It has been an up and down year for Nebraska football in 2019, and the Badgers appear to be catching the Cornhuskers at their lowest point of the season. Despite the narrow win against Illinois and close loss to Colorado the Huskers rattled off two wins to get to Ohio State 3-1 but had their doors blown off and that sort of set the season off the rails.
Now, the Huskers come off a bye, losers of three straight, sitting at 4-5. Despite the struggle the Huskers are still alive for a bowl, and a refocus under head coach Scott Frost is certainly in order. Additionally, Memorial Stadium is always a tough place to play. Here’s what the Badgers need to do to keep themselves alive in the Big Ten West and leave Lincoln with a win.
Heavy Dose of JT
This is an obvious key to victory each and every week but it is even more important against the Huskers. Taylor has had a lot of great performances in his career, but the team he’s had the most success against is Nebraska. In his two games against the Huskers, Taylor is averaging 235 yards per game and 9.5 yards per rushing attempt.
Each and every time JT has taken a carry against Nebraska it has usually been for huge amounts of yardage. Taylor is coming off another career game this past weekend against Iowa where he ran for 250 yards against one of the nations top defenses. The defensive prowess isn’t anywhere close to the same at Nebraska, as they rank No. 83 in rushing defense.
However, that number is a little skewed as the Huskers have faced two pass happy attacks in Purdue and Indiana over the last two weeks. The last time they faced a run heavy attack, Minnesota ran for 329 yards on the ground and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. With JT averaging 6.1 YPC himself, it’s apparent that the mismatch in this game will be Wisconsin’s run offense getting downhill against a struggling Nebraska defensive line.
Clean up the pass defense
Last season Wisconsin wore down Nebraska with the run game en route to a 41-24 win. The victory was nice of course, but the Nebraska offense certainly moved the ball with ease, especially through the air as Adrian Martinez threw for 384 yards against the Badgers. Nebraska put up 518 total yards against the Badgers which was the worst defensive effort of the season last year.
Of course, this year’s Wisconsin defense is a completely different unit and has improved leaps and bounds from where they were in 2018. Despite that, we’ve seen what the Wisconsin defense does at times against a spread offense that relies on play action and read option schemes.
If the Badgers want to stop this Nebraska offense they’ll need to take away the run, but in turn will be forced to defend the pass heavily. The Badgers can’t afford to give up chunk plays like we saw from the Iowa passing game last week, and Nebraska will attack with an even higher tempo.
The Cornhuskers rank No. 41 in offensive plays per game, which is probably slower than Scott Frost wants to go. Frost’s system relies on speed and tempo, something the Badgers have not always played the best against.
At 4-5 this game is essentially Nebraska’s Super Bowl. If they want to continue their season into December, the Huskers need to win two of these last three games. If you couple that with the fact that Nebraska is off a bye, you have to expect you’ll get their best effort in this game back in front of their home crowd.
One way to prevent that, and take the crowd out of the game early, is to come out physically strong and put the clamps down. As we saw with Illinois, the longer a team hangs around, the more confidence they gain. I don’t like to trash other teams too much, but it appears this Nebraska team is mentally weak at times.
If they get down and out, we’ve seen the Huskers throw in the towel. However, if they hang around, they’ll continue to fight and put in effort. If the Badgers can come out early and assert themselves physically in this football game, it should end up being a rout similar to the last time these teams squared off in Lincoln. If not, you’ll have a dog fight on your hands in a hostile environment. I choose option one.