A breakdown of the Nebraska Cornhuskers - Wisconsin's next Big Ten opponent

Before Wisconsin takes on Nebraska at Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon, BadgerNation gets the inside scoop on the Cornhuskers from Big Red Report publisher Josh Harvey.

BadgerNation: Other than the win over South Alabama, nothing has come easy for Nebraska thus far. What have been some of the glaring problems?

Josh Harvey: Nebraska’s passing defense has been poor and will be talked about in the next question. In addition, they have struggled to keep guys healthy. Here is a list of guys who have all missed some time this season.

  • MLB) Josh Banderas – starter
  • OLB) Dedrick Young – starter
  • OLB) Michael Rose – starter
  • DT) Vicent Valentine – starter
  • DE) Greg McMullen – starter
  • DT) Kevin Williams – reserve who plays a lot
  • OLB) Marcus Newby – reserve (Rose’s replacement)
  • CB) Daniel Davie – starter at the beginning of the year
  • DT) Kevin Maurice – reserve who plays a lot

Those are just names on defense. On offense, Nebraska has really struggled to put four quarters together. They have yet to do it in five games. One quarter you have a balanced offensive attack moving the football, the next Nebraska is three and out.

BN: Nebraska prides itself on defense, so sitting only ahead of Maryland and Indiana in the Big Ten in total defense is alarming. Why have the Huskers had problems stopping opponents?

JH: The Nebraska secondary has struggled to keep wide receivers in check. Often guys are running stride-for-stride with a wideout, but just haven’t finished the play. The defensive line, a unit that has been banged up, hasn’t helped. They have struggled at this point to generate much of a pass rush. Some want to point to the scheme. Other want to point to the talent. It’s probably a little bit of both. Passing defense was better against Illinois, but you really have to take that for a grain of salt when the quarterbacks were dealing with 20+ MPH winds.

BN: Nebraska leads the Big Ten in passing offense but it seems fans aren’t sold on Tommy Armstrong as a quarterback and a leader. What’s your take?

JH: I wouldn’t say Nebraska fans aren’t sold on Tommy Armstrong as a quarterback or a leader – most realize he’s not the one calling the plays. But, most fans would like to see a stronger commitment to running the football. They feel offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf either abandons the run to quickly or gets pass happy. There is a feeling at times that this coaching staff views the running game as a compliment to the passing game. Nebraska fans are used to seeing their great teams run the ball down people’s throats.

BN: Four of five Nebraska games this season have been decided in the final seconds or overtime, with the Huskers 1-3 in such games. Why have the Huskers struggled closing games?

JH: We go back to the passing defense. If a team has the ball with under a minute left, down a score, the Nebraska secondary isn’t prepared right now to make a stop. Nebraska at times has also failed to run the clock effectively on offense late in the game (Southern Miss and Illinois).

BN: Are fans starting to have buyer’s remorse with Mike Riley?

JH: There is definitely a big portion of the fan base nervous at this point about the hire. I think the people who weren’t sold on him at first have all the ammunition they need at the moment. My expectations are high for Riley. I think he will have success, if people are patient enough with him. Recruiting seems to be on the uptick, but for his system to work, he will have to have his own guys. When you look at this defense, they could have some success against some of the stronger teams in the Big Ten West.

BN: Is Nebraska in rebuilding mode with Riley. If so, how many years do you see it taking and how it the football-crazy fan base handling it?

JH: This wasn’t a true rebuild type of job. It was more of a tune up. But, expectations were somewhat unrealistic. A team can’t learn a new scheme on both sides of the ball and finish with ten wins. Riley deserves at least three years to show what sort of team he can field, both from a recruiting stand point and as a member of the Big Ten. He’s trying to implement a new offense in Lincoln (some would say that is the problem) and his defense definitely is built more for the Big Ten West’s rushing attacks.

BN: Why will the conference worst pass defense (353.8 yards per game) have success against Wisconsin’s passing attack?

JH: I don’t think they will. Joel Stave as a passer will likely have one of the better games of the season against Nebraska on Saturday. The one that Nebraska might have going for them is their early ability to stop the run. They currently rank in the top 15 in the country in the category, but haven’t seen a rushing attack like Wisconsin’s. If they can put Stave in some third and longs, I don’t think he’s Miami’s Brad Kaaya. I don’t know what to expect when it comes to Nebraska defense versus Wisconsin’s offense. What I do know is no Wisconsin running back will be putting up 400 yards on the ground.

BN: How have fans viewed Wisconsin since entering Nebraska entered the league in 2011? It’s been a tough matchup for the Huskers (1-3).

JH: Many look at Wisconsin as one of the biggest reasons Mike Riley was hired. Bo Pelini couldn’t get it done in the Big Ten West and changed needed to be made. Fans realize Wisconsin right now if the cream of the crop on this side of the division. While most wouldn’t want to admit it, the programs have a lot of similarities between the support for the team, the style of play and tradition over the years.

BN: Where do you think the Huskers have the edge over the Badgers?

JH: I think the Nebraska passing game will have some success against Wisconsin’s secondary. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong is going to want to bounce back after a 10-for-31 performance against Illinois last weekend. Up to that point, Armstrong had been really good through the air,connecting on nearly 59 percent of his throws.

BN: What is your prediction for Saturday?

JH: At this point I would expect a close game. I’m not ready to really make a score prediction yet, because I want to see how healthy Nebraska is going into the game. Right now it’s not looking good on that front. I would probably lean Wisconsin in a close one.


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