Big break: NIU comes to town

first_imgJEFF SCHORFHEIDE/Herald photoAfter losing consecutive games for the first time in nearly two years, the Wisconsin football team will look to get back to its winning ways in the friendly confines of Camp Randall Stadium Saturday against Northern Illinois. Wisconsin (4-2, 2-2 Big Ten) lost its nation-best 14-game winning streak two weeks ago on the road against Illinois, and followed that up with a 38-7 shellacking at the hands of Penn State last weekend. Those two losses make an otherwise innocent nonconference game against a struggling Huskies team (1-6, 0-4 MAC) that much more important for the Badgers’ psyche.”It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, it’s a week. … We can’t take three [losses] in a row, it’s not going to be good for the team,” linebacker DeAndre Levy said. “It’s a good turning point for us, after two consecutive losses no matter who we’re playing. We’re playing like it’s Ohio State or anybody. We’re playing like they’re 6-0.”While the Wisconsin defense has struggled for much of the beginning of the season, the offense was equally bad in the game against Penn State. Part of that can be attributed to the absence of both opening-day starting wide receivers. Senior Paul Hubbard was lost in the second game of the season with a knee sprain, and quarterback Tyler Donovan’s go-to receiver, Luke Swan, tore his hamstring in the first half against Illinois. Down two of his top targets, Donovan and the offense struggled, scoring only seven points. While Donovan was able to amass 244 passing yards, more than half of that total went to freshman Kyle Jefferson. The receiver depth will be given a boost this week, however, as the offense welcomes Hubbard back to the fold. “He’s really been practicing for two weeks,” UW head coach Bret Bielema said of Hubbard, adding the senior wore a green no-contact jersey all last week and at the beginning of this week.One player Wisconsin will be without, however, is senior tight end Andy Crooks. Crooks, who missed almost all of the first four games with a hamstring injury, did not practice this week after participating in the previous two games. With Hubbard’s return, the Badgers will be able to pair him with Jefferson and run formations featuring two tall, fast, athletic targets for Donovan. While the UW passing attack will look to improve against the MAC’s 11th-ranked pass defense, the NIU offense — and running game in particular — will challenge the Badgers.Huskies sophomore running back Justin Anderson wasn’t the main option out of the backfield until the second week of the season, but he has still been able to amass enough yards to rank sixth in the nation in total rushing with 868 yards. “They’re a 1-6 team, but they run the ball as well as anyone we’ve faced,” Wisconsin defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks said. “I expect those guys to come down and run the ball against us.”When the Huskie offense takes the field, all eyes on the Badger defense will be on Anderson, who also happens to be the team’s second-leading receiver.”That’s the focal point right now, stopping him,” Levy said. “He comes out, catches the ball well, they set up a lot of screens for him. He runs the ball pretty well.”If we take him out, we should be pretty successful Saturday.”Several positions on the defensive side of the ball will see time split between multiple players.In the defensive backfield, Allen Langford will continue to start at cornerback, but will also split time with freshman Aaron Henry. At strong safety, Aubrey Pleasant and Kim Royston will both see the field at times.”Kim Royston was a guy that played for us last year, played well at corner and in our nickel package,” Cooks said. “He’s played well up to this point in our sub packages and we just have to make sure we get him some reps. At middle linebacker, both Elijah Hodge and Culmer St. Jean will see action as Hodge continues to return to form following a knee injury.”Elijah, with his knee a week ago, it was really still kind of swollen and did some things,” Bielema said. “He practiced well all week.”I’ve been kind of taking the route, get some of these young guys in there. They maybe haven’t done as much on film as the other guys, but let’s get in there and see what they can do.”last_img

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