After an interminably long bye week, the Wisconsin Badgers will finally return to Camp Randall on Saturday for their second Big Ten clash of the season. Nebraska (0-4 overall, 0-2 in conference) are the next opponent Wisconsin will face before making the trip to Ann Arbor in a game that will define Wisconsin’s Big Ten and playoff hopes. Before we get ahead of ourselves, however, the Badgers have to take care of business against a Nebraska team that’s found little success under first-year head coach Scott Frost.
Wisconsin is entering this game on the heels of a gigantic come-from-behind victory in Iowa City last Saturday. With the game on the line, Alex Hornibrook led a masterful 88-yard drive, concluding with a 17-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver A.J. Taylor. An interception by linebacker T.J. Edwards sealed the deal, and the Badgers tacked on seven more points in garbage time.
It was the first time this season that we’ve really seen the killer instinct from Paul Chryst, Alex Hornibrook, and the rest of the Badger football team. Many criticized Chyst’s and Hornibrook’s decision-making following the devastating 20-17 loss at the hands of BYU. When the Badgers had the chance to put the game away, Hornibrook proved unable to lead a drive and made several questionable decisions in Cougar territory, ultimately leading to the Rafael Gaglioni miss that sealed the Badgers’ fate.
In Iowa City, however, the duo of Hornibrook and Chryst silenced the doubters. The former went 17-22 for 205 yards and three touchdowns and was impeccable in the red zone, an area where he had struggled previously. Against Nebraska, the Badgers will need more of the same from their signal caller. The threat of the passing game opens up the running game for Jonathan Taylor and Taiwan Deal, both of whom will likely hear their name called often on Saturday. Nebraska gives up 165 yards per game on the ground (80th in the FBS), and the Cornhuskers defense has already given up 11 rushing touchdowns.
Nebraska’s defense isn’t any more prolific against the pass. They give up nearly 11 yards per completion, good for 101st-best in the NCAA. The Cornhuskers have conceded over 30 points in three of their four games, and Michigan tagged them for 56 points in Week 2. Hornibrook, Taylor, and company should have no problem moving the ball, especially if the offensive line can keep a clean pocket.
What’s absolutely killed the Cornhuskers thus far is lack of discipline. In last week’s loss to Purdue, Big Red committed five personal fouls and gave up over 130 penalty yards. Scott Frost told the media that his team looks “like one of the most undisciplined teams in the country,” and it’s led to four consecutive losses. True freshman QB Adrian Martinez has had some success (over 400 all-purpose yards against Michigan), and he’s a threat outside of the pocket. If Nebraska can avoid being penalized so frequently, Martinez could give Wisconsin’s defense trouble. The Badgers have struggled with dual threat quarterbacks all season and need to be prepared for Martinez to scramble frequently.
The Badgers are heavy favorites against the winless Cornhuskers, but Wisconsin can’t come out and play complacently. The team has often started slow this season, and allowing Nebraska a hot start could have serious repercussions. Chryst needs to have his team firing on all cylinders from the opening whistle if Wisconsin is to take care of business. Still, the Badgers are more talented and better disciplined then their counterparts, and should they play a clean game.