Earlier today we discussed why Nebraska could lose versus Wisconsin, now it's time to take a look at why the Cornhuskers could leave Madison with a victory.
Wisconsin's Quarterback play
Wisconsin's running game is one of the best in the country. The passing game is a different story. Wisconsin ranks 117th in the country in pass yards per game at just 152 yards per game. Tanner McEvoy is completing a respectable 58 percent of his passes, but only has five touchdowns compared to six interceptions. Joel Stave, who has been better as of late, is completing just 53.8 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and four interceptions. Wisconsin's leading receiver, Alex Erickson has just 35 receptions on the year. Add in Nebraska's pass defense, which ranks third in pass efficiency, tenth in yards per attempt, and second in quarterback rating against, and you have a potential nightmare matchup for the Wisconsin quarterbacks. If Nebraska shuts down the Wisconsin running game, then the Huskers could feast on the Badger quarterbacks. Think of Randy Gregory gone wild.
Wisconsin's Turnover Issues
Turnovers are going to happen when you have two inconsistent quarterbacks. Wisconsin ranks 79th in interceptions thrown and 46th in total turnovers. It's not just the offense that has a problem. The Badger defense excels at not taking away the ball. Wisconsin ranks 111th in turnovers forced with just ten. They are 107th in interceptions and 86th in fumbles recovered. Wisconsin also ranks 100th in turnover margin at -.44.
A huge step towards winning this game is forcing turnovers. Whichever team can get points off the other team's turnovers should get the victory.
Wisconsin's Punting Game
Wisconsin is impressive on both offense and defense. However, their punting game is bad. Very bad. Wisconsin is 114th in average punt return against at 11.9 yards per return; add that to one of the worst average yards per punt (37.37 yards- 120th nationally) and you have a huge advantage for the Huskers. De'Mornay Pierson-El has added a much-needed weapon to the Husker's special teams.
If you take out the David Santos play in which he batted a punt through the end zone, Nebraska is averaging 14.32 yards per return, which would rank 12th in the country. Perhaps the most impressive stat: the Huskers have 448 punt return yards on the season which ranks first in the country, and is 98 yards better than the second place team.
Nebraska has also forced the third most punts on the season. Poor special teams leads to great starting field position for the opposition. Only 18.5 percent of Wisconsin's opponent's drives start inside the twenty-yard line, which is 91st in the country. Adding onto that, 9.8 percent of opponent's drives start on the fifty-yard line or in this case, inside Wisconsin territory, which is 52nd in the country. Nebraska won't necessarily need a big play from De'Mornay to win the game, but just the threat of him should help the Huskers win the field position battle.
Outside of Big Plays, the Wisconsin Offense is Average
The Offensive Fremeau Efficiency Index (OFEI) is a statistic that takes every meaningful possession a team runs and states how efficient an offense is. By meaningful possession the OFEI is referring to everything but first-half clock-kills and end-of-game garbage drives and scores. Wisconsin ranks 48th in total offensive efficiency. Wisconsin ranks second in explosive drives, which are drives that average over ten yards per play.
One thing Nebraska's defense has going for it is Wisconsin's first down rate (drives that end with at least one first down or touchdown) ranks 54th in the country, and Nebraska's defense only allows 51.5 percent of opponent to result in at least one first down or a touchdown. If Nebraska can avoid giving up more than one or two big plays, the odds favor the Husker defense.
The Wisconsin Defense May be Overrated
On paper the Wisconsin defense looks like one of the best in country, and they are probably in the top 25, but a number two rank might be a little high. How could I possibly think the Badger defense is overrated if they give up 14 points per game and 250 yards per game? Well, lets dig into some of the more telling numbers. The best rushing offense the Badgers have faced is LSU's 29th ranked attack, and that is the only rush offense in the top 50 the Badgers have seen.
Overall the Wisconsin defense has only faced four teams ranked in the TOP 105 in rush offense. Four other teams were ranked 106th and below and then you add in the FCS opponent Wisconsin played.
Wisconsin has not seen much of a pass offense either. The best pass offenses they have played is Bowling Green which ranks 31st and Illinois which ranks 38th. Those are the only two pass offenses the Badgers have seen that rank inside the top 50. Every other opponent ranks 66th or below nationally. Overall the best offense Wisconsin has seen (statistically) is Bowling Green. Bowling Green ranks 40th , after that the next best team offensively has been LSU which ranks 70th. Only four offenses the Badgers have gone up against have ranked inside the top 100.
The Defensive Fremeau Efficiency Index takes the same types of drives for the defense and ranks how efficient a defense is. Once again, this takes EVERY MEANINGFUL POSESSION and says how good a defense has been. By this measure Nebraska has had a better defense ranking 11th while Wisconsin ranks 13th. Going into the Defensive Strength of Schedule(DSOS) which states the likelihood of another above average defense having an above-average Defensive Fremeau Efficiency Index rating against each of the offenses faced. (I'll clear up all of the jargon in a moment.) In DSOS Wisconsin ranks 106th, which is last amongst all power five teams. This is essentially saying most if not all good defenses would have a good deal of success against the same schedule as Wisconsin. Now, there is no arguing the Wisconsin's defense is very good, and improving, but numbers suggest that the Wisconsin defense has been a product of the opposing offense. This will be the best offense Wisconsin has seen all season and the speed of the Huskers could surprise the Badger defense.
This is going to be a very difficult game for the Huskers to win, but there are advantages that the Huskers have over Wisconsin. If Nebraska can exploit Wisconsin in these areas then the Huskers should have a real chance this Saturday.
Prediction: I don't see this game reaching much higher than thirty points for either team. It's going to be cold, but not too windy so that shouldn't affect the passing game much. If Ameer Abdullah is close to 100 percent I like the Huskers odds. Abdullah goes for 125 yards and two touchdowns while Tommy adds a passing td and 85 yards rushing including a touchdown.
Nebraska over Wisconsin: 31-24