Wisconsin vs Nebraska Preview
What: #15 Wisconsin vs Nebraska
When: Saturday, November 20th, 2:30 pm CT
The Wisconsin Badgers have found their groove. Winners of six in a row, Paul Chryst’s crew now controls their own destiny to win the Big Ten West and make their 7th trip to Indianapolis since they formed divisions in 2011. After a 1-3 start, even the most loyal fans began to waver, but the players and coaches have not. During this streak, the Badgers have found their identity. A brute rushing attack led by freshman All-American candidate Braelon Allen, and a defense led by dynamic linebackers Leo Chenal and Jack Sanborn that are forcing turnovers and suffocating opponents into submission has led to this resurgence. They come into this game hot but face a Nebraska team that has been deceptively competitive. Their record stands at just 3-7, but head coach Scott Frost has his team in each game week in, week out, regardless of the competition.
How They Got Here
As mentioned previously, Wisconsin has hit its stride. Seemingly at the perfect time, this team has found itself. During the six-game win streak, they’ve played fundamentally sound Wisconsin football offensively. Establishing the run, efficient passing game, limiting key turnovers. On the other side of the ball, they’ve not only stayed the course of excellent defense, but they’ve also added to the repertoire. Forcing turnovers was one of the few critiques one could make on this defense. In the first four games, they forced just three turnovers. During the six-game win streak? 17. You don’t have to be a numbers guru to recognize the improvement. Couple that with an improving offense and you have a team playing its best football of the season in November.
Nebraska finds itself at a pivotal juncture. At 3-7, the bowl season is a forgone dream. However, this is a team that has shown flashes this season. Of the seven losses, only one has been by more than a one-possession game, and it was by nine points. Looking deeper, four of those losses have come against teams with a combined 36-4 record. They’ve lost those games by an average of just over five points per game. So do not let the record deceive you, this team can play, and they’re looking to go into the offseason with momentum-building wins.
What To Watch For Wisconsin
Undoubtedly the game plan will be to feed Braelon Allen. The reigning Big Ten Player of the week will look to match Jonathan Taylor’s record of six straight 100-yard game games. That being said, it could be tough sledding. The Cornhusker defense averages just 3.7 yards per carry against and has given up just eight rushing touchdowns. This game could come down to the arm of Graham Mertz, so getting him rolling early will be essential to opening lanes on the ground. Mertz has been reliable during the streak, but this will be one of his biggest exams to date. If he finds success, so will the Badger offense.
Defensively, it starts with the aforementioned duo of Chenal and Sanborn. The linebacker duo has combined for 28 tackles for loss, and are absolute disrupters to every offense they face. Couple that with ascending pass rusher in Nick Herbig, a secondary that has begun to find its footing along with forcing turnovers, and you have what might be defensive coordinator Jim Leonard’s best defense yet. Every level will be needed to stop Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez, who is explosive, but also turnover-prone.
What To Watch For Nebraska
Going with that, Coach Frost has had an extra week to incorporate a game plan and find holes in this Wisconsin team, of which there are to be had. Look for Nebraska to get Martinez in spaces where he can use his athletic prowess to make plays, and potentially rip off large chunk plays to quiet Camp Randall Stadium. He’s a talented athlete and has made big plays in big situations this season. But he has also made his fair share of head-scratching plays resulting in turnovers. Limiting the latter will be pivotal if they want to get out of there with a win.
Historically, the Cornhuskers have had little success in keeping it close in Madison, but their defense has played well enough to keep them in every game this season.
The 2:30 timeslot is fitting for this one in mid-November. Seven years ago in this timeslot, Melvin Gordon III ran for a then-record 408 yards in a memorable 59-24 drubbing of the Cornhuskers. It’s highly unlikely that feat will be touched again. Perhaps however it’s a sign of a potential unforgettable Braelon Allen performance.
That being said, Nebraska has proven to be too tough to shake when seemingly overmatched. This game will likely be in contention going into the fourth quarter, but the Badger defense has proven it can carry this team if necessary.