The Badgers are coming! The Badgers are coming!
Fortunately for Nebraska this is not the Wisconsin of 2014. Wiscy brings a moribund offense to Lincoln with many of their playmakers out with injuries. Unfortunately for Nebraska, the even more moribund Husker pass defense will be challenged by Joel Stave. Stave is no ace, but he has enough ability to to take advantage of the Blackshirts' coverage woes, assuming he has some guys available to catch the ball.
Wiscy boasts one of the top defenses in the country (#11 total defense; #14 against the rush and #33 against the pass) and have held their past 4 opponents to a COMBINED 13 points (shutting out Miami-OH and Hawaii). The #25 Husker offense (I am confident they would be a few spots higher if the game plan against Illinois was not so terrible) has more firepower than any other the Badgers have yet faced. The Bama offense is currently ranked #37 and hung 35 points on the Badgers in game one. For the record, I do not think the Huskers will score that much, but it is nice to see that the only offense with a pulse the Badgers have faced was able to get into the end zone.
Will the chess match between Dave Aranda (Wiscy DC) and Danny Langsdorf (Husker OC) decide the game or will it come down to a wild card like turnovers or special teams?
This game is shaping up to be a classic strength on strength matchup. Good Husker offense vs good Badger defense. Meh Badger offense vs bi-polar (good against the rush but terrible against the pass) Husker defense.
If it comes down to a chess match between coordinators, most of Husker nation will be understandably nervous after the egg Langsdorf laid at Illinois. Aranda is pretty good at in-game adjustments and forcing the opposing OC to switch things up. Nebraska has the firepower, but Langsdorf will need to be on point and utilize his depth to keep the Badgers guessing and eventually wear them down.
If it comes down to special teams, Nebraska should have the edge in punting (Badgers are averaging under 40 per punt. Sam Foltz is averaging over 46 yards per punt (removing the Miami game where he was not himself after the sprained ankle). There is a small advantage Huskers if a long field goal is needed (and points may very well be at a premium Saturday). The Badger kicker has gone 0 for 2 so far from 50+ and Drew Brown has at least hit one of his 2 attempts from that distance. Kickoff returns seem to tilt in the Badger's favor, but punt returns may favor the Huskers depending on DPE's health and ability to hold onto the ball.
If it comes down to turnovers - big advantage to the Badgers as their defense is pretty good at forcing TO's.
Can the emerging Husker pass rush disrupt Stave enough to help out the secondary?
This is not the Badger offensive line we have grown used to during our time in the B1G. This group is young, has struggled to find consistency and has had some shuffling due to injuries. Assuming the Huskers can find another body to play DT (a big assumption) and Maliek and Freedom can continue their upward trajectory, the opportunities will be there. The Husker secondary has specialized in giving up big plays this season, but a disruptive front could help protect the defensive backs.
*Update. As soon as I hit publish, word came out that Freedom is having his knee scoped and will be out for 1 or 2 weeks. This is a big blow given our current depth.*
Will we see redshirts burn?
The perilous depth at defensive tackle (injuries) has Carlos Davis on "redshirt alert". Coach Riley indicated over the past two weeks that we might see the heralded freshman on the field halfway through the season if we have more injuries. The staff seems determined to explore all other possible options before making this move, including moving Greg McMullen inside. While Husker fans are anxious to see one or both Davis twins, most are probably hoping we can stave off the wolves and keep him in the weight room until next season.
Another possible redshirt pull rumor, not coming directly from the coaching staff (as far as I am aware), surrounds running back Jordan Stevenson. The 4-star that was denied admission to Wisconsin and then chose the Huskers right before fall camp has been rumored by some local media to be in line to return kicks.
I have no idea if this is just a way to get attention and listens/clicks or if there is truth behind it. I would be surprised if we see him in a game, but I have absolutely no connections to anyone who would actually know. You can listen if you want...
*Update 2. In his Thursday press conference, Coach Riley confirmed that Stevenson was likely to play against Wiscy. So much for my skepticism.*
How awesome will Chris Weber be this week? The young walk-on middle linebacker only racked up 17 tackles last week and 12 the week before. I realize that is the middle linebacker's job, but he is doing it better all the time and gaining confidence just about every play. This has allowed the staff to not rush Josh Banderas back onto the field.
What are your questions? Did I miss something? Did you have different quetions? Tell me in the comments!