Matchup: #23 Wisconsin Badgers (5-2, 3-1) at Northwestern Wildcats (4-3, 4-1) Date: 11:00 a.m. CDT, Saturday, October 27, 2018, Ryan Field TV: Fox Line: Wisconsin (-7), O/U 51.0
I'm sure our readers enjoyed the previous version of the Line for its
farcical and likely legally-actionable contents ("What? A
summons?!"). But, season after season, that Line staffer puts a
hell of a lot of pressure on me, because I have to follow his creative
exploits. Dammit. Talk about being born under a bad sign...
...which sums up the current state of Scarlet Knights football.
See what I did there? That's a "segue". Take that, Python
boy! Prior to Northwestern's visit to the home of Rutgers
football, seeing Rutgers on your schedule would seem like Christmas
come early (official slogan: "Scarlet Knights football...catch
the sniffles!"). It's every team's chance to get in a Saturday
practice against a veritable scout team, get all the plays working,
coast to an easy victory. Seriously, the Scarlet Knights paid the
University of Buffalo well into six figures to visit Piscataway and
then just as graciously lost to the Bulls. And the game wasn't
even competitive! It was 35-6 at halftime, for cryin' out
loud! It's a good thing for Rutgers that relegation isn't a thing
in college football, or else the Scarlet Knights might be lining up
against a beast of a Pop Warner team before long. The Wildcats
visited Piscataway as a somewhat unbelievable 20.5-point favorite on
the road (when was the last time NU was favored by 20+ for a road
conference game? Very probably this is a trick question, as the
answer has to be "never.").
And that's where the fun ended. Northwestern has a history of
playing to the level of its opponent. And apparently we are
failing our history course, because we have repeated it over and over
again. Last Saturday was an excellent example, as Northwestern
trailed much of the game against a clearly inferior opponent, and only
managed to leave New Jersey with a somewhat miraculous 3-point
victory. Seriously, it has to be embarrassing we couldn't even
keep up with the Buffalo Bulls!
There was one silver (or, more correctly, purple) lining to the huge
cloud of a performance in Piscataway. The Wildcats actually seem
to have found a running game after repeated putrid performances.
Enter Isaiah Bowser. Now, those of us that were sentient in the
late 1970s heard "Bowser" over and over again and it conjured up
the gentleman with the slicked back hair was indeed Bowser, and he
graced our television for 4 seasons as part of the Sha Na Na
show. His trademark was flexing his bicep, and then reversing his
fist and flexing again. I have to say that I'm more than mildly
disappointed that we saw no reprise from NU's #25 on either occasion of
crossing the goal line against the Knights.
The Sha Na Na front man and known hand jiver's descendant eclipsed the
century mark, representing the first NU rusher to do so since the
unfortunate forced retirement of Jeremy Larkin. Coach Fitz has
said he wants to run the ball, but this time they finally stuck with it
and the results showed. It's a far cry from our running against
against the Spartans, with Damian Anderson II being the top rusher with
a measly 12 yards.
The emergence of the running game saved the day, because Clayton
Thorson's arm certainly wasn't going to. This Line staffer is
continually flummoxed by the praise heaped on Thorson by the announcers
du jour. They seem to think he's some type of quarterback savant,
with laser accuracy. Well, folks, a 50% pass completion rate
against the Scarlet Knights is proof they really aren't paying
attention to what is happening on the field. Flynn Nagel
continues to be a bright spot, somehow getting separation and snagging
errant passes to at least keep Northwestern competitive. But if
NU is going to make any noise in the Big Ten West, all aspects of the
offense must come together as we enter this stretch of games that
includes both West powerhouses, Iowa and Wisconsin.
And it is Wisconsin that comes calling this Saturday in Evanston.
Unfortunately, NU does not have the benefit of being a kind of trap
game for the Badgers. Wisconsin's last opponent was lowly
Illinois, whom they clobbered 49-20, and after playing the Cats,
Wisconsin returns to the friendly confines of Camp Randall for a
glorified scrimmage against Rutgers. So, in this trifecta, the
Wildcats represent by far the most compelling challenge to the Badgers'
supremacy in the West, and all weasel eyes will be focused on the
purple and white (and grey...and black...and whatever else Under Armour
does to desecrate our uniforms).
The Wildcats will be playing Mario to Wisconsin's Bowser. If you
had a Nintendo or Super Nintendo, certainly you remember the other pop
culture Bowser, the bruising turtle frequently preventing Mario from
rescuing Princess Peach. To make all Mario Kart aficionados
involuntarily cringe, I present the 90s version of Bowser:
of the typical hallmarks of Wisconsin football are present with the
2018 version of the Badgers. Big, mauling offensive line:
check. Versatile, gifted running back rotation:
check. Deep, athletic linebacker corps: check.
Quarterback expected to manage the game: check (Russell Wilson was the
one outlier here). Good coaching: check (Bret Bielema
notwithstanding). The Badger offense continues to be led by Alex
Hornibrook, the junior southpaw quarterback who has started since
midway through his freshman year. At times Hornibrook looks in
total control of the offense, able to make every throw in the
book. At other turns, Hornibrook makes what can be charitably
characterized as questionable decisions with the football, so he is
prone to a bonehead pass or two that inevitably ends up in the hands of
the opponent. As an aside, Hornibrook receives similar,
inexplicable praise as Thorson. Having watched both players for
as long as I have, it is clear TV analysts for each's games are
basically stealing money, because they're obviously not paying any
Behind Hornibrook, Jonathan Taylor heads up a trio of gifted
runners. The bloom has come off Taylor's Heisman campaign this
year, but he still manages to roll up yards gained, especially after
contact. Taylor is second in Division I-A in rushing yards.
His Achilles heel seems to be his tendency to put the ball on the
ground, something he has tightened up in recent games. Behind
Taylor, Taiwan Deal represents a bigger, more physical runner.
And on obvious passing downs, Garret Groshek lines up in the backfield,
and has proven to be a good threat to run out of the shotgun or catch
passes. The Wisconsin receiving corps is decent despite the
continued absence of Quintez Cephus, and their top three receivers are
threats to make big plays. If Hornibrook can actually get them
When the Cats have the ball, expect to hear the names Edwards, Van
Ginkel, and Connelly early and often, just like voting in nearby
Chicago. Those three represent the latest incarnation of the
talented linebackers Wisconsin has recruited in recent years. Van
Ginkel will introduce himself to Thorson in the backfield as an edge
rusher, and Edwards has great range, tackling ability, and a nose for
the football. The Wisconsin defensive line actually a weak point
this year, struggling to put pressure on the passer. But they do
occupy blocks to free up the linebackers to make plays. The
secondary, though led by a seasoned playmaker in D'Cota Dixon, actually
suffers from a lot of youth and inexperience. Hate to say it
(given Thorson's erratic arm), but this might be the way to exploit the
What happened to the Northwestern offense? I dearly miss the
offense that scared the crap out of every defense that saw NU on its
schedule. The offense that played fast or faster, was creative in
getting the ball to playmakers, that allowed NU to win games like the
"instant classic" against Michigan in 2000, for example. The
offense that caused ESPN to put timers on the offense between plays,
and rarely did NU hit double digits before the ball was snapped.
That made the most out of the athletic abilities of its athletes.
These days, I'm fairly certain no opponent looks at their schedule,
sees Northwestern, and experiences a moment of panic (and certainly no
one will this season when they see our results against Akron and
Rutgers). Frankly, as it stands, I would not be surprised if the
American Medical Association and the FDA were studying Northwestern
offensive playing calling to classify it as a member of the barbiturate
family. Just as effective as soporific medications that require a
prescription, but definitely not habit-forming. Perhaps Mr.
McCall's time as the play caller needs to come to a close, and we find
someone else who reignites passionate offense? /digression off
So, which Bowser will we see at Ryan Field come Saturday? This one?
or this one?
Bowser won't be singing "Goodnight, Sweetheart, it's time to go" and
flexing at the end of the tilt at Ryan Field. The Cats will feel
like a stereotypical Italian plumber bonked with one too many turtle
shells. Wisconsin's running attack will be just too much for the
Northwestern defense to contain. Wisconsin is generous with the
football, allowing the Cats to keep it close, but Northwestern's
defense tires late, allowing the Badgers to pull away on a late rushing
touchdown. Wisconsin 27, Wildcats 21. The Cats cover, but
the Big Ten West crown slips away.
Season to Date:
Straight up, 4-3. Against the Spread, 6-1
The Lowes Line is an
e-mailed description of NU's
football game, with an invariably fearless prediction of the outcome
how NU will fare against what the other "experts" predict. Our
friend and Brother Marcus Lowes began the broadcast mailing in 1996.
The crack Lowes Line Staff (alumni Jersey Cat,
GallopingGrapes, Eric Cockerill, Joel Kanvik, Charlie Simon, and
MO'Cats) have continued the Line in memory of Marcus.
the 2018 season it has returned to HailToPurple.com,
for anyone to enjoy. Thanks to the gridiron brain trust at the Lowes