Quarterback Russell Wilson has been stellar for No. 7 Wisconsin, but it's been the defense coach Bret Bielema has lauded in back-to-back victories.
First-year Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren is familiar with how dominant that unit can be.
Bielema faces his former defensive coordinator as the Badgers take on the Huskies on Saturday at Soldier Field in Chicago.
Wisconsin (2-0) ranked 20th in the nation in total defense under Doeren in 2010, finishing fifth in the country and tops in the Big Ten in rushing defense. After five seasons with the Badgers, Doeren left to take the Huskies' top job last December.
"I'm very excited about Northern Illinois," Bielema said. "Obviously the familiarity with Dave and our staff puts another spin on it. I know our kids are excited about the challenge."
The defensive unit hasn't missed a beat with Doeren gone, holding Oregon State to 23 yards rushing in a 35-0 victory last Saturday -- Wisconsin's first shutout since beating Purdue 37-0 on Oct. 31, 2009.
"I know this: As long as I have been coaching defensive football, if people are able to run the football you are not going to be a very good football team," said Bielema, whose team has outgained its first two opponents by 320 yards. "I challenged our defensive staff and players."
Doeren's challenge now is to contain Wilson.
The North Carolina State transfer had his second straight solid performance, going 17 for 21 for 189 yards and three touchdowns. Wilson has completed 79.4 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and also has run for a score in his first two games with the Badgers.
Jacob Pedersen has caught three of those TD passes, and Wilson said he and his tight end are developing a close relationship.
"This is what I expected and more," Wilson said. "The chemistry is more what I'm talking about. The guys really believe in one another, we're really working hard and executing well. We've just got to keep getting better."
Junior running back Montee Ball finished with 118 yards on 18 carries against the Beavers, including touchdown runs of 1 and 19 yards.
"It's not surprising anymore," Ball said of Wilson's efforts. "We've been together for quite some time now. Like I said last week, he's a great man off the field, he's very intelligent, he has his goals that mesh well on and off the field."
Northern Illinois (1-1) will counter with its own talented play-caller.
Chandler Harnish played a role in five of the Huskies' touchdowns in last Saturday's 45-42 loss at Kansas. The senior went 27 for 33 for 315 yards and two touchdowns while adding 89 yards and three scores rushing.
Harnish accounted for six TDs (five pass, one rush) in a 49-26 season-opening win over Army on Sept. 3.
"(Harnish) played unbelievable and the offensive line did a good job of protecting him," Doeren said. "We had some receivers make some unbelievable catches, too."
Running back James Sims had his second straight 100-yard game, rushing for 110 with two touchdowns. Northern Illinois, though, couldn't hold onto a 14-point, second-quarter lead as Kansas' game-winning score came with nine seconds left.
"One play, one game won't define our season," Doeren said. "We'll go back and regroup. We've got to get better as a football team."
Wisconsin will play without cornerback Devin Smith, who underwent season-ending surgery on his left foot Tuesday after getting hurt in Saturday's win. Marcus Cromartie, the cousin of New York Jets defensive back Antonio Cromartie, will start in place of Smith.
Top 25 Overview
The Badgers are technically the road team here but should have an advantage in the stands at Soldier Field in Chicago. Northern Illinois has a familiarity factor in its corner, as new coach Dave Doeren was Wisconsin's defensive coordinator last season. But does Doeren know how to stop Russell Wilson and the Badgers' powerful running game?