Game Day: Nebraska vs. Wisconsin

Walking dread

No. 7 Nebraska has new coaches, new schemes and a new vibe — the first 7-0 start in 15 years. Now it’s time to address an old pain, to right several wrongs that cut so deeply that NU can’t forge a full-bodied Big Ten identity without addressing these ghosts of Camp Randall Stadium.

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2-Minute Drill by Rich Kaipust

Nebraska rush offense vs. Wisconsin rush defense

If Nebraska isn’t fully healthy up front, this is the game where that definitely could get exposed. And this is a defense that the Huskers would have a harder time wearing down, something they have done successfully the last few weeks. Nebraska might have to get creative, and I-back Terrell Newby will have to be at his best. Wisconsin is only allowing 102.9 yards a game and 3.3 a carry.

Nebraska pass offense vs. Wisconsin pass defense

Tommy Armstrong gets back Jordan Westerkamp but still is without Cethan Carter. Protecting the senior will be a must for NU, considering the Badgers’ propensity for getting to the quarterback. If Armstrong can get in a rhythm and make some big throws, that might help the run game. In two starts against the Badgers, however, he is a combined 17 of 46 for just 191 yards.

Wisconsin rush offense vs. Nebraska rush defense

Different time and different team, but Nebraska has rarely been gashed worse than when the Badgers ran for 581 yards in their 2014 meeting and 539 in the 2012 Big Ten championship game. Wisconsin is starting to get Corey Clement going — with 298 yards on 60 carries in the Ohio State and Wisconsin games — but continues to try to get some things settled on its offensive line. Nebraska has been fairly solid against the run, save for the Oregon game.

Wisconsin pass offense vs. Nebraska pass defense

The Badgers are the only team in the Big Ten with as many interceptions (eight) as touchdown passes (eight). They are expected to play both freshman Alex Hornibrook and senior Bart Houston, but neither has showed any knack for consistently picking apart a defense. Nebraska has allowed some plays the last two weeks that it would like back, but leads the Big Ten with 13 interceptions and continues to be a vastly improved unit.

Special teams

Neither has been particularly good with their punt units, but Wisconsin leads the Big Ten in kickoff coverage. Give Nebraska an edge with both of its return units and the better chance of breaking something there. NU also has the more reliable kicker with Drew Brown. Badgers kicker Rafael Gaglianone, who made the game-winner last year in Lincoln, is out for the remainder of the season with a back injury.

Intangibles

Camp Randall Stadium has not been kind to the Huskers, and Wisconsin in general has dominated the series since Nebraska came to the Big Ten (4-1). The Badgers right now are the more battle tested team — with games against LSU, Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa — and the night home atmosphere will be intense. The head coaches know each other well, but Mike Riley has some years on Paul Chryst. Injuries have bitten both teams, but Nebraska is hurting on offense at a bad time against the Wisconsin defense.

Key matchup: Third down vs. Nebraska

The best showdown Saturday might be all about third down when Nebraska has the football. The Huskers are converting 49.0 percent of the time, which ranks No. 12 nationally. Wisconsin is allowing opposing offenses to be successful at just a 24.7 percent clip, which ranks No. 4. The Huskers will need more of third-and-short and less of third-and-long to have a chance.

Our take

This becomes the toughest test to date for Nebraska, and you can bet its Top 10 rating and Big Ten West lead are motivation for the Badgers after their near misses against Michigan and Ohio State. The Huskers certainly are feeling confident and finding ways to win, but if Wisconsin can take care of the football and let its defense do the heavy lifting then the Badgers are going to be tough to beat on their home turf.

Our prediction: Wisconsin 24, Nebraska 20

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Game notes

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