In just under 24 hours the grills will be going, the brats on the grill and Wisconsin football will be back after a week off.
The Badgers won't have an easy task this year on Homecoming weekend as Northwestern comes in to town.
So, we've enlisted one of the best writers and most plugged in sites out there to give us the inside scoop on how the Wildcats are looking at this game. Joining us this week is Phillip Rossman-Reich of LakeThePosts.com to talk Northwestern.
Enjoy and make sure to visit them for all their great work leading up to this game.
MadTownBadgers: How do Northwestern Fans see the series with Wisconsin, especially with the move to the same division next season?
Phillip Rossman-Reich: I think Northwestern fans want to see this become a more involved rivalry. Geographically, Madison is the closest Big Ten city to Evanston and there have been some very classic games between the two. I think they have split the last six games or something like that, although NU has not won at Camp Randall in a really long time. As it stands now, Wisconsin is another quality opponent and usually an opportunity for Northwestern to show where it has come as a program (maybe not to the extent as Ohio State, but still a good measuring stick for the program).
MTB: Both of our teams lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Buckeyes, but moving forward what do you take out of that loss as a positive coming into this week?
PRR: The biggest positive is that Northwestern's offense can compete with just about anyone. There were real concerns after the offense struggled a bit against Western Michigan and Maine. Everyone suspected the team was holding some things back, but it was still unsettling. Maybe that is typical Northwestern worries about our stability in the program.
The Ohio State game though showed that Northwestern can play well on a national stage and really compete. There does not seem to be any team in the nation that Northwestern, with the right amount of preparation, could not at least compete with. Maybe they are not ready to win those games more often than not, but I doubt there will be any 70-10 beatdowns like the last time Northwestern trekked to Madison any more.
MTB: What worried you most about the Wildcats coming out of that game?
PRR: The biggest thing that worried me was the way both lines got dominated. Northwestern was able to make do offensively with quick, precise passing. But the defensive line was getting blown off the line and Carlos Hyde was able to get three or four yards with ease. As the game wore on, it was clear the defensive line was not going to be able to get much push. You could almost see Hyde pounding his way through the line and scoring with relative ease against a tired defense late in that game. The defensive line was going to be a question mark the entire season with the guys the Wildcats had to replace (particularly at defensive tackle) from last year. It held its own last week, but ultimately cost the team the game.
MTB: I've been more impressed by the Northwestern defense in the past few weeks than every before under Fitz. Just how good is this defense compared to the past?
PRR: It is not as good or dynamic as the 2008 defense which featured Corey Wootton, Sherrick McManis and Adam Kadela. That was a defense Northwestern could really rely on to get stops and make plays. The talent level overall and depth overall certainly has increased, but this is a defense that is very opportunistic. They bend, but do not break. And they are still somewhat susceptible to big plays in the pass. Daniel Jones' injury against California really hurt this team in that department. This is a good defense still and can get stops if a team takes them too lightly. Tyler Scott led the conference in sacks last year and seems to be on pace for another nice season. Ibraheim Campbell and Chi Chi Ariguzo just have a nose for the ball and will take it any time they can by interception or fumble. This is a defense you can get a lot of yards on, but scoring touchdowns is a bit harder.
MTB: Seriously…How do you stop Northwestern's offense (we know Gary Andersen reads our stuff daily, lol)?
PRR: You have to control the option, first. Kain Colter and Venric Mark will surely be adding more of that to the game this week. The second thing is you have to make tackles. Northwestern wants to get the ball out quickly and to receivers into space. Letting them escape and get down the field is a sure way to get beat (eventually) by this offense. The theme of all this is discipline. Defenses have to stick to their gameplan and stay to their assignments. One break, and Northwestern will find the gap and take advantage of it. Of course, the easy (and obvious) way to stop the Northwestern offense is create negative plays and make the Cats throw it down the field more rather than the short, quick passes.
MTB: What do you see as the key to victory for the Wildcats?
PRR: The key to victory for Northwestern is getting the defense off the field. Wisconsin's run game and offensive line really worry me as a Northwestern fan. Really, entering this game, I worried more about Wisconsin then Ohio State. The running attack is proven and Joel Stave and Wisconsin's offense are killer with that playaction pass. Plus, I think Stave is more patient than Braxton Miller — it seemed like NU's strategy against Ohio State was to force Miller to check down and keep him in the pocket, these are not his strengths. So the key is Northwestern's defense has to be rested and prepared before each drive. The offense has to have sustained drives and give the defense the opportunity to catch its breath and prepare for the next battle in the trenches.
PRR: I really felt Northwestern had to split the Ohio State and Wisconsin games. The Ohio State one was going to be the biggest and it took a lot of emotion out of this team. It will be interesting to see how they bounce back. Wisconsin has a lot of weapons that could work against Northwestern. They lack that explosion on offense that teams typically need to beat Northwestern. The defense is disciplined and are not going to leave their assignments. Unless there is confusion in the secondary, which happens from time to time. It will not be a systemic problem. Northwestern's offense makes the plays and redeems itself for last week.
Northwestern 38, Wisconsin 34