Last week the Badgers continued to roll and handed out a beatdown to the Northwestern Wildcats, 35-7. This week, Wisconsin welcomes the Nebraska Cornhuskers to town who sit at 3-7 on the season. The Huskers come in with a plethora of changes to their staff, but head coach Scott Frost remains at the helm. What do the Badgers need to do to continue Nebraska’s suffering? Let’s take a look.
Keep progressing in the passing game
Over the course of the Badger’s recent win streak, Braelon Allen has gotten a lot of attention, and rightfully so, but there has also been some big progression in the passing game.
Graham Mertz and company started the year rather poorly, but they’ve come on strong over the last few weeks and hit their zenith over the course of the last two weeks throwing for a total of 456 yards, five touchdowns, and just two interceptions while completing 73% of his passes on average. Mertz has been good these last two weeks and he’ll have to continue that same progress this week against a Nebraska defense that has been pretty solid so far this year.
Coming into this week, the Huskers rank No. 39 in rushing defense which is the highest mark of the Scott Frost era. They’ve done a great job against rushing attacks and have held some of the nation's top rushers in check. Against Michigan State, the Huskers held Kenneth Walker to just 61 yards, and against Ohio State they held TreVeyon Henderson to just 92 yards. It’s apparent that this defense is looking to stop the run, and they’ll likely sell out for that once again here.
If the Badgers want to keep things clicking offensively they’ll make Nebraska prove it, but they’ll also need to hit some big passing plays to keep the chains moving. The Husker defense has been solid overall, but this team is still 3-7, and part of that is because they’ve been susceptible to big plays. If Mertz and Co. can hit some of those it should take some pressure off the run game and gain more confidence in the passing game.
Contain Adrian Martinez
The career arc of Adrian Martinez has not been pretty, but against Wisconsin, Martinez has actually had some pretty solid performances. In the first meeting between the two teams, Martinez racked up 441 yards of total offense. In the second meeting, he racked up 309 yards. Those two games are some of his top career performances at Nebraska.
The main reason for his success in those games has been his ability to make things happen with his legs. His ability to scramble and move in the pocket has been somewhat of a challenge for Wisconsin to contain in their previous meetings.
This Badger defense has been great, but this will be an interesting new challenge for them as they haven’t faced a mobile quarterback all season long. Sean Clifford? Statue. Jack Coan? Statue. Spencer Petras? A mega statue. If you look at the schedule you see that this is a challenge Wisconsin has not faced yet and it will be interesting to see how they fare against that wrinkle.
For Wisconsin to have success they need to stay focused on their assignments and try to make Martinez make plays in the pocket. He is a run-first quarterback and will look to take off any chance he gets. The Badger linebackers will have to stay focused on keeping him contained and making him make plays with his arm rather than his feet. Martinez is completing just 61% of his passes, so making him throw rather than run will be important.
Overall, Nebraska’s problems this season are for the most part self-inflicting. To start, they are one of the worst teams in the nation when it comes to special teams. According to Football Outsiders, Nebraska ranks No. 128 when it comes to FEI which combines all special teams stats into one overall rating.
Its been a horrendous aspect of their team, and it has cost them dearly. Wisconsin ranks No. 88 in that same category. That’s a pretty jarring gap when you consider just how bad Wisconsin has been in that phase of the game. Additionally, turnovers and penalties have hurt this team.
Nebraska ranks No. 89 in turnover margin and No. 32 in terms of penalty yards per game. The penalty ranking isn’t as bad as you’d think but they have had a lot of untimely lapses in that category which makes them stand out.
If Wisconsin wants to win this game I think it’s imperative that they continue to progress in these key areas. Special teams have been poor, but the opponent is much worse and Wisconsin for once may have an advantage there. Turnovers have been bad for Wisconsin too, but it has been much better of late. Wisconsin has been good in the penalty department, but they did have five questionable false starts last week. If Wisconsin can be clean in each of these areas they should put themselves in a good position to win this football game.