Landon Wirt, senior sports editor: Wisconsin 27, Nebraska 20
Nebraska hasn’t won a game against Wisconsin since 2012, and I don’t anticipate that changing on Saturday.
However, Nebraska sneakily does have a few important things working for it as the Huskers attempt to dash Wisconsin’s Big Ten Championship dreams.
Firstly, Nebraska has the best and most complete offense the Badgers have seen over the course of their six-game winning streak. Illinois, Purdue, Iowa, Rutgers and Northwestern rank 89th or worse in scoring offense in the FBS. Army ranks No. 16 nationally in scoring offense, but relies exclusively on the triple option and offers next to no threat in the air.
Nebraska, for all its flaws, is a pretty dynamic offense and has proven to move the ball well. Despite ranking No. 65 in scoring offense at 28.6 points per game, the Huskers average 459 yards per game, good for No. 17 in the country. Factor in the fact that Frost-led offenses have found success against Wisconsin defenses in years past, and there’s a very real opportunity that Nebraska will have success moving the ball on Saturday.
Secondly, there’s a mentality edge that could swing in Nebraska’s favor. At this point in the Huskers’ season, the team really doesn’t have much to lose. Given Nebraska’s struggles in the kicking department, the team could very well be more aggressive in short yardage situations against the Badgers.
This, in theory, would serve a couple of purposes if implemented. It could keep a bruising, physical Wisconsin offense off the field and swing the time of possession battle in the Huskers’ favor. Winning that battle would be key for the Huskers ultimately winning Saturday’s game.
Frost was non-committal in Thursday’s media availability about whether or not the team would actually put this into action, but it would be a real shock given where Nebraska is at. It definitely would be refreshing to see Nebraska adopt a no-holds-barred approach in an effort to secure a huge road upset over a top 20 team.
To me, Saturday’s game will be either a refreshing, down to the wire battle that will inspire confidence moving forward for Nebraska or a Wisconsin blowout — no in between. I tend to lean towards the former, though.
Since I’ve been wrong about nearly every Nebraska performance so far this year, this surely means a blowout is in the cards at Camp Randall Stadium.
Martin Herz, assistant sports editor: Wisconsin 28, Nebraska 17
One-score losses are no more for Frost. Two weeks ago, Nebraska lost by a stunning nine points to Ohio State, ending the streak of six consecutive one-score losses.
Expanding on Landon’s point, Nebraska hasn’t won in Madison, Wisconsin since 1966 and that won’t change on Saturday.
Although Nebraska has moved the ball well on Wisconsin in recent games, the challenge of formulating a game plan with four new offensive coaches cannot be understated. The bye week may have helped matters but a couple of the interim assistants have no prior experience as assistant coaches, which could spell trouble against an extremely tough Wisconsin defense.
Badger defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, once a walk-on at Wisconsin that became an All-American, has sent a normally elite defense into a different stratosphere this season. Georgia’s defense has taken the title of the No. 1 defense in college football so far this season, and deservingly so, but Wisconsin’s defense even bests Georgia in some metrics.
The biggest leap in improvement for Wisconsin has been in its pass defense, seen when it limited Purdue junior wide receiver David Bell to just six catches and 33 yards. According to Pro Football Focus, Bell is the most valuable receiver in the country and Wisconsin blanketed him.
In seasons past, the weak link for Wisconsin has been its secondary. This year doesn’t appear to be the case despite early hiccups. The majority of the damage done early on was through big pass plays, but that appears to be cleaned up as Wisconsin has given up only 19 passes of 20 yards or more this season.
The Huskers offense will be in constant torment come Saturday and with a banged up junior quarterback Adrian Martinez, the quarterback’s ability to create his own ‘magic’ will more than likely be gone. The more interesting battle should come between Wisconsin’s offense and Nebraska’s defense.
Wisconsin’s formula of success for the last 30 years is simple. Run, run and run. Freshman running back Braelon Allen is the latest of Wisconsin’s running backs to follow that motto, notching six consecutive 100-yard rushing yard games and could tie former Badger running back Jonathan Taylor’s record of seven such games against Nebraska.
Still, Nebraska’s defense is solid and held another stud freshman running back in Ohio State’s TreVeyon Henderson in check to just 92 yards. If the Badgers’ ground game can’t get going, which is possible, sophomore quarterback Graham Mertz will have to carry more of the Badger offense’s burden and could falter like earlier in the season since Mertz hasn’t been asked to do much over the last month.
However, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander has not figured out the Wisconsin offense yet, and missing senior linebacker JoJo Domann makes the defense’s chances to stop Wisconsin a bit harder.
Wisconsin will create defensive havoc as it usually does, but there should be Nebraska tricks come Saturday. Eventually, though, Nebraska will run out of steam and Wisconsin will take control of the game, pushing Nebraska further into the Big Ten West basement.
Jason Q Han, assistant sports editor: Nebraska 3, Wisconsin 14
My colleagues ahead of me did a lot more analysis than I will do, or is likely necessary for this game.
Wisconsin’s offensive situation is entirely predicated on the performance of Allen, and Nebraska has shown its ability to stop even the most dynamic run games against Michigan State and Ohio State, though the latter of these two options has an asterisk over it.
Of course, this is with the additional context of rather lackluster defensive outings against Minnesota and Purdue, but the bounce back against the Buckeyes leads one to believe Chinander’s group will do well against the Badgers.
Though Mertz has been taking the plaudits for his sound performances, without the work of Allen it seems highly unlikely that he will be the one to unlock defenses methodically.
On the other side of the ball, Martinez has had a poor back half of the season and still seems to be fighting off a number of injuries. Frost assuming all of the play-calling duties, on top of that, seems to lead one to believe that the offense overall will look disjointed come Saturday.
Overall, this context leads one to the conclusion that it will be a low-scoring affair. Perhaps Mertz has a career day, similar to what sophomore quarterback Artur Sitkowski did to the Huskers in Week Zero, and perhaps, by some twist of fate, Frost’s play-calling pulls through for the team, but these outcomes are unlikely.