No. 10 Wisconsin breezed through the nonconference portion of its schedule and looks ready to take on the Big Ten. The Badgers will play three of their first four conference games at home and start by hosting Northwestern on Saturday.
Wisconsin comes in with a thriving offense led by sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook, who completed 18 of 19 passes — a school-record 94.7 percent — for 256 yards and four touchdowns in a 40-6 win at BYU on Sept. 16. “Alex knows what we have and we know Alex has a great arm,” Badgers wide receiver Quintez Cephus, who is tied for the team lead with three TD receptions, told reporters. “We just need to run and do our jobs. We know Alex will get us the ball when we have an opportunity.” The Wildcats are clicking on all cylinders offensively as well and finished off their nonconference slate by rolling up 678 yards of total offense in a 49-7 win over Bowling Green — the second-highest total in program history. “There’s always room to improve,” Northwestern tight end Garrett Dickerson told reporters after the win. “Once we get on the film, we’ll see where we need to improve at. But I think defensively today it was more of a confidence boost, and we just need to take that momentum into the Big Ten games.”
TV: Noon ET, ABC. LINE: Wisconsin -14.5
ABOUT NORTHWESTERN (2-1): Wildcats senior running back Justin Jackson is on the verge of breaking the school’s rushing record and is coming off his best performance of the season after rumbling for 121 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries against Bowling Green. Jackson needs 109 yards to break Damien Anderson’s school record of 4,485, and he is looking for some redemption after matching a season low with 42 yards in a home loss to the Badgers last season. Quarterback Clayton Thorson, who passed for 277 yards and a TD against Wisconsin in 2016, is coming off a big performance as well and threw for 370 yards and a pair of TDs against Bowling Green.
ABOUT WISCONSIN (3-0): Hornibrook is getting plenty of help from the running game, and freshman Jonathan Taylor leads the way with 438 yards and five touchdowns on 53 carries. Taylor is averaging 8.3 yards per carry and is splitting touches with Chris James and Bradrick Shaw, who are both over 100 yards on the season and are averaging 4.7 yards or better per carry. The Badgers defense also enters Big Ten play hot after holding BYU to 192 total yards, and it has yet to allow any points in the second half.
1. Wisconsin earned a 21-7 win in last season’s meeting and won three of the last five.
2. The Wildcats are 18-4 when Jackson rushes for 100 yards.
3. Hornibrook leads the Big Ten in pass efficiency (188.9) and ranks third nationally.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 35, Northwestern 20