Struggling Nebraska takes on No. 15 Wisconsin
After a string of close losses and a coaching staff shake-up, Nebraska had a bye week to regroup and prepare for surging Wisconsin on Saturday in Madison.
Wisconsin (7-3, 5-2 Big Ten), ranked No. 15 in the College Football Playoff poll, has won six straight since opening the season 1-3.
Nebraska (3-7, 1-6) has lost four straight by a combined 24 points, including a 26-17 home setback to Ohio State on Nov. 6.
If Wisconsin wins its final two games, the Badgers capture the Big Ten West. Wisconsin is tied atop the division with Iowa, but the Badgers defeated the Hawkeyes 27-7 on Oct. 30. Wisconsin closes the season at Minnesota, one game back in the standings.
Nebraska is guaranteed a fifth straight losing season, four of them under Scott Frost. He is 15-27 overall, 10-23 in the Big Ten, and 0-12 against ranked opponents.
The Cornhuskers have lost seven straight to Wisconsin.
“The way they’re playing grabs your attention,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said. “We all know the record, but you watch the film, and it doesn’t matter which game, offensively they’re explosive and they’ve got very good players.”
After the loss to Ohio State, it was announced that the embattled Frost would return next season with a restructured contract, and he fired four of his five offensive assistants.
The Badgers have the nation’s top-ranked defense, while freshman tailback Braelon Allen has emerged to power a rejuvenated ground game, which lost leading rusher Chez Mellusi to a season-ending leg injury two weeks ago.
Wisconsin is first in total defense at 216.3 yards per game and rushing defense (60.6 ypg), and is second in passing defense (155.7 ypg) and scoring defense (14.6 points per game).
The Badgers have recorded 10 interceptions during their six-game winning streak, the most of any Power Five team during that stretch. After forcing four turnovers in their first six games, the Badgers have 16 takeaways over their last four.
The 238-pound Allen ran for a career-high 173 yards and three touchdowns in Wisconsin’s 35-7 victory over Northwestern last Saturday.
Allen, who had just 12 carries in his first two contests, has rushed for more than 100 yards in six consecutive games. Wisconsin has rushed for 1,618 yards, 269.7 per game, with 17 rushing touchdowns during their win streak.
“It certainly helps that he’s got a really good line in front of him and a lot of good players around him, but doing the things he’s doing, it’s hard to do as a 22-year-old, let alone a 17-, 18-year-old,” Frost said. “So, we’ve got our work cut with him.”
Quarterback Graham Mertz completed 18 of 23 passes for 216 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in last week’s win over Northwestern.
Nebraska is ranked 16th nationally in total offense with 459.2 yards per game. Quarterback Adrian Martinez enters the game against Wisconsin needing 273 yards to become Nebraska’s all-time leader in total offense. Martinez has 10,418 yards in his career, trailing only Tommy Armstrong Jr. (10,690).
“He’s a dynamic athlete,” Chryst said. “He can stress you and make plays, and big plays, with his arm and with his legs. I think they do a nice job overall in their scheme in putting him in those positions.”
Martinez has completed 166 of 271 passes with 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He also has rushed for a team-leading 502 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Rahmir Johnson is the second-leading rusher with 495 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 4.4 yards per carry.
The Cornhuskers defense took a hit when senior outside linebacker JoJo Domann underwent season-ending hand surgery.
–Field Level Media