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Q&A: What to expect from the Nebraska Cornhuskers

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Our Q&A with Corn Nation

Purdue v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

The No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers welcome the winless Nebraska Cornhuskers to Camp Randall Stadium for a nighttime divisional contest on Saturday night.

Nebraska (0-4, 0-2 Big Ten) has given up nearly 39 points per game on defense while the offense has been balanced but only scored just over 21 points per contest.

There are some playmakers on this Huskers squad on both sides of the ball, however, that the Badgers will have to account for throughout the game.

Always entertaining, our friends at Corn Nation stopped by to give us their thoughts on who has shined and could give Wisconsin trouble in just a couple of days.

The start of the Scott Frost era has been bumpy, with no wins through four games so far. What have been the general themes of this squad through the first third of the season for Nebraska?

Nate M.: Self-inflicted mistakes. Nebraska cannot get out of its own way. Another theme might be snake-bitten. With the rainout against Akron, Nebraska was rusty against Colorado. Then quarterback Adrian Martinez got hurt, and then Nebraska couldn’t move the ball against Troy, and it all just keeps snowballing. Now I want to emphasize that the reason why we are 0-4 is because of Nebraska’s own mistakes. But still it feels like we are snake-bitten.

Oh also we are second to last in the country in penalties per game.

Uglydog56: Mistakes, mistakes, mistakes. Every play, there’s 10 guys doing something decent, and one guy off in never never land. Maybe not every play, but every critical play, and every third down.

How on earth is there a team with more penalties than us?

Jon: There really hasn’t been a new theme this season. This is simply a continuation of last season with new coaches. These are mostly the same guys who sucked last year, who haven’t got it through their head that they sucked last year and that the coaches didn’t have magic dust to sprinkle on them that would make them better. They have to do it themselves. I think they’re figuring that out now but it’s going to take a while.

Andy: I would disagree on the continuation theme. Per Bill Connelly’s offensive & defensive efficiency ratings (71 percent offense—excellent—and 57 percent defense—average) against what is a very tough opening slate, we should be 4-1 or 3-2 ... until you throw in penalties, turnover margin and average starting field position.

Last year’s team didn’t shoot itself in the foot. They threw up the white flag when push came to shove. There’s improvement going on. We might still be seeing it at 0-5.

Always ask about injuries -- who could be out, who could be returning, and how would that impact the Huskers coming into Camp Randall Stadium?

Nate M: One big loss from last week was the news that inside linebacker Will Honas will be gone for the rest of the season. He really seemed like he was starting to take over the starting spot for Dedrick Young, but then he got hurt. Back to that snake-bitten thing. Another injury was to the starting center, Cole Conrad.

He is still on the depth chart so he may be able to pay if needed but it looks like Tanner Farmer will be moved to center for Nebraska.

Uglydog56: Conrad isn’t really a loss, except that there’s not enough guys in the offensive line room. So the right guard Tanner Farmer (exceptionally named Husker) will slide down and reserve lineman Boe Wilson will step in. The problem: Boe is the No. 2 lineman at every position except center. So this will get interesting.

Jon: Big Mick Stoltenberg is out. He’s the anchor on the defensive line. They could use some help there.

Andy: Our two biggest injuries may be our two biggest improvements.

If Tanner Farmer can figure the position and play it with confidence, he’s an improvement at center. Stoltenberg sidelined is an upgrade for the interior. I hate to bag on a local boy who does everything right, but Davis and Newell are both big steps up at nose guard over a guy who is consistently stood up and/or pancaked.

The big loss is Honas.

The offense appears balanced in terms of rushing/passing yards. How has that unit performed in adapting to Frost’s offense, and who are the playmakers Wisconsin fans should watch for?

Nate M: The playmakers to watch for are quarterback Adrian Martinez and wide receivers Stanley Morgan and J.D. Spielman, who for sure the ones who can make things difficult for opposing teams. Then last week Devine Ozigbo got the starting nod at running back and had 170 yards on 17 carries against Purdue. Maybe he has cemented his spot as the top running back on the team.

The thing though is that the offense has looked anemic at times. However in the second half against Purdue, it looked like they started to look like the offense Scott Frost came here to run. So we will see how it looks against a tough Wisconsin defense.

Uglydog56: If [running back] Maurice Washington plays, he has to potential to break for yardage. Spielman is the best player on the team, according to the Uglydog56 Exceptionally Sophisticated Metric(™) metric measuring system (it’s mostly the eye test). The offensive line has to upgrade its productivity before anyone sees what the Frostfence truly looks like.

Jon: The other guys covered are playmakers. Something seemed to click for the offense in the second half last week against Purdue. I’m not going to go so far as to say we’re going to pile up points, but things are slowly turning in a positive direction. This offense has to score 40 points a game for us to win. So far they’ve averaged 21. They racked up nearly 600 yards of total offense against Purdue. Eliminate mistakes and the points will come, like rainfall. Lots and lots of rainfall. It’s going to happen—it’s just a matter of time.

Andy: Washington is the X-factor this week. The offense began hitting its stride against the Boilermakers. Washington has clearly been their most talented running back but missed all practices last week due to sickness. Ozigbo stepped up like a boss. If they get a little thunder & lightning going along with an air attack that drilled Purdue for 300-plus yards? Hmmm

(Yes. I know Purdue’s defense isn’t Wiscy’s. Shuttup & let me dream)

The defense, ranks 80th or worse in several major categories. Has there been anyone who has shined on that side of the ball, but also, what’s been ailing that unit as a whole?

Nate M: Getting off the field on third and long has killed this defense. I don’t have it in front of me but I thought I heard that the Nebraska defense is one of the best in the country on first and second down, but one of the worst on third and long. It is mind boggling. There are a bunch of guys on defense that I really like.

Inside linebacker Mohamed Barry is probably the guy that stands out the most with his energy and how hard he plays. Second to me is cornerback DiCaprio Bootle who teams keep throwing fades against and overall he has played really well. I think he could turn out to be a future NFL cornerback. Third is homegrown defensive lineman Ben Stille. I also like Deontai Williams in the secondary, but he is a JUCO transfer who is still getting used to Division 1 football. He seems to really “buy-in.” There are definitely others. Your offensive line though may just part us like the Red Sea.

Uglydog56: Oy. The defense. The only player who has distinguished himself in my eyes is Bootle. He’s a gamer, a real fighter. Barry plays hard, but he can’t play both inside linebacker positions at the same time. The defense is lacking a true nose tackle, which really inhibits the pass rush and run defense. This really puts stress on the rest of the team, and so far, they haven’t stepped up.

Jon: I’ll tell you who has shined on that side of the ball—beer distributors. I haven’t looked at figures, but I’m guessing that there’s at least 63 percent more beer and hard liquor is being drunk when the defense is on the field the season. Also, I hear that Nebraska goat ranchers running out of supply due to sacrifices being made during the week and that they’re going to have to start importing soon. Who exports goats? New Zealand. They could win big this season.

Andy: Agree 100 percent that Bootle has been a warrior at cornerback. Thank gawd he gets a week off against Hornibrook. Many will throw Luke Gifford out there but the guys that have had my attention are Tyrin Ferguson and Barry. Yes, they’ve taken a bad angle or two and missed some assignments, But dammit, those two are playing with guts and sometimes guts is enough.

How do you think Nebraska could exploit Wisconsin on both sides of the ball. Vice versa, how can the Badgers tame the Huskers?

Nate M: Cornhuskers are naturally very tame. So I don’t think you need to worry about taming any cornhuskers. Badgers on the other hand are vicious. One time a friend of mine were leaving a bar after having a few drinks and there was a Badger walking across the street (or was it a possum?) anyways…..

But if you are talking about football the only way I see Nebraska winning is by reducing their penalties substantially and not letting Wisconsin just run the ball down their throat. I have some confidence that Nebraska should be able to move the ball against Wisconsin.

However, if the Nebraska offense goes three-and-out against Wisconsin, I think things could get really ugly really fast, ala Michigan.

Uglydog56: Alex Hornibrook is not the best passer. Selling out to stop the run and forcing Coach Chryst to go to the air could limit the scoring and time of possession. Conversely, Wisconsin is 25th in pass defense but 51st in rush defense. The Huskers could break Martinez loose a little, perhaps with some zone read, and get the chains moving. The Wisconsin offense and defense can exploit the Huskers by just playing sound fundamental football and waiting for the team to shoot itself in the foot, over and over and over.

Jon: Martinez hits Stanley Morgan Jr. to the tune of 300 yards receiving and five touchdowns. Laugh while you can. It’s going to happen it’s just a matter of when. I can think of no better time and place than Camp Randall this weekend.

Andy: Well ... if we’re going to exploit you, there’s this whole grooming thing that has to be done and with that comes an assumption that we’re attracted to you with an intensity that would explain such deviant behavior.

And that’s where it all falls apart.

I’ve been to Wisconsin multiple times for hockey tournaments and tryout camps. You have wonderful food—amazing, really - and a populace that obviously enjoys said cuisine to excess.

Please don’t take offense, but we wish to exploit none of you.

What’s your game prediction and why?

Nate M: I’m wrong a lot. But last week I picked Purdue to win by two touchdowns. And like I said then, until I see something different from Nebraska I really don’t have any reason to think that they beat Wisconsin. I’m thinking Wisconsin wins by 17.

Uglydog56: Nate’s a homer. Jonathan Taylor runs into the forefront of the Heisman conversation. Huskers get pummelled by a minimum of 34. It’s 70-31, the Next Generation.

Jon: The lights come on. Nebraska battles Wisconsin into overtime and wins as Martinez looks to be buried but scrambles for his life and scores on a fourth-down. I put off going to rehab for at least another week. Nebraska 34, Wisconsin 28.

Andy: I’m sticking with my newfound optimism after 3 years of drunken bitterness. That optimism has the same record as the Huskers but screw it. WE SHOOK UP THE WORLD. WE SHOOK UP THE WORLD. WE’RE PRETTY. WE’RE A BAD MAN!! (Nebraska 29 Wisconsin 28)