Grace Harmon, senior sports editor: Nebraska 17, Wisconsin 14
For the last couple of weeks I’ve been singing a tune of doom and gloom, but after Nebraska’s performance in Champaign on Friday, I’m changing it up for this week’s prediction.
Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t think Nebraska finishes with more than five wins this season, but the thing is, all season I’ve predicted Wisconsin to be one of those wins. The Huskers win one game they probably shouldn’t every year, and based on both Nebraska's and Wisconsin’s performances over the weekend, I think the Huskers are poised to do it again Saturday night.
Nebraska looked good on Friday, and while Illinois shouldn’t be considered a hard opponent, the Huskers still played well on both sides of the ball. The offense compiled a total of 411 yards, led by Tanner Lee throwing for 246 of them. But the most notable offensive feat of the game was what Lee didn’t do: not throw any interceptions, the first game without one since Week 1 against Arkansas State. The defense also performed more than admirably, holding its second team of the season to under 200 yards.
While Friday’s performance might not completely warrant me picking Nebraska in this week’s matchup, my confidence in the Huskers is growing, and more importantly, their confidence in themselves seems to be growing.
Not only that, but logistically, this seems like a game Nebraska can win.
Wisconsin’s star receiver Troy Fumagalli, who leads the team in yards, was out Saturday against Northwestern. This was a big blow to the Badgers’ offense, who relied on him heavily during its first four games of the season. Despite this, Wisconsin still compiled 306 yards of total offense.
I think the game will be a defensive battle, and because of that, something to note is the differences in the team’s third down conversion percentage. Against Illinois, NU had a conversion rate of 63.6 percent, while against Northwestern, the Badgers’ percentage was only 27.2. If this turns out to be the defensive battle I’m expecting, a lot of the series will come down to converting third downs and keeping drives alive.
When it comes down to it, if the Huskers want it bad enough, I think they’ll have a fighting chance. Though the game might not be pretty, I think the Huskers will walk away with a three-point win against the Badgers Saturday night.
Zach Markon, assistant sports editor: Nebraska 13, Wisconsin 17
I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I don’t think the Huskers have what it takes to beat Wisconsin on Saturday. Wisconsin isn’t anywhere close to the level it was at last season, but I think that will have a minimal effect on the outcome of the game.
The game won’t be a total blowout. Those who say it will be aren’t looking at both sides of the ball. Defensively, both teams are impressive. The way Nebraska’s defense has been performing, I might venture to say the Blackshirts could even be better than Wisconsin’s defense. This past weekend against Illinois, Nebraska’s defense allowed fewer than 200 yards for the second week in a row, only giving up 199 yards to the Illini. During Wisconsin’s matchup against Northwestern, the Badgers’ defensive line allowed 244 offensive yards by the Wildcats.
Granted, Northwestern has a much better offense than Illinois, but I still think the Blackshirts have a lot more to show this weekend.
Things get a little more complicated when comparing Nebraska's and Wisconsin’s offenses. Both teams have struggled in recent weeks. Offensively, Nebraska had the better showing in Week 5. The Huskers managed 411 total yards and had a 63.6 percent conversion rate on third down. Against Northwestern, Wisconsin only posted 306 yards. The big difference, which might determine the outcome of the game, is the fact that the Badgers only converted from third down 27.2 percent of the time.
With such quality defenses on both teams, chances are that most drives will reach third down. The ability to convert in those situations will have a major impact on the game. The Huskers had a good showing last weekend, but they weren’t facing a very good defense. Things will undoubtedly be very different against Wisconsin.
When it comes down to it, I’m not confident in the Huskers’ ability to walk away with the win on Saturday. That said, I’m also not entirely confident in my own prediction. I think with the changes the Huskers are making each week, this game could be significantly closer than people might think.
Anna Gleason, assistant sports editor: Nebraska 14, Wisconsin 20
This is the beginning of a long two weeks for Husker fans. This is the beginning of a tough conference schedule for Nebraska, and I don’t see much light at the end of the tunnel.
The Huskers performed significantly better against the Illini, but the Badgers are a whole different situation. Wisconsin’s football program is consistently good, and they’re sitting at No. 10 in the FBS College Football Rankings. The Badgers are 4-0, and I think they’ll bring their record to 5-0 by the end of the week.
Tanner Lee played significantly better this past weekend, and here’s to hoping he can carry that confidence through the next few weeks. The Badgers’ defense hasn’t had much of a test so far, and the Nebraska offensive line seems to have their situation settled. Hopefully the offense can put up some points and give the Huskers a fighting chance.
The defense is what I’m most worried about. The Wisconsin offense has been consistently good this season, beating their first three opponents by double digits. While Bob Diaco’s new defensive scheme seems to be coming together, they’ll have a real test this weekend against running back Jonathan Taylor and quarterback Alex Hornibrook. Hornibrook is among the top of the Big Ten quarterbacks in efficiency and completion percentage.
While I’m not excited for this weekend, I hope Nebraska can at least put up a fight. Like I said, these next two weeks will be long, but with any luck, the Huskers will keep their heads up.