Nebraska - Wisconsin primer

It's a battle of ranked teams in Madison this weekend.

No. 16 Nebraska (8-1, 4-1) at No. 20 Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1)
Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT on ABC/ESPN 3

Game headlines:

* The Huskers look to improve their playoff resume with a Top 25 win on the road.

* Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah is probable for the game, but it is unknown if he is 100 percent after spraining his knee against Purdue two weeks ago.

* The game will feature not only two of the best defenses in the Big Ten, but also the country. Wisconsin ranks No. 1 overall in total defense, while the Huskers rank No. 25 in the category.

* The Badgers are on a four-game winning streak, beating their opponents by an average margin of 40-12 in the stint.

Injury report (besides Abdullah):

* Tight end Cethan Carter (foot) is expected to return to the field after practicing on Tuesday.

* Linebacker/defensive end Marcus Newby (undisclosed) is doubtful after not practicing on Tuesday with an undisclosed injury.

* Kicker Mauro Bondi (collarbone) practiced on Tuesday for the first time in weeks and could possibly resume his duties as kickoff specialist on Saturday.

LINCOLN, Neb. - With temperatures in the low to mid 30s this Saturday around kickoff, Nebraska used the cold temperatures in Lincoln this week to try to prepare, practicing a portion of their session on Tuesday outside. It’s unknown how they used their session on Wednesday, but it was also likely outside.

“I think it is important,” said offensive coordinator Tim Beck, who made sure his offense was snapping to blaring music. “We know it is going to be loud up there, just to get an opportunity to communicate and do all the things that we need to do to make sure we don’t have any self-inflicted wounds for the game.”

Nebraska's last trip to Madison, the Huskers were embarrassed 48-17, in their first Big Ten contest.

“It’s a great atmosphere,” said head coach Bo Pelini. “The fans are into it. It’s loud. It was even like that back when they weren’t quite as good of a football team when I was in the Big Ten. It was still a loud place. Good venue and good place to play. When Coach (Barry) Alvarez got in there and got that thing going, that probably took everything to another level, including the crowd.”

In seven years, Pelini is 21-10 in road games, but just 3-8 against top 25 opponents away from Memorial Stadium.

“It’s hard to win on the road against good football teams in tough environments,” said Pelini. “But I know that those last five games won’t have anything to do with what happens on Saturday. The team that executes the best is going to win.”

No category when it comes to execution will be more important than tackling. Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon is the nation’s leading rusher and averaging 7.6 yards per carry.

“We have to tackle well,” said Pelini. “They have good backs. It’s going to come down to being physical up front, guys being disciplined and playing their gaps, and putting their face on somebody and tackling them when you get there.

“To play great defense, it has to be great team defense. I mean go look back at the 2012 game. We missed some one-on-one tackles. Early in the game we were out in space. Then it got our guys off kilter. We had guys jumping out of gaps and doing things. You would have come out of that game saying,’ I’m proud of ourselves for playing pretty disciplined in what we’re doing defensively. Being in the right spots, well-coached and having all of the things thought out and taken care of.’ And if you would look back at that game, you would think that group had never been coached before. For whatever reason, I don’t know why that happened. I don’t know. I watched it. And unfortunately I watched it again. A number of times since then.”

Defensive tackle Maliek Collins:

Video shot by Darion Miller

Buck linebacker Davis Santos:

Video shot by Darion Miller

Harvey’s keys to a Nebraska victory:

* Put Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave in third-down situations. The Badgers are just No. 73 in the country in third-down percentage, with the junior quarterback completing only 53 percent of his throws this season. Putting him in third and longs are important. Nebraska ranks No. 2 in the country in pass efficiency defense, which means Stave could struggle against the Blackshirt defense. With that being said, it’s tough to put Wisconsin in too many third and longs with a running back like Melvin Gordon carrying the football.

* Quarterback Tommy Armstrong needs a bounce back performance. The quarterback took much of the blame for the Huskers’ offensive struggles against Purdue, but the thing to remember is Nebraska still scored 35 points – despite not having Abdullah in the backfield. This season, when Armstrong hasn’t had a good game, he’s followed it up with a pretty solid performance. Just taking every snap cleanly might go a long way against a very solid Badger defense.

* Don’t get in an early hole. Over the last three years, Nebraska has shown the ability to get themselves out of an early hole – including against the Badgers in 2012. The Huskers can’t afford to do it against this Wisconsin team, which loves to grind a clock with Gordon. Avoiding an early turnover in a hostile environment would help Nebraska in this category.

Big Red Report score predictions:

Josh Harvey, Wisconsin: 34, Nebraska: 28

Bryan Munson, BRR staff: Nebraska: 38, Wisconsin: 35

Matt Svoboda, BRR contributor: Wisconsin: 31, Nebraska: 27

Beth Long, Wisconsin: 34, Nebraska: 31

Brandon Huffman, Wisconsin: 34, Nebraska: 28

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