Game Day: Nebraska vs. Wisconsin

A rivalry best served cold

No. 16 Nebraska and No. 20 Wisconsin play Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium for ?control of the Big Ten West. Friends Melvin Gordon and — if healthy enough — Ameer Abdullah will square off in part to see which running back is better in the Big Ten. But NU’s offensive and defensive linemen figure the Huskers and Badgers are playing for something more elemental at 2:30 p.m. on ABC. Something they think will decide the game. Who’s tougher? Who’s stronger? Whose imposition of will is fiercer?

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2-Minute Drill by Jon Nyatawa

Nebraska rush offense vs. Wisconsin rush defense

Wisconsin's seventh nationally in rushing yards allowed per carry (2.9) mostly because the Badgers have given up just five runs of 20 yards or more this year. They are quick and well-organized, but they haven't faced the nation's 10th-best rush offense yet. Ameer Abdullah's health is an issue, but for the past two weeks, he's been healing and Nebraska's presumably been developing a possible contingency plan. Could be a big day for Tommy Armstrong.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Wisconsin pass defense

Of the 71 quarterbacks who're averaging at least 200 passing yards per game, Armstrong has the second-lowest completion percentage (53 percent). He's throwing one interception every 28.3 pass attempts. Not good. Wisconsin's deceptive pass rush schemes will create some pressure on Armstrong, too (the Badgers have 28 sacks, second in the league). Plus, U-W has held opposing QBs to a nation-low 46.3 completion percentage.

Wisconsin rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

Melvin Gordon is the nation's rushing leader (1,501 yards), yet backup Corey Clement still averages 6.3 yards per carry. Tanner McEvoy, the part-time starting quarterback, gets 9.4 yards per attempt. Nebraska's giving up just 3.74 yards per carry and its talented front four won't be easy for Wisconsin to maneuver around – but NU's defense, only facing 33 rush attempts per game (12th fewest nationally), hasn't been tested like this.

Wisconsin pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

Joel Stave was indeed impressive in the first half against Purdue, throwing for 190 yards on 15-of-20 passing. Receiver Alex Erickson is by far the team's top pass-catching option, but the Badgers will spread the ball around. Tight ends and running backs are regularly used as well. The Huskers must be leery of play-action, but they appear to have the skill to match up downfield against this team. NU opponents are averaging just 5.8 yards per pass attempt (10th-fewest nationally).

Special teams

Start with De'Mornay Pierson-El. He has more punt return yards (441) than anybody and he's facing a team that's allowed 11.9 yards per punt return (114th nationally). Wisconsin's also averaged just 37.3 yards per punt (119th). The Badgers do have Kenzel Doe, who averages 11.6 yards on punt returns and 24.5 yards on kickoff returns. But NU ranks fourth in the Big Ten in net punting. Both teams are relying on freshman place kickers.

Intangibles

Bo Pelini's teams are 7-2 after bye weeks, so he and his staff know how to use the extra time and get their players prepared. And the Huskers are 20-6 under Pelini in November, so they're usually playing their best football at this time of year. But Wisconsin's 11-1 at Camp Randall Stadium under Gary Andersen. The Badgers overwhelmed Nebraska in Madison three years ago too. The Huskers don't always respond well in these big-time moments.

Key matchup: Wisconsin nose guards vs. Nebraska's interior linemen

Senior Konrad Zagzebski, injured against Purdue last week, is supposed to play. Sophomore Arthur Goldberg's proven to be a capable backup anyway. Lining up directing opposite of NU's center (or shaded just off his shoulder), they'll be spending Saturday afternoon trying to disrupt Nebraska's offense by creating pressure right up the middle. The Huskers must win at the point of attack.

Our take

It's two of the nation's top rushing offenses, each headlined by two of the best running backs who could deliver a highlight-reel moment at any time. Certainly, all eyes will be on Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah (presuming he's healthy). So there's no sense to downplay the importance of Saturday's match-up. Aside from the Heisman Trophy audition, the winning team remains in control of its own destiny, the clear favorite in the West Division. So you can bet both Nebraska and Wisconsin will have plenty of motivation to play well. And we think the Badgers, at home, will make the fewest mistakes.

Our prediction: Wisconsin 34, Nebraska 31

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