Wisconsin's weapons allow no rest for Northwestern defense

Wisconsin's weapons allow no rest for Northwestern defense
October 7, 2013, 8:00 pm
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(USA TODAY Sports Images)
Vinnie Duber

There's no time for Northwestern to rest.

The Wildcats defense is fresh off a 40-30 loss to Ohio State on Saturday night that saw running back Carlos Hyde tear the Wildcats apart. Now, that's without mentioning, of course, that Northwestern did a very good job containing quarterback Braxton Miller and the rest of the Buckeyes' weapons not named Carlos Hyde. But the point is that the Wildcat defense next gets another one of the Big Ten's loaded offensive arsenals in Wisconsin.

The Badgers might not have a Heisman contender under center, but they have a few scattered elsewhere on the field, including a pair of extraordinary running backs in Melvin Gordon and James White as well as a top-flight wide receiver in Jared Abbrederis. And, after Hyde went for 168 yards and three second-half touchdowns Saturday vs. the Wildcats, Gordon, White and Wisconsin have to be licking their chops.

"Obviously, they have a great running game, two great backs, big offensive linemen. We've just got to be stout on the inside, fit our gaps and make tackles, is what it comes down to," Northwestern linebacker Collin Ellis said Monday.

[MORE: Ohio State wins three B1G awards after win vs. Northwestern]

Even after a week off — and on about half the carries as the nation's leaders — Gordon still ranks as the country's sixth best rusher with 698 yards in five games. His 10.3 yards per carry rank second in the nation, trailing only Baylor's Lache Seastrunk, and only 11 players have found the end zone more times on the ground than Gordon's seven.

If the Wildcats want to stop him, they'll have to something drastically different from what they did against Hyde, who ran for 168 yards and three second-half touchdowns on Saturday.

"A lot of it was coming down to fundamentals, not doing your exact job and exact perfect call and stuff like that," Ellis said. "It all comes down to execution. I feel like we execute on Saturday, outcome's a little different as far as maybe some of the rushing yards. But I feel like we'll be OK against Wisconsin as far as getting downhill and holding our own. But obviously they have a great running attack."

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If Northwestern wants pointers on how to stop a seemingly unstoppable Badger run game, they need look no further than the team that just left Evanston. The Buckeyes topped Wisconsin the week before coming to Ryan Field and held the Badgers to just 104 yards on the ground, with Gordon going for 74 and White going for 31. Need some perspective? Before the loss to Ohio State, Gordon hadn't had an individual rushing game of fewer than 140 yards this season.

But as stiff a challenge as the Wisconsin running game is, that unit's struggles against Ohio State showed what else the Badger offense can do. Quarterback Joel Stave — who had not been terribly impressive up to that game — threw for 295 yards and a pair of touchdowns, with 207 of those yards and one of the touchdowns getting reeled in by Abbrederis, an elite receiver.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald had effusive praise for both players on Monday.

"He was really impressive, I mean really impressive," Fitzgerald said of Stave's performance against Ohio State. "I was incredibly impressed, our whole staff was impressed when we had a chance to watch that game with the job that their offense did. Then you come back and you watch the coaches copy, and you're even more impressed. He played with great poise. He seemed like he just kept getting better and better in that game."

[MORE: Northwestern put the nation on notice Saturday]

And Abbrederis?

"Outstanding," Fitzgerald said. "He reminds me a lot of (former Minnesota Golden Gophers and current Denver Broncos wideout Eric) Decker. That young man, you see what he's doing in the National Football League. That's what Jared reminds me of. Great route runner, conceptually, you can see he understands how to stem guys, he understands how to use his hands and his body well without getting pass interference, leaning on you. He's just crafty that way. He's got great speed, great hands. He's a terrific football player."

Those are a lot of positive adjectives for the Wisconsin offense, and they are for the most part well deserved.

After a game Fitzgerald called a "heavyweight fight" against the Buckeyes, the Wildcats have to go to Madison and do it all over again.