It wasn’t a pretty win by any means for Wisconsin at Iowa, but it rarely is between two programs that play a similar band of football. Winning their first division game of the season, the Badgers certainly can expect to have another physical game on their hands as they prepare to play No. 7 Nebraska on Saturday night inside Camp Randall.
The undefeated Cornhuskers rank inside the top four of the Big Ten in scoring offense (34.1 points per game), scoring defense (17.4 points per game), total offense (447.4 yards per game) and total defense (342.9 yards per game). Although Wisconsin will be challenged in all phases of the game, the Badgers have posted a 4-1 record against Nebraska since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten in 2011.
The rankings for the Front Seven are determined based on performance from last week, expectations this coming week and need. Here are our seven players most important in helping the Badgers to a victory over Nebraska.
Last Week’s Rankings in Parentheses
1, Corey Clement RB (2): Clement has posted consecutive 100-yard rushing performances for the first time since the first two games of his freshman year, which has bumped his rushing average to 102.8 yards a game. Nebraska has been strong against the run this year, allowed 124.4 yards per game and have only allowed one player to rush for 100 yards. Against the Hawkeyes Saturday, Clement got stronger as the game progressed, rushing for 53 yards in the first half and 81 yards on 19 carries after halftime, including a 34-yard run in the fourth quarter. If Clement can have success on first down with his runs, it will set up Wisconsin with manageable second and third downs and allow the Badgers the chance to control the clock.
2, T.J. Watt OLB (4): Despite teams trying to take Watt out of the game he still finds ways to produce. Nebraska has only allowed five sacks this year but have allowed 37 tackles for loss. With Vince Biegel back and Garrett Dooley also producing, Watt is just one of many weapons teams have to take stock of. The one thing Watt can’t do is over pursue and allow Tommy Armstrong the chance to extend a play. J.T. Barrett hurt Wisconsin’s defense in this area and Armstrong is also capable, having rushed for 380 yards and a team-best six touchdowns. If Watt is able to get his hands on Armstrong, he has to make sure he’s takes him to the ground in order to neutralize his escapability and force him to beat Wisconsin with his arm.
3, Alex Hornibrook QB (3): For the first time since his debut against Akron, Hornibrook played turnover free. Can he do it for a second straight week? Nebraska leads the conference with 13 interceptions, and Hornibrook has thrown six this season. For the most part, Hornibrook does a good job placing the football where only his target can catch it. Nebraska will bring the pressure against Hornibrook and he’ll need to be able to go through his reads quickly in order to get an accurate pass off. Developing an early rhythm will be key to help him make the best decisions he can in order to avoid a critical mistake.
4, T.J. Edwards ILB (NR): With Jack Cichy done for the season, Edwards’ role in the middle of the defense becomes much more important. Since his return, Edwards has been as consistent as they come, as his 44 tackles (21 solo) are second to Cichy’s 60 tackles. Edwards has registered two tackles for loss and one sack on the season but his strength is being able to be a strong tackler, necessary against a Nebraska team that runs the football an average of 45.5 attempts per game. Edwards’ ability to quickly diagnose plays is part of the reason why he has two double-digit tackling performances this year, has averaged nine tackles over the last three games and has been stopping tailbacks for minimal gain.
5, Michael Deiter G/C (5): Despite the consistent offensive line combinations rolled out during the last two games, Deiter has been one of two offensive linemen who stay on the field (Ryan Ramczyk is the other). Even though Deiter is tasked with playing both guard and center he has made it look easy. Depending on where Deiter is lined up along the offensive line he’ll need to be aware of where Ross Dzuris is, as his team-leading 4.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss is one of the reasons why Nebraska has been able to slow opponent’s run games down. Deiter will need to get the better push against him in the trenches to allow Clement the hole he needs to have success and to allow Hornibrook time in the pocket.
6, Sojourn Shelton CB (NR): Shelton and Derrick Tindal have formed a successful duo at the cornerback position this year as the two have six and seven pass break ups, respectively. But with Tindal listed as questionable with a right leg injury, Shelton will need to be ready to defend a passing attack that’s averaging 230.1 yards a game. Armstrong has a variety of targets (four players average at least 15 yards per reception) but Shelton has done well of closing on the football to limit yards after the catch. If Wisconsin’s pass rush can create pressure in the backfield, it will allow Shelton to possibility create a turnover for Wisconsin’s defense.
7, Jazz Peavy WR (6): Since Big Ten play started Peavy has accumulated 12 receptions for 205 yards (17.1 reception average) and has quickly become a go-to target, particularly on third down. In total Peavy has been targeted 13 times on third down in conference play but has only hauled in five of his targets. But when he has caught the football on third down good things have happened, as four of his five receptions have moved the chains, accumulated a total of 139 yards and scored a touchdown. Wisconsin would love for Peavy to be a reliable pass catcher against a defense giving up 218.4 passing yards.
Others to Note
Quintez Cephus WR: Wisconsin has three plays for over 50 yards the last two games Cephus has been involved in all three of them – blocking downfield for Clement against Ohio State and tight end Kyle Penniston against Iowa and catching a 57-yard pass last week that set up a touchdown. If Wisconsin wants to continue to execute big plays on offense, it will come down to execution and everyone doing their 1/11th on offense.
Ryan Connelly ILB: With Connelly likely to make his second career start opposite of Edwards, he’ll be counted on to assist Wisconsin in slowing down Nebraska’s rushing attack. Connelly showed he was a smart player in the season opener, able to quickly diagnose plays and make the right read. If he can continue to do that, Wisconsin’s defense should continue to find success.
Dare Ogunbowale RB: Since Big Ten play has started, Ogunbowale has become a presence in the passing game with nine receptions, including a season-high four for 51 yards against Iowa. If he can continue to produce like he has recently, he’ll continue to see plenty of targets his way.
Conor Sheehy NT: With Olive Sagapolu sidelined for another week, Sheehy will likely start his second consecutive game in his place. Sheehy was one of the reasons Iowa struggled to run the football, and he’ll be vital to make sure Wisconsin isn’t vulnerable with runs up the middle and clear alleys for the linebackers to make plays in the backfield.