For the fifth time in eight games, the Wisconsin Badgers face a top-10 opponent Saturday. This time, they’ll host the No. 7 Nebraska Cornhuskers, who enter the weekend atop the Big Ten West and undefeated at 7-0. Wisconsin owns the all-time series edge with six wins in 10 matchups, including a 4-1 record since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011. Those five matchups have seen plenty of memories: the 2011 game was Nebraska’s first in the Big Ten, the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game was decided between the two programs and fans from both sides will remember the 2014 matchup for different reasons. The memories continued last season as the Badgers defeated the Cornhuskers in Lincoln on a game-winning field goal by Rafael Gaglianone.
The 2016 installment is the second matchup between head coaches and friends Mike Reilly and Paul Chryst; the two worked together at Oregon State in 1997-98. They each lead teams that have taken different paths to top-15 rankings this season. Wisconsin has pounded its way through a tough schedule, dropping games only to No. 2 Michigan and No. 6 Ohio State. Nebraska, meanwhile, has beaten everyone it’s lined up against, though that list is less impressive than Wisconsin’s. The Huskers have faced only one Power Five team (Northwestern) with a winning record. Wisconsin is seemingly past the toughest part of its schedule, while Nebraska is just entering its, but that does not take away from the importance of Saturday’s game—a Huskers win puts them in the Big Ten West driver’s seat.
When and where is the game?
ESPN will broadcast the action on Saturday. Joe Tessitore will handle play-by-play and he’ll be accompanied by Todd Blackledge in the booth. Holly Rowe will be bringing reports from the sidelines.
How can I stream the game online?
How can I listen to it on the radio?
Compass Media will broadcast the game nationally. Locally, on the Badger Sports Network, Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas, Mark Tauscher and Patrick Herb will bring you the action. On satellite radio, you’ll find the broadcast on Sirius 84 / XM 84. Otherwise, head to BadgerSportsNetwork.com to find it. You can also listen on iHeartRadio (iOS/Android/online) by searching “WIBA.”
What’s at stake?
Wisconsin sits two games behind Nebraska in the Big Ten West. A loss this Saturday severely hampers Wisconsin’s hopes of winning the division. The two teams will also play for the Freedom Trophy; the trophy has gone to the winner of each Nebraska vs. Wisconsin game since 2014.
What can I expect to see?
Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten; Depth Chart)
Last week: 17-9 win at Iowa
Polls: No. 11 in AP Top 25 and Amway Coaches Poll (last week: No. 10 in both)
Head coach: Paul Chryst, second season at Wisconsin (15-5)
Nebraska (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten; Depth Chart)
Last week: 24-14 win vs. Purdue
Polls: No. 7 in AP Top 25 (last week: No. 8), tied for No. 6 in Amway Coaches Poll (last week: No. 9)
Head coach: Mike Reilly, second season at Nebraska (13-7)
When Nebraska has the ball:
|Nebraska Offensive Rankings|
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong is the engine that drives the balanced Nebraska offense. He averages nearly 300 total yards per game (second in the Big Ten) and leads the team with six rushing touchdowns. The senior’s mobility and playmaking ability will be key on Saturday as he and the offense face their toughest test this season, the Wisconsin defense. This is Armstrong’s third game against Wisconsin, and the first two were less than memorable (more on that below).
Armstrong ranks second on the team in rushing behind running back Terell Newby. Newby averages 73 yards per game in his first season as the full-time starter. Armstrong and Newby do their work behind an offensive line that enters Saturday with questions due to injuries. Like the Wisconsin offensive line, the Huskers could so some shuffling; Chris Heady over at Landof10.com laid out the unit’s different combination possibilities earlier this week.
A traditional Nebraska offense resembles a traditional Wisconsin offense—line up backs behind huge, NFL-bound offensive linemen and pound the ball, for better or for worse. This is not your typical Nebraska offense, and it has the pass-catchers to prove it. Armstrong spreads the ball throughout the offense, as he has six skill-position players with 10-plus catches on the season and four that average 15 or more yards per reception. Leading the way in receptions (18) is Stanley Morgan Jr., a sophomore who has the team’s longest passing play of the season. 6’2 senior wide receiver Alonzo Moore leads the team in yardage. The offense also expects receiver Jordan Westerkamp to return after missing the last two games with injury. Westerkamp is a name to watch on Saturday—he leads the team in touchdown catches and had an impressive 2015 season with 95 catches, 918 yards and seven touchdowns.
|Wisconsin Defensive Rankings|
It’s the same song, different verse for the elite Badgers defense. They face another offense ranked in the top half of the conference in most major categories while hoping to replace key players that were lost to injury. This week, inside linebacker and leading tackler Jack Cichy was added to the injury list. Cichy tore a pectoral muscle against Iowa and will be out for the season. Sophomore Ryan Connelly and junior Leon Jacobs will look to cover for the loss of Cichy. In addition to Cichy, Wisconsin will also be without nose tackle Olive Sagapolu on Saturday. On the positive side of injury news, UW announced that cornerback Derrick Tindal will play despite being injured early against Iowa, and fellow defensive back Natrell Jamerson is listed as questionable. Jamerson has been out since Wisconsin’s Week 2 victory over Akron.
The Wisconsin defense will look to continue its success against Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong. In two previous matchups with the Badgers, Armstrong has left room for improvement. He’s combined to complete 17 of 46 passes for 191 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against Wisconsin. He’s seen little success on the ground as well, running the ball 28 times for 67 yards and two touchdowns. While 2016 has been the most efficient season of Armstrong’s career, he’ll be facing the best defense he’s faced thus far and his 55 percent completion rate leaves room for improvement.
When Wisconsin has the ball:
|Wisconsin Offensive Rankings|
When Wisconsin entered its bye week after the loss at Michigan on Oct. 1, Badgers fans hoped that the week off would allow Corey Clement to heal from his ankle injury, thus bolstering the running game. Those hopes seem to have come to fruition, as Clement is coming off back-to-back 100-yard performances for only the second time in his Wisconsin career. In the last two games since the bye week, Clement has averaged 149 yards with 30 carries per game, yet another sign of his health. It will be interesting to see if that recent workload prompts more snaps and carries for fellow running back Bradrick Shaw this week.
Alex Hornibrook will once again get the start at quarterback for the Badgers, though many wonder how many drives he will give up to backup quarterback Bart Houston. Head coach Paul Chryst surprisingly slid Houston in for two drives at Iowa, one of which resulted in a touchdown. Chryst figures to continue working Houston in, but time will tell if success will continue with that plan.
Like Chryst, offensive line coach Joe Rudolph figures to again do some juggling of his own. Against Iowa, Rudolph used six different combinations of offensive linemen and a total of eight different players. Taking things a step further, right tackle Jacob Maxwell is listed as questionable for the game. He and redshirt freshman David Edwards took turns protecting Hornibrook’s blindside last weekend.
Clement’s continued success, the offensive line’s ability to control the line of scrimmage and the offense’s overall ability to finish drives with points will all be key for the Badgers.
|Nebraska Defensive Rankings|
The table above pretty much paints the picture for the Nebraska defense. The Huskers have been good, but you probably haven’t heard about it because they aren’t Ohio State, Michigan or Wisconsin. The group has been stingy against the run, but don’t let the in-conference rank for passing defense fool you—it can stop that as well. A year after getting gouged through the air, Nebraska has held three different opponents below 200-yards passing and is fifth nationally in interceptions with 13. Safety Keiron Williams leads the team in tackles and interceptions. Junior cornerback Chris Jones leads the team in pass breakups with seven and is flanked by fellow corner Josh Kalu.
The Huskers lost all four starters along the defensive front from 2015 but have continued their success against the run. Defensive end Ross Dzuris has seen plenty of opposing team’s backfields, recording 4.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss. His partner in crime, Freedom Akinmoladun, has added two sacks of his own.
Overall, the Huskers’ defense is better than what they’ve produced in the past few years. The Blackshirts want to prove that their success isn’t a product of their schedule and they’ll have a chance to make that statement on Saturday.
You cannot mention Nebraska special teams without touching on Sam Foltz, the all-conference punter who was tragically killed in a car crash in Wisconsin this past summer. Badgers kicker Rafael Gaglianone was a friend of Foltz and changed his jersey number to honor him this season. Gaglianone will assist in honoring Foltz’s memory on Saturday.
Freshman punter Caleb Lightbourn has placed 10 of 26 punts inside the 20-yard line, but Nebraska ranks 13th in the Big Ten in net punting average. Junior kicker Drew Brown will make his 34th start on Saturday. He is seven of nine on the season, but his only misses came from 45-plus yards. He handles kickoffs and 22 of his 46 kicks have been touchbacks.
Tre Bryant and De’Mornay Pierson-El are the main returners for kicks and punts, respectively. While they have not taken any back for scores, Bryant has taken a kick for 59 yards and Pierson-El has a long punt return of 45 yards.
Special teams seem to get more and more interesting by the week for the Badgers. After starting the season a perfect 4-for-4 on field goals, kicker Andrew Endicott missed two makeable kicks last week against Iowa. While Endicott’s field goals could have put Iowa out of reach earlier in the game, the punt coverage unit allowed a 77-yard punt return by Iowa’s Desmond King. It resulted in a field goal and had the Hawkeyes within eight points with 43 seconds left.