Wisconsin Opponent Preview: Nebraska

Wisconsin Opponent Preview: Nebraska

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Wisconsin Opponent Preview: Nebraska

Rivalry game and trophy game. Wisconsin will get the taste of both things for the second straight week when it hosts Nebraska this weekend with the Freedom Trophy on the line. These two schools have played each other 12 times dating back to 1901. While Wisconsin leads the series, 8-4, and has won every meeting since 2012, every game with the Cornhuskers tends to be a hard-fought and grueling battle.

Though Nebraska is 0-4 this season, it doesn’t mean it will be a walk in the park for the Badgers to get an “easy” win. Offensively, Nebraska’s offensive line will be a decent matchup. The Huskers have big boys on the line and have always put on a good fight with the opposing defensive line and inside linebackers. Similar to an Iowa offensive line, the Badgers defense will need to be able to move bodies, be strong down in the trenches and sound on their gap responsibility. There will be no tolerance for missed assignments because Nebraska is talented enough to take advantage of those mistakes.

The quarterback, freshman Adrian Martinez, will also show a threat for the Wisconsin defense.  He may be a young gunslinger, but he is a playmaker with the ability to both throw and run the ball. Last week against Purdue, Martinez threw for 323 yards in the air and ran 91 yards on the ground, proving elusive for all players in the front seven of a defense. He did struggle prior to that at Michigan, though, throwing for only 22 yards and rushing for negative-12 yards. There was a point in time where sophomore quarterback Andrew Bunch stepped into the game and completed 6 of 9 passes for 71 yards, not to mention threw for 177 yards early in the season against Troy. He may not run the ball like Martinez can, but he can hurt a defense in the air. Whichever quarterback starts this game, the Badgers will be dealing with young playmakers and need to shut them down early if they want to avoid a close contest.

Other key factors for the Cornhuskers’ offense is senior running back Devine Ozigbo, standing at 6-foot and 235 pounds. This is a big back that will be difficult to take down, evidenced by his 170 yards on 17 carries and two touchdowns against the Boilermakers. A force in the backfield that will need to be tackled low, the UW defense will have to rally to him and put multiple hats on tackle attempts. Nebraska can cause damage in the air, too, as sophomore wide receiver JD Spielman is a big target with 10 receptions for 135 yards and two scores.

Defensively, the Huskers have no issue making their presence known in the backfield and generating tackles for loss. Junior linebacker Mohamed Barry – a former Wisconsin commit – led the defense in tackles last week (11) and is part of that havoc in the backfield for running backs.  Last game against Purdue, the Nebraska defense had a sack and five tackles for loss from five different players, which can be an issue for the Wisconsin offense to put bodies on bodies and keep guys off running back Jonathan Taylor and quarterback Alex Hornibrook. Still, Nebraska has really struggled with penalties (42 in only four games) and consistently defending accurate quarterbacks or power running teams.

Coming off a bye week and a big road win over Iowa, the momentum carries over in favor of the Badgers but that doesn’t mean they can take this game lightly. Hornibrook will need to have a stellar game, just as he did throwing for 205 yards and three touchdowns at Iowa. How him and Taylor play will be crucial for the offense to get going. Taylor rushed for 113 yards off of 25 carries for the Badgers two weekends ago but will have to keep his head on a swivel in the backfield for a Nebraska defense that can swarm.

Defensively, the Badgers need to have a big production from the front seven. Creating pressure on the young quarterbacks, making it uncomfortable in the pocket for them, really rattle their timing and confidence. A collapsing pocket may force Martinez to get happy feet, abandon the pass and look for an alley to run. That’s why the defense must be ready to rally to the ball if Martinez tucks and runs. UW has really struggled to deliver constant pressure on opposing offenses so Saturday night will go a long way in proving UW’s defense has what it takes to play with the big boys.

Expect another classic rivalry game between Wisconsin and Nebraska in primetime Saturday night. Ignoring the records, these two teams will be giving everything they got in order to bring home the Freedom Trophy.

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