Game Day: Nebraska vs. Wisconsin

WORST NIGHTMARE

At 2-3, Nebraska coach Mike Riley is off to a rough start. Concerns abound. Injuries mount. Questions arise. Body language is studied. Tea leaves are read. The psyche of Husker football — coaches, players, fans — is vulnerable. And here comes Wisconsin, the chief instigator of Nebraska’s pain since NU entered the Big Ten.

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2-Minute Drill by Jon Nyatawa

Nebraska rush offense vs. Wisconsin rush defense

Nebraska's embracing the emergence of fullback Andy Janovich and freshman Devine Ozigbo. The elusive and shifty Terrell Newby is still the top rusher, but this appears to be a three-man rotation going forward. Since giving up 238 rushing yards in a season-opening loss to Alabama, Wisconsin is holding opponents to 2.1 yards per carry. The Badgers have allowed just 14 runs of 10-plus yards.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Wisconsin pass defense

Tommy Armstrong has the lowest completion rate (54.4 percent) of any quarterback ranked among the nation's top 25 in passing yards per game, but Indiana's the only Big Ten team averaging more yards per completion than Nebraska (13.5). Protecting him will be key. Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel can create lots of havoc. The Badgers have 15 sacks. But there might be just enough scheme-created windows for Jordan Westerkamp, Stanley Morgan and Brandon Reilly to get loose.

Wisconsin rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

There's no Melvin Gordon, the talented back who ran for 408 yards in three quarters against the Huskers last season. The player expected to replace Gordon, Corey Clement, is injured. So far, the Badgers have produced just four runs of 20-plus yards. They led the country in that category last year. Nebraska ranks 22nd nationally allowing 3.1 yards per carry — but they've faced an average of 27.6 rushes per game, the second-fewest rate in the country.

Wisconsin pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

Nebraska still ranks last in the country in passing yards allowed per game (353.8). But is Wisconsin capable of exploiting NU's weakness? The Badgers are without their top pass-catching tight end, Austin Traylor. Their No. 1 receiver, Alex Erickson, is questionable. Their quarterback, Joel Stave, has made 33 career starts, but he's also thrown 30 interceptions. Then again, though, the U-W play-action passing game tends to get receivers open. Stave may have some moments.

Special teams

Wisconsin's only recorded six touchbacks on kickoffs this year, but opponents' average starting field position is their own 21.0 yard line (second-best nationally). The Badgers are also holding teams to just 3.4 yards per punt return. The Huskers haven't been as sharp as they would like to be in the kicking game. Punter Sam Foltz enjoyed his best performance of the season last week. Nebraska's also hoping to get playmaker De'Mornay Pierson-El going again.

Intangibles

Confidence is shaken within the Husker locker room after three close losses — two of which could have easily been victories with proper game management down the stretch. But Wisconsin didn't begin the week with much positive momentum, either. The Badgers lost 10-6 to Iowa despite gaining 99 more yards and controlling the action after halftime. They need a win. But expect NU, boosted by the comfort of a home stadium, to play like the more desperate team.

Key matchup: Key matchup: Nebraska's wide receivers vs. Wisconsin's cornerbacks

The NU players know that the Badgers will shift coverages and try to keep them guessing. But whether it's zone defense or a man-to-man look, the Huskers are expecting one commonality from the Wisconsin defensive backs: a physical approach. The Badgers like to play an in-your-face and attacking style. They'll shove and grab. They push you around, if you let them. We'll see how Nebraska responds.

Our take

The reward for this Saturday's matchup was supposed to be a driver's seat position within a potentially jam-packed Big Ten West division race. Instead? It's all about survival. The loser goes to 0-2 in league action, a dismal (and perhaps fatal) start that neither team wants. Both the Huskers and Badgers are flawed, bruised and a little frustrated. Both can rebound now — but they'll need their play-makers to step up. NU appears to have just a couple more game-changers.

Our prediction: Nebraska 20, Wisconsin 17

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Videos

Extras

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