What: Wisconsin Badgers at Nebraska Cornhuskers
Where: Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, NE)
When: Oct. 10, 2:30 PM CT
TV: ESPN2 / ABC
Radio: Badger Sports Network
Odds: NEB +1.5; O/U 48.5

After suffering an embarrassing defeat to Iowa last weekend, the Badgers look to bounce back against one of their newest rivals in Nebraska. This could be the turning point in the season for the Badgers, who need to get on track as the season is almost at the halfway point. Wisconsin is 5-4 all-time against Nebraska, and 3-1 since the Cornhuskers moved to the Big Ten.

History: Freedom Trophy

Before the 2014 season, both Wisconsin and Nebraska’s administrations announced that the schools would be playing for the Freedom Trophy in their future football matchups, similar to the other rivalry game trophies in the Big Ten.

In the first official Freedom Trophy game, the Badgers won 59-24 at Camp Randall behind Melvin Gordon’s record-breaking (at the time) rushing performance with 408 yards and four touchdowns.

Injury Report

Nebraska

For the Cornhuskers, several important defensive players are not expected to play:

  • DT Kevin Williams
  • DT Kevin Maurice
  • DE Freedom Adkinmoladun (starter on depth chart)
  • LB Michael Rose-Ivey (starter on depth chart)
  • LB Josh Banderas (starter on depth chart)
  • CB Daniel Davie

See page 16 of Nebraska’s game notes for the team’s depth chart.

Wisconsin

For the Badgers, several important offensive players are out and/or questionable:

  • OUT: TE Austin Traylor (out 4-8 weeks)
  • OUT: RT Hayden Biegel (unspecified injury – missed last week)
  • OUT: RT Jacob Maxwell (didn’t make trip)
  • QUESTIONABLE: ILB Leon Jacobs (toe)
  • QUESTIONABLE: WR Alex Erickson (concussion – expect him to play)
  • ACTIVE: OL Walker Williams (ankle – expect him to play)
  • ACTIVE: OL Beau Benzschawel (knee – expect him to play)

See page 12 of Wisconsin’s game notes for the team’s depth chart.

Scouting Report: Nebraska

The Cornhuskers come into this game after already facing a few tough opponents. Their season began with a devastating game against BYU, in which they lost on a Hail Mary at home. Nebraska has since defeated South Alabama 48-9, lost by three points to Miami (FL), defeated Southern Miss by eight points, and lost to Illinois last week 14-13.

Led by quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jr. and his 18-8 career record, Nebraska has a strong passing attack accompanied by a running game that averages 5.4 yards per carry. The junior quarterback also likes to run, as the team likes to run a lot of shotgun, pistol and read-options. Armstrong has 37 carries for 152 yards and a touchdown to go along with his 1371 passing yards, 54.4 completion percentage, 11 touchdowns, and six interceptions.

After losing star running back Ameer Abdullah to the NFL, junior Terrell Newby has stepped up at running back, running for 5.5 yards per carry and three touchdowns. He has provided stability at a position that has always been strong for the Cornhuskers.

The Cornhuskers have turned more to Armstrong and junior wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp and the receiving core to lead the offense this season. Westerkamp leads the team with 27 receptions, with Brandon Reilly leading the team with 352 receiving yards along with a 19.6 yards per catch average.

The Cornhuskers rank 12th in the nation in run defense, but last against the pass, yielding 353.8 passing yards per game. But, as you saw in the above injury report, they will be without a lot of important defensive players, which should benefit the Badgers’ running game.

Nebraska also leads the nation in penalties, with 49 accepted penalties for 408 yards. To compare, the Badgers have 33 penalties for 320 yards this season, ranking 42nd in accepted penalties.

Wisconsin: Keys to Victory

  1. Stave’s confidence. After last week’s poor performance from Stave that featured four turnovers, he’s going to need to find the confidence he had the first four games of the season. There’s no doubt that the locker room and coaching staff are behind Stave, but he did tell media on Monday that he had trouble sleeping Saturday night and started watching tape already. Stave is a leader of this football team, and they will need him to step up even without Traylor and possibly Erickson. The Badgers are playing against the nation’s worst pass defense, and they need Stave to take advantage of that.
  2. Establishing play action with the run. Stave’s success over the years has stemmed from play action passes. These plays can only be successful with good blocking and of course by an established run game. After struggling for the most part against Iowa, Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal need to get going early in this one, allowing the play action to develop. The Badgers will likely continue to use two fullbacks in the backfield when Deal is in the game, which should help them against a banged up Nebraska front seven. If Ogunbowale can get something going in the passing game as well, it will benefit Stave.
  3. Pressure on Armstrong. Nebraska has only allowed seven sacks this season in five games, which is pretty remarkable. Luckily for the Badgers, they have this linebacker named Joe Schobert who just happens to lead the nation in sacks with nine. The Badgers will need to bring pressure from Schobert, Vince Biegel, and others in order to win this game. Armstrong is prone to throwing interceptions and making bad decisions, which all starts and ends with pressure on the quarterback. Look for back up outside linebackers Jesse Hayes, Jack Cichy, and T.J. Watt to continue to get snaps to help get pressure on the quarterback.
  4. Defense forcing turnovers. The Badgers have forced seven turnovers this season, which probably should be a higher number considering their competition outside of Alabama and Iowa. They will need to force turnovers in order to win this game, and it can’t just be Schobert doing everything for the team. I expect safety Michael Caputo, who had an interception last week, to have a big game, and for cornerbacks Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary to have to step up on some big plays. Last week, the Badgers lost the turnover battle 4-2, so we know how much of a difference takeaways can make.
  5. Offensive line play. There’s been shuffling on the offensive line all season long, and this week will be no different. It appears that four positions are secured at this point with Tyler Marz at left tackle, Jon Dietzen at left guard, Dan Voltz at center, and Micah Kapoi at right guard. Even though Jacob Maxwell did a pretty good job last week at right tackle in place for the injured Hayden Biegel, head coach Paul Chryst said this week that we should expect Walker Williams and Beau Benzschawel to get some playing time at right tackle. We’ll know more before the game tomorrow, but the offensive line needs to protect Stave and create holes for the inconsistent running game.

Prediction: Wisconsin 17, Nebraska 13

Nebraska is always tough at home, but their defense is very banged up and the Badgers’ defense has been exceptional. I don’t think Stave will have an exceptional rebound game, but I think he will do enough against the nation’s worst pass defense in terms of yards to lead the team to victory and head home for Homecoming against Purdue with their first Big Ten victory of the season.


Key Notes from the Game Notes

  •  Senior OLB Joe Schobert was named Big Ten
    Co-Defensive Player of the Week following a dominant effort vs. Iowa in which he recorded 3.5 TFLs, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery and 5 quarterback hurries. Schobert leads the nation in TFLs (13.0) and sacks (9.0) and is tied for the lead in forced fumbles (4).
  • Since 2000, Schobert’s totals of 9.0 sacks and 13.0 TFLs match the second-highest totals by any FBS player in both categories through five games of a season.
  • Since 2004, Wisconsin has compiled a 61-28 (.685) record in the Big Ten. Only Ohio State (75- 14, .843) has a better conference record over those 11 years.
  • The last three times Wisconsin lost its Big Ten opener, the Badgers went on to win at least a division title (2014) or the Big Ten championship (2010, 2012). That 2012 loss came at the hands of Nebraska at Memorial Stadium.
  • In two-plus seasons under defensive coor- dinator Dave Aranda, who returns for
    his third season in 2015, Wisconsin has allowed an average of 17.2 points per game. That ranks No. 2 among FBS programs over that span, behind only Alabama (16.2).
  • Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst and Nebraska’s Mike Riley will face off as head coaches for the first time Saturday. The longtime friends have a long professional history that dates back to Riley hir- ing Chryst for his first coaching job with the San Antonio Riders of the World League of American Football in 1991. The pair also worked together during Riley’s stint as head coach of the San Diego Chargers (Chryst was his tight ends coach from 1999-2001), and on two occasions when Riley was head coach at Oregon State, from 1997-98 and again from 2003-04.
  • UW Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez is a 1969 graduate of Nebraska, where he played linebacker from 1965-67.
  • Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst worked under Alvarez in administration at Wisconsin from 2006-11, including as Deputy Athletic Director from 2009-11. He is a native of Lone Rock, Wis.
  • Wisconsin opponents have scored on just 13.1% of their possessions this season, a mark that matches the Badgers’ defense with Boise State for No. 2 in the FBS. Michigan’s defense leads the country, with opponents scoring on just 7.8% of their offensive drives.
  • Wisconsin offensive coordinator/assistant head coach Joe Rudolph served as tight ends coach at Nebraska in 2007.
  • UW wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore served in the same capacity at Nebraska from 2005-10.
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