — a lot can be said about the two squads going to battle.

Here’s what to watch for during the Homecoming game:

Who will rue the day: junior running back Evan Hull or Wisconsin running back Braelon Allen?

Two players that racked up over 1,250 all-purpose yards last season, both Hull and Allen appeared destined to be dominant forces for their respective offenses in 2022, while opposing defenses would circle their names on the drawing board.

Yet last week, outside of Hull’s 29-yard run, the two combined for 18 yards on the ground — a huge contributing factor in both team’s losses.

With the two being such impact players and focal points of their respective offenses, a big day from one will boost their team’s chances of winning tremendously. This especially holds true for the Cats, as the Badgers flex the strongest rushing defense in the conference, limiting their opponents to 64.8 yards on the ground per game. 

Will Northwestern be able to replicate its defensive performance from last Saturday this game?

NU’s defense arguably put on its best performance of the season against No. 11 Penn State last Saturday, limiting the Nittany Lions to 17 points. Entering the contest, the Happy Valley team averaged 38.8 points per game.

The Cats also took the ball away five times, their highest since No. 19 Wisconsin in 2020, winning 17-7.

However, with rainy, slippery and mud-soaked conditions in University Park, both teams struggled to hold on to the ball or make pinpoint passes. Hence, it can be questioned whether NU’s defensive prowess would have been as effective on a regular weathered day.

This weekend, facing a Wisconsin team under hopefully better conditions, and a running back who rushed for 174 yards in the teams’ last matchup, NU fans will get answers on whether coach Jim O’Neil’s defense is legit.

Can NU finally string together its first complete game since Nebraska?

Since the Cats’ Week Zero win in Ireland, NU hasn’t been on the same page regarding offense and defense. 

In its next two games versus Duke and Southern Illinois, the defense looked out of sorts, and in games four and five, the offense struggled to get its motor going. 

Yet, with the additional Homecoming energy in the crowd, Wisconsin’s surprising firing of former head coach Paul Chryst and the halfway point of the season, now would be the perfect time for NU to flip the switch.

In total, the Cats have lost by a margin of 28 points, with 10 coming at the hands of Penn State last weekend — illustrating how close NU has been from getting back into the win column nearly every game. After Wisconsin, four of NU’s opponents boast a top six scoring offense in the conference, revealing how Saturday might be the Cats’ last chance to get on the same page before facing a few heavy hitters. 

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