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Early Wisconsin football 2017 preview: Week 6 at Nebraska

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Corn Nation looks at the Huskers and their new defensive coordinator.

NCAA Football: Oregon at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

The second full week of Big Ten Conference season takes the Wisconsin Badgers to Lincoln as head coach Paul Chryst and his team face Mike Riley and the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

This could be the toughest road game for Wisconsin in 2017, up there with BYU three weeks prior and the regular-season finale against P.J. Fleck’s Minnesota squad.

Nebraska loses 13 starters, including key contributors Tommy Armstrong, Jordan Westerkamp, and Nate Gerry, but the Huskers have gained a new defensive coordinator in former UConn head coach Bob Diaco.

Corn Nation’s Brian Towle gives us a quick, early look at what to expect from Nebraska.

Year three for Mike Riley as Nebraskas head coach. What changes will we see from the program this season, especially with the hire of Bob Diaco as defensive coordinator?

I think the biggest issue Riley saw was the fact that Nebraska had a hard time playing from behind, and the big plays that Tennessee and Iowa had in the final two games of the season bugged him enough to make a change, firing Mark Banker. Granted, you’re going from someone really reserved in Banker to a screaming puppy full of espresso in Diaco, but Nebraska has kind of wanted to change to a 3-4 look with the linebacker recruiting they’ve had in the past couple of years.

As far as offense goes, two pocket passers in Tanner Lee and Patrick O’Brien are vying for the spot left by 37-year starting quarterback Tommy Armstrong. Granted, they will miss TA’s running ability for sure, but the fact that Nebraska plans on using the quick passing game much more, regardless of who starts, will help replace some of that. Mike Riley wants to run “smarter,” which he believes will help the team run better.

Who are the key contributors coming back for the Huskers?

On offense, the main ones to watch are wide receiver Stanley Morgan, running backs Devine Ozigbo and Tre Bryant, and offensive lineman Nick Gates. We are all waiting for De’Mornay Pierson-El to get back to superstar freshman status for sure, and he keeps saying he’s close.

Defensively, save for Nate Gerry, the whole secondary will be back, which is a big help considering that once again, they’re having to learn new coaches and a new system.

Who will they have to replace from last year’s team?

A lot on offense. Gone are Armstrong, Jordan Westerkamp, Brandon Reilly, Terrell Newby, and Cethan Carter. The quarterback and tight end spots have a lot of inexperience, and it’s not like Nebraska is returning a whole lot of guys at wide receiver either, even thought they may be much more talented.

On D, the biggest replacement spots are the linebackers, who will miss Josh Banderas and Michael Rose-Ivey. Not a big loss talent-wise maybe, but both those two made tackles for the Huskers.

Which players could be breakout candidates?

Good question. I would think that any of the youth that comes out at wide receiver should be watched, as Nebraska plans on using them more in the game plan. Transfer Keyan Williams along with EE Jaevon McQuitty would be two good names to watch as they progress through the spring.

What position battles are worth watching this spring?

Quarterback is what’s going to be the main focus for a lot of people. Riley, in his preseason presser, mentioned that it’s a coin flip on who is your QB1. While Lee has more experience from his time at Tulane, O’Brien may have a better skill set. The one who makes the better decisions in the pocket, stays away from turnovers, and can use his playmakers the best will start in September. The general favorite is Lee, but it’s a true competition this spring.

2017 Wisconsin Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time (CT) Spring Q&A Preview
Date Opponent Time (CT) Spring Q&A Preview
Sept. 1 Utah State 8 p.m. Mountain West Connection
Sept. 9 Florida Atlantic 11 a.m. Underdog Dynasty
Sept. 16 at BYU 2:30 p.m. Vanquish the Foe
Sept. 30 Northwestern TBA Inside NU
Oct. 7 at Nebraska TBA Corn Nation
Oct. 14 Purdue TBA Hammer and Rails
Oct. 21 Maryland (Homecoming) 11 a.m. Testudo Times
Oct. 28 at Illinois 11 a.m. The Champaign Room
Nov. 4 at Indiana TBA Crimson Quarry
Nov. 11 Iowa TBA BHGP
Nov. 18 Michigan TBA Maize N Brew
Nov. 25 at Minnesota TBA The Daily Gopher