Oct. 27, 2016
This brutal stretch continues for No. 11 Wisconsin, as this will be the fourth of five games to start the Big Ten season against teams that were in the top 10 at the time of the game. Nebraska is undefeated at 7-0, but only two of those wins were against teams that currently have a winning record. Those two teams are a Mountain West team in Wyoming, as well as Northwestern, which the Cornhuskers played when the Wildcats were struggling. Nebraska are the mystery team in the top 10, and this game will tell a lot about them. In last year’s meeting, Rafael Gaglianone kicked a 46-yard field goal with four seconds left to give the Badgers a 23-21 win in Lincoln. Camp Randall Stadium has been a house of horrors for Nebraska since joining the Big Ten. In the two meetings in Madison, the Badgers have won by an average of 33 points and the Cornhuskers have given up an average of 54 points per game. In the last game in Madison two years ago, Melvin Gordon rushed for a then-FBS record 408 yards. I expect this one to be much closer, and it could determine which team is going to represent the Big Ten West in Indianapolis.
When Wisconsin runs...
Corey Clement did not have a big yards per carry average, but he did have 134 yards and had a monster run on 3rd-and-1 late in the game against Iowa. The Badgers ran for 167 yards as a team against the Hawkeyes. Wisconsin is uncharacteristically 65th in rushing average and are still trying to find an offensive line combination that is effective. Iowa is improving at run defense, so people knew it was going to be a struggle to run the ball. Maybe a few more jet sweeps would have opened up running lanes for Clement, but after a 23-yard run by A.J. Taylor, the next two jet sweeps went for a total of four yards. Despite being 65th in rushing average, Wisconsin is a woeful 97th in yards per carry. Nebraska is 27th in rush defense in yards per game, but have not played the caliber teams the Badgers have. The Cornhuskers are actually 62nd in opponent yards per carry, which means Nebraska has taken early leads and forced teams to abandon the run. Wisconsin will never abandon the run and I think could find success running against the Huskers.
When Wisconsin passes...
Against Iowa, Paul Chryst worked in Bart Houston for a few drives, and he led Wisconsin to a touchdown. Hornibrook looked decent once again. He completed a few long passes, including a perfectly thrown deep ball to Quintez Cephus. However, that still isn’t Wisconsin’s game. Not surprisingly, the Badgers are ranked 90th in passing yards per game. Hopefully Rob Wheelwright will be back to full strength after playing sparingly at Iowa and not recording a catch. The more weapons for Hornibrook the better. Nebraska is 55th in the country in pass defense, but is fifth in the country with 13 interceptions. The Huskers also have allowed just six passing touchdowns this year. The Badgers will need to have some sort of passing attack to keep Nebraska’s defense off-balance.
When Nebraska runs the ball...
The Cornhuskers are 35th in the country in rushing yards per game (211.4 ypg) and averaging 4.6 yards per carry. However, the best rushing defense the Huskers offense has seen is Northwestern, which is tied for 32nd. Wisconsin is a different animal. The Badgers are ranked 10th in rush defense, allowing an average of just 102.9 rush yards per game and just four touchdowns. The loss of Jack Cichy is a huge loss for the Badgers defense, but Wisconsin has depth at the position, and that has been needed since two of their three best at the position are now out for the season. Both Ryan Connelly and Leon Jacobs have done well in limited time. Wisconsin will once again be without nose tackle Olive Sagapolu, which is another big loss. Even though Sagapolu is a big loss, the Badgers were without him last game and held Iowa to 83 yards rushing. Wisconsin will need a big performance from the defensive line again, as well as Cichy’s replacement to stop a solid Nebraska ground attack. The Cornhuskers offensive line is banged up, which offsets the loss of Sagapolu in the trenches. If Wisconsin wins the point of attack, the Badgers will be on their way to a ‘W.’
When Nebraska passes...
Both the wide receiving core for Nebraska and secondary for Wisconsin are banged up. Jordan Westerkamp will return to action for Nebraska after missing the last two games. However, tight end Cethan Carter is out for the game. The back injury will be something to monitor for Westerkamp. He is said to will be close to 100 percent for the game, but no one knows how effective he will be after missing two games. On the opposite side, two of the top three cornerbacks for the Badgers are questionable for the game. Sojourn Shelton is healthy, but Derrick Tindal and Natrell Jamerson may not play. Tindal was injured in the first half against Iowa, and despite warming up at halftime to see if he could continue, Tindal could not and missed the second half. Jamerson has missed the last five games with a left leg injury. He is getting closer to returning, as he was quickly ruled out every game until this week. Not only is he the nickel corner, but he is also the team’s kick returner. For all the stuff we have heard about Nebraska’s pass offense being better, the stats don’t back it up. They are 71st in pass offense and are just completing 54 percent of their passes on the year. Nebraska will need to protect Armstrong and the Huskers have only given up five sacks on the year. The duo of T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel will need to put some pressure on Armstrong because when under duress, the Nebraska quarterback will throw some to the opposing team.
Nebraska’s Drew Brown is 7-of-9 on field goals, while Wisconsin’s Andrew Endicott is 5-of-7 after making just one field goal in three attempts against the Hawkeyes. Without Sam Foltz, who died in a car accident this summer, Nebraska has struggled punting the football, ranking 103rd. Wisconsin is even worse, ranking dead last out of the 128 teams in punting. Not good. Nebraska is ninth in the country in kick return average, which makes me hope that P.J. Rosowski is a factor in kicking the ball through the end zone for a touchback. Wisconsin is 74th in that category. The Huskers also have a decided edge at punt return average.
Despite the injuries, Wisconsin keeps rolling along. At some point, you’d think the injuries take their toll. This is the second consecutive home game played under the lights. While I don’t think the atmosphere will be as electric as it was for the Ohio State game, it will still be electric. This may be for the Big Ten West. I think the reserves once again fill in nicely for the starters and the Badgers slow down the Nebraska running game and Armstrong throws the Badgers a few, which leads Bucky to a big win.
Prediction: Wisconsin 20, Nebraska 13