The Wisconsin Badgers (3-2 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) are looking to right the ship in conference play as they head to Lincoln, Neb., for a match-up with the Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-3, 0-1) on Saturday afternoon.
While the Badgers had to deal with a stagnant offense that heavily contributed to their 10-6 loss against Iowa last week at home, the Mike Riley era has started off shaky for Nebraska with three losses in five games. That includes heartbreaking losses to BYU (Hail Mary) and Illinois (giving up a 13-0 lead heading into the fourth quarter).
Nebraska's off to a 2-3 start -- its worst since 1959 -- but came within a couple of plays of being 4-1. There seems to some uneasiness from the Huskers' fan base over the slow start. What's causing the anger?
Part of the issue is that some folks are still in the whole "Bo Pelini won even though he's an asshole" mode, while people don't get how thin and young this roster is, which who knows if Bo could deal with anyhow. Losing the BYU and Illinois games like the Huskers did does drive you batty, in that the opposition has a touchdown on their final play of regulation. Miami was a free roll, and the way that the Huskers fought and came back vs. the Canes takes the sting off that loss a little bit.
The Huskers are averaging over 280 yards of offense through the air and just over 193 on the ground. How has the transition to Mike Riley's offense been for quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jr., and who are the offensive weapons Wisconsin needs to watch out for?
More on the Badgers
More on the Badgers
Armstrong and the wide receiving crew have been far and away the biggest benefactors of Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf coming to Lincoln. Granted, last weekend isn't a good sample size, but Armstrong has kept Nebraska in games with his arm, and the wide receiving crew has gone from one of the better ones in the Big Ten to (arguably) the best group, and getting healthier. Armstrong still makes the occasional WTF throw, but all in all, he's gotten way better. Jordan Westerkamp and Brandon Reilly have been his two main targets, but De'Mornay Pierson-El should be a bigger threat this weekend. Keep an eye out on frosh wide receiver Stanley Morgan, who earned his spot in the two-deep during fall camp and has come up with some big time catches this year so far.
Defensively, the Huskers look stout on defense in the run game (allowing only 85 rushing yards per game) but are last in the FBS in passing yards allowed (353.8). What's ailed the pass defense this season?
Mark Banker, the defensive coordinator that Riley brought to Lincoln from Corvallis, was the one hire that many folks were having an issue with before the season started. Rushing-wise, Nebraska has gotten better play from their linebacker group (better coach that adjusts to JET!). However, another new defensive backs coach with a lack of identity has shown itself in the secondary, especially at corner. Last week, save the final drive, was better from this defense. As the pass D goes, so goes Nebraska's chances this week.
One name to remember is Jordan Stevenson, the once Wisconsin commit who was denied admissions but enrolled at Nebraska. Is he still slated for a redshirt year? Any updates on the Texas prep standout?
Well, interestingly enough, it was announced on Thursday that Stevenson will be burning up his redshirt to play on special teams and offense. While being a good talent that could have played right away for Nebraska, the fact that he came to Lincoln out of shape and got injured in fall camp only gave the staff a great reason to sit him. However, with the way Nebraska has become a MASH unit, there's no reason to sit your best talent if they can help you.
What are your keys to the game, and what's your prediction for the battle for the Freedom Trophy?
I think Nebraska wins 31-21 on Saturday. With the way that the Huskers have stopped the run, Joel Stave will try to beat them with his arm. He will get his stats, but at the same time, the Huskers are frustrated from last weekend on offense, and expect not only a big time rushing attack, but another great day from Armstrong throwing the ball.