Nebraska-Wisconsin primer

A look at Nebraska (2-3, 0-1) versus Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1).

Date: Saturday, Oct. 10

Game Time: 3:30 pm

Venue: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, NE

Network: ABC/ESPN2

LINCOLN, Neb. – It was supposed to be a game that could possibly decide the Big Ten West.

Now it’s about two teams trying to keep their Big Ten Championship hopes alive after just one week of Big Ten play.

Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1) travels to Nebraska (2-3, 0-1) on Saturday. Both teams feature two new head coaches who haven’t got off the start they wanted or many imagined.

“If you stay in it long enough, you’re going to have some hard times, but the test is not physical right now, it’s mental,” said Nebraska head coach Mike Riley. “It’s all about the approach, so the coaches have to set the tone with just really good teaching, preparation, and plan; this is how it’s going to work and get everybody’s physical energy going that way, coaches included. 

“[There’s] lots of different opinions as to why or what or what could have been done…we’ve got to push this team forward and then we need good examples on the team to do that, because it will be, as we come out of this, it will be good for them to have found a way to fight through a really bad, hard time. 

Nebraska is off to it’s worst start since 1959 and a loss to Wisconsin, a team they have struggled with through the years, will only give critics of Riley’s hire more ammunition.

“Well I can understand (fans) being nervous,” said Riley. “We have the people that care the most and the greatest fans in the world, so obviously they’re going to have feelings about this and certainly where we are; I understand that, totally, I get it.  What we have to do is play better and win some games and then go from there.  That’s the nature of this thing and I get it.  Most of the time I think people are involved in any way because they care, and that’s the beauty of it.  I wouldn’t want to trade that at all.  We just have to do better.”

The Badgers haven’t come to Lincoln since 2012, when they lost 30-27, giving up a 17-point lead in the second half.

“You know Wisconsin has a high level of tradition, they’ve got a great fan base; there’s a lot of similarities between Wisconsin and Nebraska and I think since we’ve been in the Big Ten there’s been a lot of good battles,” sid Nebraska defensive end Jack Gangwish. “I think all those things contribute to that hype that surrounds this game.” 

The series: Wisconsin has the unique privilege of winning the series between the two schools – not many can say that when it comes to Nebraska. But, it gets worse for Huskers fans. Since joining the Big Ten, Wisconsin is 3-1 against Nebraska. Their average margin of victory is 30+ points, including a 70-31 contest in the 2012 Big Ten Championship game.

What a win means for Nebraska: It gets the critics off head coach Mike Riley’s back for at least a week. Former head coach Bo Pelini wasn’t fired because he couldn’t beat Wisconsin, but it didn’t help. Some of Pelini’s worst meltdowns came to the hands of the Badgers. Nebraska would be 1-1 in the Division, meaning a chance to go to Indy would still be alive.  

What a win means for Wisconsin: On three of those 0-1 conference starts, Wisconsin either won a conference title or advanced to the title game (granted one was as the third-place team in 2012). That was the message – to a degree - being preached in the locker room after the game on Saturday after a loss to Iowa. – Ben Worgull, BadgerNation.com

Injury list: Sophomore linebacker Josh Banderas (starter), senior cornerback Daniel Davie and junior linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey (starter) continue to make progress in their recoveries, but all will miss Saturday's game. Riley added that freshman defensive end Freedom Akinmoladun (starter) hurt his knee and will not play against Wisconsin. The staff is hopeful starting defensive tackle Vincent Valentine (starter), who’s missed time with a high-sprain, can give them something on Saturday.

Who to watch on offense and defense:

WR.) De’Morany Pierson-El – The sophomore’s work against Illinois was limited in his first game back since breaking his foot in the preseason, but it appears the playmaker will have a bigger role against the Badgers this week. “We’d like to get him going fast,” Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. “We don’t want to overdo it and rush it with him, but we’d like to use him.”

MLB.) Chris Weber – The sophomore had 17 tackles against Illinois, but is about to see a big jump in the competition. Wisconsin’s running game hasn’t been it’s usual self without Cory Clement, but has had plenty of success against Nebraska over the years. The Huskers’ defensive scheme seems built for a team like Wisconsin, but Weber is going to have to be up for the moment.

Reasons to be concerned: Nebraska’s passing defense didn’t give up a ton of yards against Illinois, but couldn’t make a stop when it mattered most and were bailed out by the weather. Wisconsin senior quarterback Joel Stave hasn’t been a world-beater, but Stave is completing 63.3 percent of his throws – a big jump from his numbers last year. He might just be improved enough to hurt the Nebraska secondary.

Did you know? Riley and Chryst have worked together for nine years at three different spots - with two separate stints at Oregon State - at three different levels. It started with Riley making a phone call to a jobless Chryst in 1991 after one of his assistant coaches with the San Antonio Riders of the now defunct World League of American Football left. Riley needed a receiver’s coach and the friendship was born. “Yes it does [add a little spice to this week]. I’m excited about it and I’m sure Paul (Chryst) is too,” said Riley. “It’s a pretty unique situation for as long as we’ve known each other.” Ben Worgull, BadgerNation.com

Quote to note: “I’m fine. I don’t let it bother me. I’ve been in tougher situations than this. I’m fine. I’m going to drive on. I play for my team and coaches. I don’t play for anyone else but them. I play for my family. That’s about it. That’s my whole mindset. Those guys are my family. What they think matters. I don’t let any other outside force drive me to play how I am and affect how I play.” – QB Tommy Armstrong on staying positive despite three losses

Josh Harvey’s prediction: I’m a little concerned both teams are a mess coming into this one and both teams are dealing with injuries - Nebraska is dealing with more. The defensive line is a major concern, with or without Vincent Valentine, who I can’t imagine giving the Huskers too many reps. When he’s not in the game, defensive end Greg McMullen will move inside, meaning Ross Dzuris (walk-on) and former walk-on Jack Gangwish are your defensive ends. Coming into the year I thought Nebraska would win this game. After watching Wisconsin play last week against Iowa, I thought Nebraska would win this game. But, I’m having a hard time trusting the Huskers. The Badgers defense is pretty solid as well. Wisconsin: 27 Nebraska: 21

OTHER NEBRASKA PREDICTIONS:

Beth Long, Scout.com: Wisconsin: 34 Nebraska: 21

Joe Quinn, AM 590: Wisconsin: 24 Nebraska: 17

Matt Svoboda, BRR contributor: Nebraska: 27 Wisconsin: 24

Brett Edwards, KLKN-TV: Wisconsin: 20 Nebraska: 17

Peter Terpstra, KLKN-TV: Nebraska: 30 Wisconsin: 27

Andrew Ward, KLKN-TV: Nebraska: 21 Wisconsin: 17

HuskerMo, BRR poster:  Nebraska: 20 Wisconsin: 17

BadgerNation.com's prediction: 

OTHER BIG TEN GAMES OF NOTES

 (Indiana at Penn State, Northwestern at Michigan, Minnesota at Purdue)

Josh (2-1): Penn State, Michigan, Minnesota

Beth (2-1): Indiana, Northwestern, Minnesota

Joe (3-0): Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota 

Matt (2-1): Penn State, Michigan, Minnesota

Brett (1-2): Penn State, Michigan, Minnesota

Peter (2-1): Penn State, Michigan, Purdue

Andrew (2-1): Penn State, Northwestern, Minnesota

HuskerMo (2-1): Penn State, Michigan, Minnesota


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