#7/#8 Wisconsin vs. Northern Illinois (Soldier Field Showdown II): Game Preview


This weekend, the #7/#8 Wisconsin Badgers (2-0) will play their first game of the season away from Camp Randall Stadium in the Soldier Field Showdown II versus the Northern Illinois Huskies (1-1). The first Soldier Field Showdown involved the Iowa Hawkeyes matching up with NIU in 2007 (won by Iowa 16-3).

Saturday’s match-up with the Huskies has a lot of interesting drama as first-year Huskies Coach, Dave Doeren, is the former UW Defensive Coordinator. Moreover, four of the five last match-ups between these two teams has been decided by eight points or less.

Northern Illinois Synopsis:
While Northern Illinois ranks as the Badgers toughest non-conference game, they are no where close to being where the Badgers currently rank on college football’s totem pole. After a successful 49-26 win over Army in their season-debut, the Huskies defense really struggled against Kansas in a heart-wrenching 45-42 defeat on the road. Albeit no national recognition, the Huskies are a team to watch in the MAC (Mid-American Conference), a conference they fared well in 2010 with eight wins.

NIU’s player to watch is senior QB Chandler Harnish who’s a true dual-threat quarterback. In his last three games, Harnish has rushed for at least 72 yards and has six rushing touchdowns during that span. Through the air, Harnish is sporting an impressive 81.8 % completion rate through two games.

Everyone has been talking about how Coach Doeren will gameplan against the Badgers and I think it’s quite simple, stop the run. Luckily for the Huskies, it’s all they’ve seen the last two games with Army carrying it 63 times and Kansas 60 times. Unfortunately, their young defense hasn’t done much for stopping their opponents on the ground and could be in for a long day in Chicago.

For the full NIU season preview go here.

Wisconsin Synopsis: The Badgers started the year with a dominant performance from the offense with 51 points against UNLV.  Then the defense decided to step up their game and became the first school to shut-out a BCS school (Oregon State) in 2011.

No matter what players you want to praise, all the attention has surrounded around NC State transfer QB Russell Wilson and his especially efficient game-play. National pundits even have Wilson high in current Heisman projections as he should be while averaging 13.1 yards per pass attempt (tops in the country) and 12.9 yards per play overall (second in the country).

While the defense did complete a shut-out last week, they did receive a vital blow with the loss of senior CB Devin Smith who suffered a left foot injury. Smith has decided to red-shirt this year, so that he can come back next season. Smith will be a huge loss against a Huskies team who ranks 28th in the country with 267.5 passing yards a game. Redshirt junior Marcus Cromartie will be Smith’s replacement.

Wisconsin’s defense should prove to be the key to the game because we all know the Badgers offense can score. UW’s defense hasn’t seen as potent an offense as NIU, so it could be a shoot-out as many expect it to be. But, at the same time, team-captain and safety Aaron Henry are going to be extra-motivated to face their former defensive coordinator.

When asked about facing Doeren, Henry said, “It’s a love-love relationship and after the game is over, we can be best friends. But while the game is going on, there’s hate between those lines. I’m going to do my best and I want them to bring out their best.”

For the full Wisconsin season preview go here.

Prediction: For me, the Badgers defense showed a lot of improvement last week against an alright Oregon State team. I think they ride that momentum all the way into the Soldier Field Showdown and prevent the game from turning into a shoot-out. As the offense goes, I have two names for you: James White and Montee Ball. Expect the dynamic duo to get a heavy workload and overpower a young yet inept Huskies defense.
Wisconsin 48 Northern Illinois 21

What do you think will come from the Badgers and Huskies matching up at Soldier Field? Let me know by commenting below!

Nick Grays is a senior writer at the Sports Bank where he covers the Wisconsin Badgers, Green Bay Packers, and Milwaukee Brewers. He also enjoys to share Fantasy Advice from time-to-time. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here or visit his blog Nick Knows Best.

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