The 2022 season is winding down for the Huskers and the remaining goals seem limited to the following:
1) Please not another 3-9 season
2) Win one more for Mickey.
3) Can we please, please shut Iowa the hell up for a year?
4) Don’t f*ck up this hire.
With the Badgers coming to Lincoln for the Husker’s final home game of the year, questions about the defense’s ability to stop Braelon Allen are probably taking a back seat to which Husker seniors with eligibility remaining will be joining the 12 who have exhausted theirs being honored. (Garrett Nelson - no but acting coy about his plans; Trey Palmer - no, according to Mickey; Casey Thompson - no idea.) It should be noted taking the senior walk does not commit a player to leaving.
Just the same, a victory over Wisconsin would be a nice consolation prize for a nightmarish year. But as the Badgers come here seeking that ever important sixth win, what are their thoughts about the season? Tyler Hunt of Wisconsin’s Bucky’s 5th Quarter was gracious enough to answer our weekly opponent questions - and for the first time this season in this column, both teams are looking for a full-time coach!
Big thanks to Tyler and let’s dive right in:
This has been a weekly staple this season… and hopefully won’t be happening again in 3-4 years – who should our next head coach be?
If I am picking Nebraska’s next Coach, as a Wisconsin fan, I would pick Bill O’Brien because I think he is a very bad candidate that is getting run because he worked with Bill Belichek and is going the Nick Saban rehab route right now. The guy went 15-9 as a college coach before heading to the NFL and having little success. I just don’t see it but someone’s going to hire him and the cynic in me hopes it is you guys. Now, if I am picking a candidate that would worry me a little as a Wisconsin fan I think I’d go with Matt Rhule. I know, his NFL stint didn’t go well but how many of them really do when they make that jump? Very few. Rhule, however, has proven that he can develop a program and recruit. I think a guy like that is needed at a program like Nebraska so I’d say he is who you really should hire.
(Andy - “I couldn’t put it better myself on both counts. Please Gawd, no BOB surprise hire!)
And along those lines, is there any actual “Who’s the new guy gonna be?” going on in Madison or is it basically just assumed Jim Leonhard’s the guy unless something goes horribly wrong in the last 2 games?
I think when things first started off there were some names being thrown around but that has quickly died down. I think it’s Jim Leonhard’s job already and they just have not officially announced it. In fact, we have had some sources tell a writer on our staff that is the case but we’ll have to wait and see. I think Wisconsin would be idiotic to not give it to Jim Leonhard. The guy embodies everything Wisconsin and I think he can really be the face of this program. The players seem to love him as their Head Coach and I think he’ll do a great job at it. I think Wisconsin is hurting themselves by not just making him the guy already.
A look at the Badgers roster suggests this is a squad who should probably be leading this muddled division instead of sitting 5th in the West one game behind a 4-way pile-up in 1st. It may somewhat go back to Paul Chryst’s firing, but what went wrong?
Overall, I think a lot of things went wrong for Wisconsin depending on the phase of the season but the main point is inconsistency across the board. To start the year the defense was young and a little inexperienced so it took that unit some time to get going. The last three weeks they’ve been phenomenal but it took the Badgers some time to get back to that standard.
When you have a defense not up to what you are used to in terms of output level you have to have an offense that can help out and the Badgers just have not had that pretty much all season long. Again it’s been inconsistent. One week the offense is calling creative plays and hitting them and the next week they are back to the same old bland offense we saw under Chryst. One week the offensive line is opening holes left and right and the next they look purely outclassed. One week Graham Mertz is dropping dimes all over the place and the next week he can’t hit a standing target. It’s been all over the place on that side of the ball which really hurts Wisconsin’s chances of winning.
A big key to Wisconsin winning this season, Ohio State aside, is Braelon Allen averaging over 5 YPC for the game. While not shutting anyone down, Nebraska has been fairly effective against strong rushing attacks in recent weeks – for example, “holding” Michigan to 264 yards rushing (Penn State gave up 418) and no runs over 20 yards. If Nebraska can slow Allen down, to whom do the Badgers turn on offense to pop some long gains?
Wisconsin should be close to full strength in the running back room this week as they get Chez Mellusi back from injury. He’s a really nice combo option with Allen and will hopefully be able to give Allen some plays off as he is nursing a bit of a shoulder injury. Additionally, Wisconsin has a pretty good third back in Isaac Guerendo. Guerendo is averaging 6.29 yards per carry this season so when he’s got his touches he’s made the most of it. He’s got a ton of speed so when all three backs are humming they can be pretty dangerous IF, and it’s a big IF, the offensive line shows up. We’ll see if they do. Two weeks ago they dominated Maryland in the trenches and last week they couldn’t do anything against Iowa. The backs are good, but they have to have holes to run into.
How well do Wisconsin football fans travel? I know 3-7 Nebraska probably isn’t the matchup that will have folks caravanning to Lincoln - although tickets are available online for $13!! – but in general, how strong of a presence do the Badger faithful generally make in other schools’ stadiums?
I think Badger fans travel pretty well if the game is an exciting one. I personally have only been to Ann Arbor to watch the Badgers and Wisconsin fans showed up pretty well to that one. Side note, Ann Arbor STINKS. Anyone who tells you to go there to watch a game is lying to you. The tailgates were a sad showing, the bars were closed or empty, and they pack you into the stadium like sardines in a can. Sorry, sidetracking, anyway Wisconsin fans travel pretty well. I have been to the Big Ten Championship three times as well when Wisconsin has played (and lost of course) and each time Wisconsin held their own against the likes of Ohio State and Penn State. There will be plenty of Badger red most Saturdays.
And, finally – prediction time! Wisconsin is currently a -13 favorite with no one sure who will be starting for the third straight week. Casey Thompson is a maybe, Chubba Purdy is done for the year, Logan Smothers is banged up and the next man up will be a redshirt freshman walk-on from Hastings, NE. (In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a slight dropoff from Thompson to the backups.) So with all that to go on, what’s the final score look like?
I think it’s hard to tell because of that quarterback situation. I think if Thompson plays Nebraska could hang around and score some points but I believe his injury is to his throwing arm? That gives me pause too. If its one of the backups, frankly, I think Wisconsin will be able to keep things in check because the Badger defense is starting to really play like we are used to seeing. Last week they tee’d off on Spencer Petras and I think a young inexperineced quarterback may have some issues. I’ll say Wisconsin wins 27-14 if Thompson plays and 30-0 if he does not. Homer pick, I know, but I do think the Badgers will find a way to bounce back here.
(Side note: Joseph announced today Casey is very likely a go on Saturday.)