Nebraska football is heading into a tough home matchup with No. 14 Wisconsin following a bye week. The Huskers have lost their last six games to the Badgers, and they will need to pull off a huge upset to break that streak. On paper, not much is going in Nebraska’s favor, but it can still have a chance if a few factors fall in their favor.
Here’s what to watch for in the matchup:
Wisconsin run dominance
Since joining the Big Ten in 2011, Nebraska has been dominated by Wisconsin running backs every year. The Huskers are 1-7 against the Badgers since 2011, mostly due to an inability to stop the ground game.
In eight Big Ten matchups, the Badgers’ leading rusher against Nebraska has averaged just under 200 yards per game along with 2.25 touchdowns per game. The only time Wisconsin’s leading rusher totaled less than 100 yards was a 30-27 Nebraska victory in 2012, when Montee Ball ran for 93 yards and three touchdowns. Coincidentally, that’s also Nebraska’s only win over Wisconsin since joining the Big Ten. The Huskers followed that up by allowing the Badgers to rush for a combined 1,120 yards and 15 touchdowns in their next two matchups, including a record-breaking 408-yard performance from Melvin Gordon.
Outside of Gordon, who averaged 17.5 yards per carry in three games against Nebraska, Badgers junior running back Jonathan Taylor has been the most successful against the Huskers. Taylor had over 200 yards rushing against Nebraska in both 2017 and 2018, including a 221-yard, three-touchdown performance last season. This year, he seems to be primed for another big game. Taylor leads the Big Ten in rushing yards and is coming off a 250-yard performance against Iowa.
The Blackshirts haven’t been able to shut down the best running backs in the Big Ten this year, but they’ll need to turn that around to pull off an upset against the Badgers.
One of the most intriguing factors of this game is the drastic difference in offensive styles. Nebraska runs a high-tempo, spread offense, while Wisconsin’s offense is built around holding the ball for long periods of time.
The Badgers are currently first in the country in time of possession, while Nebraska is No. 113. In 2018, Wisconsin held the ball for 11 more minutes than Nebraska did. That difference has the potential to be even more drastic in this year’s matchup.
The other aspect of ball control is turnovers, which will be another factor for Nebraska this game. The Huskers will likely have less possessions than usual, meaning they’ll have to take advantage of every opportunity they get. Forcing turnovers will also be essential for the Blackshirts, as not allowing Wisconsin to hold the ball for so long will create more chances for the offense to score. In Wisconsin’s two losses, it turned the ball over five times. In the Badgers’ seven wins, they turned it over seven times.
Wisconsin ranks No. 33 in turnover margin, while Nebraska sits at No. 86. If the Huskers continue to turn the ball over, and can’t force Wisconsin to do the same, pulling off the win will be nearly impossible.
Nebraska offensive production
If you’re looking for a reason that Nebraska could win this game, the Husker offense may be the key.
The Badger defense has been impressive this year, ranking second in the country in total defense. However, they’ve also given up over 20 points in each of their last three games after shutting out four of their first six opponents.
Nebraska succeeded against a strong Wisconsin defense last year, racking up 518 total yards. Sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez had 441 total yards in the game, while junior wide receiver JD Spielman racked up 209 receiving yards.
However, the Huskers only scored three of their 24 points in the first half. The Nebraska offense will need a more consistent performance to keep the game close, especially if Taylor continues his dominance against Nebraska.