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RBs on display as No. 10 Wisconsin hosts Northwestern

MADISON, Wis. -- Two impactful running backs likely will share the spotlight on Saturday when No. 10 Wisconsin hosts Northwestern in the Big Ten Conference opener for both teams at Camp Randall Stadium.

The Badgers (3-0) and Wildcats (2-1), who are West Division foes, won games leading up to byes last weekend.

The outcome of the game could boil down to how defenses contain Badgers freshman running back Jonathan Taylor and Wildcats senior running back Justin Jackson.

Taylor was listed as the sole starter on the Badgers depth chart released Monday. Junior Chris James and sophomore Bradrick Shaw were listed as second-team players.

Taylor leads the Big Ten in rushing and ranks fifth in the nation, averaging 146.0 yards per game. He had a three-touchdown, 233-yard performance in his first start during the Badgers' 31-14 victory over Florida Atlantic on Sept. 9. He has 53 carries for 438 yards and five touchdowns.

"I think Jonathan's continued to grow and get better," Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said.

"And certainly, he did a lot from the time he came in to give himself a chance to be ready and add to the team this fall. I think that all of our backs can complement each other. I'm anxious to see if Bradrick can do more this week."

Shaw had 18 carries for 84 yards and a touchdown in Wisconsin's opener against Utah State, but he suffered a right leg injury and missed the Florida Atlantic game. Shaw had four carries in a 40-8 victory at BYU on Sept. 16.

Jackson had a stellar effort in Northwestern's 49-7 home win against Bowling Green on Sept. 16. He posted his best effort of the season with 18 rushes for 121 yards and three touchdowns.

Jackson has accumulated 4,437 career rushing yards and is 108 shy of the program record set by Damien Anderson, who had 4,485 from 1997 to 2000.

Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said he thought Jackson had the potential to be a great player the moment the 5-foot-11, 200-pounder got to campus.

"He wasn't the biggest guy, but his work ethic was unbelievable in those early practices," Fitzgerald said. "We had a wide-open job and there was great production in the room (at that time).

"Did I think he was going to win the job right away? No. To his credit he did and he's had it from the get-go. He's had a lot of pretty special performances."

Jackson has had decent results against the Badgers, except for last season. The Badgers held Jackson to 13 rushes and 42 yards in a 21-7 win.

But the Wildcats previously earned back-to-back victories over Wisconsin with help from Jackson. He collected 35 rushes for 139 yards and one touchdown in a 13-7 win in 2015, and he rushed 33 times for 162 yards in a 2014 win in Evanston, Ill., during his freshman campaign.

Northwestern also has a veteran quarterback in junior Clayton Thorson, who has completed 63.9 percent of his 97 passes for 842 yards, with four touchdowns and three interceptions. His Wisconsin counterpart, Alex Hornibrook, has been even more efficient, completing 49 of 70 passes (70 percent) for 701 yards, with eight touchdowns and one interception.

Badgers' senior Troy Fumagalli is one of the nation's top tight ends, with three touchdowns among his team-high 15 receptions.

Wisconsin ranks seventh nationally in total defense, allowing 248.0 yards per game, but Northwestern has more firepower than any of the Badgers' previous foes.

Chryst said his team isn't looking too far into the league schedule.

"We just want our players to be in that moment and in that week," Chryst said. "Really, all that matters is that we're playing Northwestern. Guys know the teams that we are playing in the Big Ten, they're all good football teams; and yet, all that matters this week playing a good Northwestern team."

Starting Big Ten action with a road game will be a challenge for Northwestern, which has a handful of rookie starters, including freshman defensive end Samdup Miller, who has 10 tackles, including 1.5 for loss.

"Our last road game was obviously not a very good performance by us, at all," Fitzgerald said of Northwestern's 41-17 loss at Duke on Sept. 9. "But, it's the second time on the road for some guys. How do we it? How do we travel?

"Obviously, we're going to one of the great cathedrals of college football. What comes along with that?"

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