The matchup has produced a number of memorable moments in recent years. Wisconsin dropping 70 points in a Big Ten championship bout, Melvin Gordon’s 408, Keg Leg missing and then hitting a game winner and D’Cota Dixon breaking up a fourth down pass in overtime.
All of those moments have something in common: Wisconsin winning. Despite a number of close games between Nebraska and Wisconsin, the Badgers have only lost to the Cornhuskers once in the six games they have played since Nebraska joined the Big Ten.
Nebraska has sputtered out of the gates this season, but have won their last two and will attempt to unseat the perennial Big Ten West Champions. Wisconsin, on the other hand, will look to get their offense back into an efficient rhythm after a poor outing against Northwestern.
Freshman running back Jonathan Taylor has busted onto the scene with seven touchdowns in his first four games, the highest mark since Gordon in 2014. Taylor will look to help right the ship on the offensive side of the ball for Wisconsin as head coach Paul Chryst is sure to bring a steady diet of run plays.
“I think he’s really versatile. He’s a really good athlete. He’s big, powerful and great balance. You see his first touchdown run the other day? That was pretty impressive,” Nebraska head coach Mike Riley said, full aware of the freshman’s ability. “He should’ve been down, somehow stayed up, had a hand on the ground and catapulted himself into the end zone. Good play.”
Defensively, Nebraska was putrid to begin the season. Lead by a stud linebacking core, however, their defense has seemingly found their way.
In their previous game against Illinois, freshman Ben Stille balled out with three of his four tackles for loss on the season coming in that game. He also added a forced fumble as he dominated the game defensively.
Senior Chris Weber and junior Luke Gifford bring a steadying veteran presence to the linebacking core. Gifford leads the team in tackles with 33 but Weber is right behind him with 31. The two have combined for seven tackles for loss.
Weber and Gifford have also shown the ability, much like their Wisconsin defensive counterparts, to disrupt the pass game. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook will have to be careful to look for the lurking linebacker with the underneath coverage during the game.
Overall in 2017 Nebraska’s defense has totaled six interceptions.
Creating holes for Taylor to run through will be crucial as Wisconsin will most likely look to control the time of possession on the ground. Wisconsin’s offensive line will carry that mantel.
“I think the use and the athleticism of the offensive line are key factors in why they run like they do,” Riley said of the Wisconsin front line.
Last week against Northwestern, Hornibrook and Wisconsin’s offense struggled, especially in third down situations as they were short of their season average conversion rate by quite a bit. With their ideal third down option tight end Troy Fumagalli still questionable for the game Saturday, a stout offensive line will be crucial.
Luckily, offensive lineman Jon Dietzen should be back from a leg injury, giving the offensive line ample depth to handle Nebraska’s front seven on defense.
Wisconsin goes to Nebraska to take on the Cornhuskers Saturday with kickoff at 7 PM CT