Behind Enemy Lines: Wisconsin

(Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

(Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

The Northwestern Wildcats are in the home stretch of their 2015 season but before they finish the season they must face Winconsin.

These two teams are currently five spots away from each other in the college football playoff and both will be looking to improve their standings.  A loss to either team could in fact knock them out of the playoff and drop them from a major bowl game.

The biggest aspect to be looking for in Saturday’s game will be how both teams handle the weather. The Midwest is expected to be hit with it’s first snow storm of the year on Friday and it will continue into Saturday. Ball control is going play a deciding role.

Wisconsin is ranked sixth in the Big Ten in turnovers lost and Northwestern is seventh. With the cold and snowy weather players are not only playing in conditions they are not used to but they could be wearing equipment they are not used to.

When the environment is like this players may choose to wear sleeves or gloves. For a running back wearing sleeves on a cold, wet day may means they don’t have the feel of the ball they usually do and that could cause an easier chance for a player to punch the ball out.

A receiver who chooses to go gloveless does so because they like the natural feel of catching the ball opposed to the feel of gloves. With a slick ball and an emphasis of no turnovers and a chance of any play being a big play, wideouts may opt for gloves.  This may bring up some problems for both teams because when players have the muscle memory of catching a ball its bare skin the gloves may cause them to think twice about a catch or make them drop the ball.

These sorts of games and weather adjustments are usually talked about in the NFL and mainly about quarterbacks. When a pro quarterback is used to playing in a dome they know the weather inside is going to be controlled so they don’t have to mess with their normal routine. When that quarterback is playing outside in the harsh winter weather the conversation of if he is going to wear a glove on his throwing hand or not.

While this might seem like a minor thing in a game that holds a lot of meaning , it is worth thinking about.

The coaches on the other hand have to think of gameplay to put their team in the best place to win in the conditions. For Northwestern it could mean a steady dose of runs designed for Justin Jackson and Clayton Thorson.

Jackson is going to be the most important offensive player of Northwestern on offense because when he is rolling so is Northwestern. In the two games Jackson was not around 100 yards rushing were Northwestern’s two losses. Jackson will need to be around the 100 yards for Northwestern to have a chance to win Saturday.

Another key for success is Northwestern creating easy situations to gain first downs. In all of their wins Northwestern has been able to gain first downs on third and short opportunities and stay out of third and long. Wisconsin has the third best stoppage rate on third down in the confernece which could cause huge problems for Northwestern.

This game is not going to be pretty but it should be fun to watch two tough defenses battle and two offenses trying to do just enough to win. What says Big Ten football more than a cold, snowy day to improve bowl selection?