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Get the inside scoop on No.7 Nebraska in advance of Saturday's matchup against Wisconsin

Before No.11 Wisconsin takes on No.7 Nebraska at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday, we get the inside scoop on the Cornhuskers from Big Red Report publisher Josh Harvey.

1, Nebraska is off to its best start in 15 years but have only beaten two teams that currently have a winning record. Are you believer in the Huskers or still on the fence?

Josh Harvey: I would say that I’m a believer in the Huskers when it comes to them as a team on the rise and a team that looks to be a couple years away from contending for conference titles in the Big Ten. The growth of the program in just a year under head coach Mike Riley is amazing and I don’t see it slowing anytime soon – especially with recruiting only getting better. Do I believe they are a top ten team at the moment – we will find out on Saturday. I would tend to say no, based solely on consistency. But when they have played their best this season, I do believe they have been a top 10 squad. 

2, What’s the biggest area of this team that hasn’t been exposed yet because of the schedule?

Harvey: Nebraska’s road contests to date have been Indiana and Northwestern – not exactly teams known for their atmospheres in football. Due to the way their fans travel, the Huskers have yet to have a true road environment – an atmosphere that is against them. 

3, After his up-and-down junior season, where have you seen the biggest stride in quarterback Tommy Armstrong’s game?

Harvey: I think one of the biggest differences on offense this year compared to last is how they are using Armstrong. There are more designed runs and when Tommy has the ability to get out of the pocket he becomes more comfortable in the passing game. In the early going last year it looked at times like he was hesitant. He definitely has a better grasp on the offense, knows where his check-downs are, and has a feel on how long he can stay in the pocket before trying to escape.

4, The Huskers are sixth in the country with 15.7 yards per completion. What has made Nebraska’s passing attack so efficient?

Harvey: I think a few people in the national media snickered this summer when reporters in the Big Ten would say Nebraska’s receiving crew was for real in 2016. The group is loaded with talent and I will point out the 15.7 yards per completion has been without Jordan Westerkamp (15.1 y/r over this career) the last two games. I look at the two-deep and see at least three N.F.L. receivers on the roster (Westerkamp, Alonzo Moore and Stanley Morgan) and that is not even counting De'Mornay Pierson-El who is electric when healthy. Not only is it hard to keep this group in front of you, but defensive backs are having a hard time in 1-on-1 situations making the tackle. 

5, What’s been the big key to the improvement of Nebraska’s pass defense this season?

Harvey: Chemistry and confidence. Last year the secondary really took a while to find the right combination, but once they did they were much improved over the second half of the season. In the offseason Riley and defensive coordinator Mark Banker decided the secondary needed some extra attention. Defensive backs coach Brian Stewart was assigned to just the corners, while Banker took charge of the safeties. I really think the secondary as a whole benefited from the extra attention. 

6, Nebraska owns a nation-best 85-point advantage in fourth-quarter scoring. Why have the Huskers been better them teams in the final 15 minutes?

Harvey: Depending on you ask, you are likely to get a different answer. Some will say it’s conditioning. Some will say it was from the grind of last season – losing so many games. Some will say the group is tighter. Others even might say Sam Foltz is looking down on them. I can’t pinpoint it, all I can say is they look like a different team in the fourth quarter. There have been offensive drives where they have had their will with the unit across from them. The question is, can they do it against a top-10 defense like Wisconsin?

7, Can Nebraska's offense survive without tangible production from Jordan Westerkamp? Why or why not?

Harvey: Well there is no doubt the offense is better when Westerkamp is in the lineup. I think quarterback Tommy Armstrong, who is Westerkamp's roommate, will be excited to have him back. That being said, the wide receiver crew is more than deep enough if Westerkamp doesn't put up numbers. It means more targets for guys like Stanley Morgan (136 yards, one TD in the last two games) and Brandon Reilly (133 yards in the last two games). 

8, Who is the x-factor on Saturday for Nebraska?

Harvey: After scoring a touchdown last week, receiver De’Mornay Pierson-El, who has been slowly working his way back from a two major injuries last year. Pierson-El is starting to get his confidence back and you can see it in his cuts, in his bursts. Part of me wonders if this is the week Nebraska tries to turn him loose and increase his touches to double-digits. He’s a home run threat when he gets the ball in his hands. 

9, What areas of Wisconsin do you expect will give Nebraska trouble? Where do you think the Huskers have the edge over the Badgers?

Harvey: NU Defense vs UW Offense: Edge Nebraska

UW Defense vs NU Offense: Edge Wisconsin

Punting: Edge Wisconsin

Punt Returns: Edge Nebraska

Home Field – Edge Wisconsin

4th Quarter – Edge Nebraska

Injuries – Push

Turnover Margin – Edge Nebraska 

Season Experience – Edge Wisconsin

I wouldn’t be surprised to see another low scoring game involving Wisconsin, although that never seems to be the case when these two teams meet. 

10, What is the one thing Nebraska needs to do well in order to win Saturday?

Harvey: I could say something about the turnover margin. Or be clever and come up with a first down efficiency stat. Ultimately, Nebraska must avoid the snowball effect. It has been the Achilles heel when playing Wisconsin in Madison (almost anywhere) over the years. Now this is a different coaching staff and for the most part a different set of players. The culture is different. So I’m the record of saying that this won’t be an issue. But when Wisconsin has some success, which they are bound to do, Nebraska must be able to rebound from it. In previous contests against the Badgers, the Huskers weren’t able to do it. 


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