No. 7 Nebraska at No. 11 Wisconsin Primer

No. 7 Nebraska’s perfect record is in jeopardy this Saturday, as they will face their toughest opponent on the season when they travel to Madison to take on the No. 11 Badgers.

Date: Saturday, October 29th

Kickoff: 6:00 p.m.

Venue: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, WI

Network: ESPN

No. 7 Nebraska (7-0, 4-0) will face its toughest opponent yet this season when they travel to Madison to take on No. 11 Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2). The Huskers will look to improve their undefeated record, while the Badgers look to pick up a win against another top ten team at the time (LSU and Michigan State). Though it’s only October, it appears that the winner of this game could very well win the Big Ten West and advance to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game.

Wisconsin’s offense, despite being ranked 101st in the country in points, holds a few threats  capable of putting up points in a hurry. Freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook is having an impressive season thus far, and his play has earned him a starting role. Hornibrook is completing a little over half of his pass attempts, while racking up 877 yards and five touchdowns. Nebraska head coach Mike Riley has tipped his hat in regards of the freshman’s composure.

“Poise for a young guy really, really stands out. He is, I think, beyond his years that way,” Riley said. “You would not know that that is a freshman quarterback. And I like his arm, too, you know. He looks very accurate, and he’s unfazed by the bigness of what he’s in. I mean, he’s making big plays, standing in there making great throws against really good people, so he’s an impressive guy.”

The Badgers’ main source of offense comes from their 5-foot-11, 227-pound running back Corey Clement. The senior back has 617 yards and six touchdowns this season, averaging nearly 20 touches a game. Nebraska linebackers coach Trent Bray is well aware of both the impact and the significance Clement has on this Badgers’ offense.

“He’s an all-around back. He runs well, he’s got great change in direction and he can run away from you at the same time,” Bray said. “He presents a lot of problems because he’s tough to bring down cause he breaks a lot of tackles.”

Nebraska is coming off a win against Purdue last week, but what stood out more than their victory is the concern on their offensive line. The Huskers have been on the mend all year, but their offensive line has really taken the brute of the injuries. Starters Dylan Utter, Nick Gates and David Knevel have been battling injuries the past couple of weeks and it was incredibly noticeable in their last matchup against the Boilermakers. Senior captain Dylan Utter relayed good news for Husker fans concerning the offensive line’s injuries.

“They always preach to us about grit and stuff like that, but as offensive line, you never want to let your teammates down and I think that kind of fuels [Gates’ and Knevel’s] fire,” Utter said. “If they can go, they’ll go, so they want to help us out as much as they can.”

Although the offensive line is battling some injuries, Nebraska should be at full strength this week, with the exception of starting tight end Cethan Carter. The Huskers’ offense will have multiple threats with senior wide out Jordan Westerkamp and sophomore running back Devine Ozigbo back to add depth. Having Ozigbo back allows their starter Terrell Newby to rest and stay fresh throughout the game. Since they are facing a defense that is not only at the top in the Big Ten, but in the nation as well, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf will need to mix up his play calling.

The Blackshirts enter the game amongst one of the best in the country in interceptions. “Lockdown U” collectively has 13 picks on the year, and will face a Wisconsin offense that has thrown eight interceptions all together. The Huskers’ defense also has an experienced senior in their defensive line, linebackers and secondary that has been to Camp Randall Stadium before. Though the Badgers rank fourth in the nation in points allowed, the Huskers are not far behind at 14th, giving up less than 18 points a contest.

Despite being ranked four spots ahead of their opponent in the AP poll, the Huskers enter this game as the underdog. Entering a hostile crowd at Camp Randall has historically been Nebraska’s biggest Achilles’ heel since joining the Big Ten, having not won a game yet in Madison. Junior safety Kieron Williams stated the team is treating this game just like any other game and have not paid much attention to rankings.

“We try not to look into rankings because at the end of the day it doesn't matter until the end. If you look all over the country, they have big upsets, but at the end of the day you have to play the game,” Williams said. “So, that’s what it’s about, it’s about playing the game no matter what the rankings say.”

Riley has done something former Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini could not do, and that’s win the big games. In his career, Riley has taken down 16 ranked opponents, two of which have come in his time at Nebraska. He has shown he can take down a playoff contending team when he beat No. 6 Michigan State last year, but has yet to win a big one on the road. 

The History:

Wisconsin holds the series record overall over Nebraska at 6-4. What’s fresh in Nebraska fans’ minds is that their record against the Badgers since joining the Big Ten in 2011 is just 1-4, and 0-2 on the road. Historically, the matchup is usually a lopsided victory credited to the Badgers, and Nebraska’s only victory was by a three-point margin. Mike Riley is 0-1 in his career against Wisconsin, and has yet to beat his friend and former co-worker Paul Chryst.

What A Win Means For Nebraska:

A win for the Huskers would be detrimental for them in making the college football playoffs. A victory in Madison would improve the Huskers’ undefeated record to 8-0 and 5-0 in the Big Ten. Nebraska would also increase their lead in the Big Ten West against a team that is still highly predicted to end up in Indianapolis.

What A Win Means For Wisconsin:

The Badgers desperately need this win to have a chance at winning the Big Ten West to move towards the Big Ten championship game. If Wisconsin can beat Nebraska, not only would they move to second in the Big Ten, but they would also slide back into the AP top 10. With Nebraska being the last big test in the heart of their schedule, the Badgers are likely favored to win out the rest of the season.

Nebraska Players To Watch On Offense:

He may as well find himself on this list for the remainder of the season. The senior quarterback played a night and day game last week against Purdue. After putting up just 94 yards and an ugly interception to end the first half, the 22-year-old ended the game with 252 yards total and a 40-yard touchdown pass. It looks as if Armstrong has fully recovered from his foot injury from a few weeks ago, and his health could not have come at a better time. Nebraska will obviously struggle to run the ball against this Wisconsin defense, but if they can add their quarterback as another threat on the ground, it opens up so many more doors for Danny Langsdorf. For Nebraska to have a chance, the Texas native needs to play smart and establish a threat on the ground.

The junior is coming off by far the best game of the season, where he finished with three catches for 69 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown grab. The Virginia native also blocked well and had a smart play on special teams in defending a fake punt. Nebraska will have to diversify its offensive attack this week, and Pierson-El could be the guy to step up and make a big catch or a long run off a jet sweep. Coming off of an injury from last season, the biggest concern this year for DPE was his confidence. “I’ve loved watching him almost day-to-day gaining confidence, and you know, the neat thing is, you can just feel it in talking to him that he knows that’s happening,” Riley said.

The senior captain is fully healed and is making his return to the field this week. After missing two games with a back injury, the Huskers’ top receiver could have a big game in a time where they need him the most. Westerkamp’s return brings yet another option to their wide receiver arsenal, and will certainly draw the attention and respect from the Badgers’ defense. The Illinois native will obviously be fired up to have a big play or two, and could connect with his roommate on short yardage third down calls.

Nebraska Players To Watch On Defense:

Banderas has really upped his play as of late, coming off consecutive season-high games in terms of tackles. Last week, the 6-foot-3, 240-pounder logged 13 tackles and was a big factor in the Huskers’ win over Purdue. The middle linebacker will have his hands full with Wisconsin running back Corey Clement, who is averaging 20 carries a game and averages 4.3 yards an attempt. The senior captain could carry his momentum he’s created and might have another big game. Defensive coordinator Mark Banker has mention how pleased he has been with how the Lincoln native has put all the pieces together for his final season in Lincoln. "From the time we got off the plane from UCLA until today, he has been one who has really held everybody accountable and held everyone to a certain standard, including himself,” Banker said.

Williams continues impress each week in the secondary, and his performance against Purdue was nothing new this year. Last week against the Boilermakers, the junior safety ended they day with four tackles, two interceptions and a pass breakup. If the Blackshirts can create some 3rd and long situations, look for the Louisiana native to either break up or intercept a few long balls. The junior also leads the team in tackles and could very well be involved in several plays.

The senior defensive tackle has showed consistency throughout the year and made his presence known last week against Purdue. Maurice finished with a sack and a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, but he also continued to get pressure on the number one quarterback in the Big Ten in passing. The Florida native needs to be a force up the middle to stop this Wisconsin run game. If he can draw a few double teams to free up Carlos Davis or Mick Stoltenberg, the blackshirts could have a field day in the backfield. With the Huskers heading into a hostile environment, the experienced senior will need to control the poise of this defensive front. Defensive line coach John Parella noted it’s great to have experience out on his defensive line. “I think any time you have older players, that’s big for our young guys. It gives them somebody to lean on, somebody who has the ‘been there, done that’ type of attitude.”

Injury Report For Nebraska:

OT) Nick Gates (ankle) Probable

Gates has been beat up for several weeks now and clearly played through an injury last week against Purdue. Riley stated that he admired the sophomore from Las Vegas because his decision to play last week was decided the morning of the game. Though he was not efficient at times, the Huskers desperately need him to tough another one out this week. Assuming he practices well and feels good enough to play, he will.

OT) David Knevel (ankle) Probable

Knevel went down for the second consecutive week with an ankle injury last week against the Boilermakers. Mike Riley stated that depending on how the junior lineman practices this week would dictate whether or not he will see the field, but he will most likely be out there on Saturday.

TE) Cethan Carter (elbow) Out

Carter is out for yet another week this week against Wisconsin. The senior tight end injured his elbow early on in their game against Illinois four weeks ago. His timetable is still undecided but for now, he will not play against the Badgers.

RB) Devine Ozigbo (ankle) Probable

After injuring his ankle against Illinois on October 1st, the sophomore back was limited in his carries against the Hoosiers a few weeks ago, making just a brief appearance in the second half. Ozigbo did not have a carry in their most recent game against Purdue, but Riley said he’s been practicing well and is good to go this week. 

Quote To Note:

“It’s going to be loud. We need to make sure we communicate well, make sure we have everything dialed and toned, making sure that we’re able to communicate our wide and up front. Just making sure that we’re on the same page, that’s going to be the key of everything. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. We’re used to it, but at the same time we haven’t really played in a game to where we’re going to go and there’s going to be a lot of fans. Our backs are kind of going to be against the wall, but we’re excited for it. This team actually needs something like this. We’re ready for it.” – Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr.


It’s going to be hard enough for Nebraska to run the ball on the fourth best defense in the country, but with a banged up offensive line, the Huskers may have to rely on their air attack. This will be a true Big Ten game in the sense that it will be physical, low-scoring and a defensive showdown. The Blackshirts have surprised many this season after being one of the worst teams defensively just a year ago. The Huskers’ secondary could have a big game since they are among the nations best in interceptions per game with 13 in seven games. That being said, I believe injuries will finally be too much to overcome for the Huskers and they will fall to their foe in front of a hostile crowd in Madison. It may come down to yet another fourth quarter showdown, but in this case, I can see Armstrong Jr. throwing a late pick that will cost Nebraska. This game could be a race to whomever can score more than 17 points, and I believe the Badger’s defense will hold Nebraska short of that and win by just a handful of points.

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