The Nebraska Cornhuskers have apparently righted their ship, at least to some degree, with a lackluster 27-17 home victory over Rutgers and a much more spirited performance against Illinois in Friday’s 28-6 victory to improve to 3-2.
Now comes the game many thought would feature two 5-0 and top-25 teams before the season began in Nebraska and Wisconsin. This was supposed to be the marquee matchup, quite possibly for the Big 10 West crown. Nebraska is currently 2-0 in the conference while Wisconsin won its first conference tilt Saturday, beating Northwestern 33-24.
Has this game lost its luster after Nebraska’s losses to Oregon and Northern Illinois?
The Badgers are 4-0 with victories over Utah State (59-10), Florida Atlantic (31-14), BYU (40-6) and Northwestern. They are currently ranked No. 9 and the favorite to win the Big 10 West.
Nebraska could put an end to all of that premature talk and actually thrust itself into the favorite role with a home victory over the Badgers on Saturday.
History does not favor the Cornhuskers in this matchup. Nebraska has lost the last four encounters with the Badgers and five of the last six. The only Nebraska triumph in that stretch occurred in 2012 when the Huskers clawed out a 30-27 victory in Lincoln.
A night game in early October in Lincoln gives Nebraska a bit more incentive than it normally would have. The crowd will be on fire (at least in the early stages of the game) and could make a difference late in the game with a victory on the line. The big questions are which Nebraska team, which Blackshirt defense and which Tanner Lee will show up to do battle against the Badgers?
Here is the formula for disaster that has crippled Nebraska in prime-time games against quality foes in must-win spotlight games in the past. Turnovers, poor tackling, silly penalties and a Swiss cheese offensive line have spelled doom for the Huskers. We have seen it time and time again over the past dozen years. In 2016 alone we can look at Ohio State, Iowa and Tennessee blowout losses as examples.
Nebraska’s defense is improving with every game and has drawn national attention since halftime of the Oregon game. Last week the Blackshirts held Illinois to under 200 total yards. If they settle down and figure out a way to stop Wisconsin’s powerful running game they could help lead NU to an upset victory. The real key is will they be able to avoid the missed tackles that have plagued then against good teams in the recent past.
Nebraska still has a penchant for coming up with offensive holding calls, encroachment penalties on defense and uncalled-for personal foul penalties. The Huskers can’t allow these to happen this Saturday. Penalties must be at a minimum for the Huskers to have a legitimate chance of winning the game.
The true chance for pulling off the upset will be in the hands of the offense. Nebraska must secure the football. Lee must make good decisions and not throw an interception. Then there is the offensive line, which did a good job against Illinois, but Wisconsin is a much better team than Illinois. The O-line will be tested early and often, but the unit is healing up and looked like it was beginning to gel last week.
In November 2014, I predicted a Nebraska win and the Huskers got mauled 59-24. It was brought to my attention that I made a horrible choice in picking the Huskers to win. Nebraska was 8-1 going into that game and ranked No. 17 in the country. This team is 3-2 and just seeking some national recognition. A win over the Badgers this weekend would certainly do a great deal for bringing some of that recognition back to Lincoln.
The realist in me sees Wisconsin winning 28-17. The true Husker in me sees Nebraska pulling off the 28-27 upset. Let’s hope the realist loses this Saturday.