When: Saturday, October 29 – 7:00 PM ET
Where: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisconsin (80,321)
All-Time Series: Wisconsin leads 6-4
Last Meeting: Wisconsin won 23-21 (2015)
Line: Wisconsin -9
The Wisconsin Badgers return home after a hard fought 17-9 road win against Iowa last Saturday only to face another undefeated Big Ten school, the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The Cornhuskers, who come into Saturdays Big Ten West showdown with a 7-0 record (4-0 in Big Ten play), are looking to take control of the Big Ten West division. If recent history has any influence on the game on Saturday, winning in Madison will be a monumental challenge for Mike Riley’s team.
Since joining the Big Ten Conference, Nebraska has faced Wisconsin in Madison twice. Both games were absolute blowouts. In 2011, Bret Bielema and Russel Wilson trounced Bo Pelini’s Huskers 48-17 under the lights. In 2014, the Huskers gave up an FBS record (at the time) 408 rushing yards to Melvin Gordon III in the Badgers 59-24 win which ultimately sealed the Big Ten West division for the Badgers.
Last year’s contest in Lincoln was a very competitive game, however. The Badgers were fortunate to get out of Lincoln with a two-point win on a Rafael Gaglianone field goal as time expired. That game featured two first year head coaches in Mike Riley and Paul Chryst. Now each coach is in their second season at the helm, and both programs find themselves highly ranked.
The Badgers have faced one of the toughest schedules in the country thus far — already having played LSU, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, and Iowa. Nebraska on the other hand, has played Northwestern, Indiana, and Oregon. Not exactly a challenging slate. We’ll find out a lot about the Huskers on Saturday night, that we know for certain.
1 BURNING QUESTION: Will Nebraska’s offense show up in Madison?
Wisconsin and Nebraska both possess very good defenses (14.3 and 17.7 points allowed per game respectively), and it’s safe to assume the Badgers’ offense will score over 20 points at home. What this game will essentially come down to is whether Nebraska’s offense can put enough points on the score board to keep up.
In these teams’ last two meetings in Madison, the Nebraska offense was stifled. Only scoring 17 points in 2011 and 17 points in the first 59 minutes of the game in 2014. When the two teams met in Lincoln last fall, the Huskers scored 21 points, but surrendered 23. If Nebraska wants to secure a huge win in Madison, the Huskers offense must show up, and play well.
On the season, Nebraska averages 34.1 points per game, whereas Wisconsin is only allowing 14.3 points per contest. Mike Riley must figure out ways to get some of his most explosive playmakers (Alonzo Moore, Pierson-El) in space. Otherwise, Huskers QB Tommy Armstrong will be forced to put the offense on his shoulders, which would be playing into the Wisconsin defense’s hands.
2 KEY STATS:
– 34.1 That’s the amount of points that Nebraska averages per game this season.
If the Huskers hope to get near their season scoring average, the offense must be efficient and balanced. Mike Riley has to get his guys to keep Wisconsin’s defense off balance, possibly by passing on early downs and running in situations when Wisconsin might be expecting Nebraska to pass. Huskers’ quarterback Tommy Armstrong has struggled with his accuracy at times this season. Wisconsin will look to pressure Armstrong to force errant throws and create turnover opportunities. The Husker offensive line will need to play extremely well to help pave the way for some running lanes as well as keeping the Wisconsin pass rush at bay.
– 3. That’s the rating of Wisconsin’s strength of schedule so far this season.
Only two teams (Tennessee and Stanford) have faced tougher competition so far this season than the Badgers. Nebraska, on the other hand, has faced the 72nd toughest schedule, and the Huskers have yet to face a top 30 team on the season. That will change on Saturday night. The Badgers have faced three top 30 teams already, defeating LSU and losing hard-fought games against Michigan and Ohio State. The Badgers are battle tested. The Huskers believe they are ready for the challenge of playing in Madison. The college football world will find out whether Nebraska is for real sooner rather than later. The next two Husker opponents are No. 11 Wisconsin and No. 8 Ohio State.
3 KEY PLAYERS:
Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska QB: The Husker offense is nothing without Tommy Armstrong keeping defenses honest with his legs as well as his arm. Armstrong has had a strong senior season thus far, but on Saturday night Armstrong will need to turn in the best performance of his Husker career for Nebraska to keep up with the Badgers at Camp Randell Stadium. In 2014, when Armstrong was a sophomore, Nebraska jumped out to an early double digit lead, only to see Wisconsin score 56 unanswered points. Wisconsin figured out the Husker offense and adjusted well in that game. Nebraska needs Armstrong to play a smart and efficient game to keep the game close going into the fourth quarter to put the team in position to steal the win at the end.
T.J. Watt, Wisconsin OLB: The Junior linebacker leads the Badgers in sacks, and with Vince Biegel returning to the lineup, Watt should have more space to work with on the outside where he has made a living setting the edge and getting after opposing quarterbacks in 2016. In the Ohio State game, Watt allowed J.T. Barrett to scramble away for positive yards on multiple occasions. Look for Watt and the Badger defense to wait for Husker QB Tommy Armstrong to make the first move in the pocket before chasing him down and making the tackle. If Armstrong can pick up big yards on the ground, it will go a long way toward a possible Husker victory.
Corey Clement, Wisconsin RB: Nebraska’s run defense has been quite good so far this season, only allowing 124.4. rushing yards per game. Badgers running back Corey Clement will look to run for more than 124 yards by himself on Saturday night. After back to back 130+ rush yard performances against Ohio State and Iowa, it looks as if Clement is starting to perform at the level that Badger fans have anticipated for the last two seasons. If Clement enjoys another big game on Saturday night, look for the Badgers to get the win.
Andy: Wisconsin 21-10
Dave: Wisconsin 25-20
Phil H.: Wisconsin 28-17
Philip R-R.: Wisconsin 24-23
Zach: Wisconsin 27-17