Welp… here come the Badgers. This team is better than Oklahoma or Michigan State when we played them. However, they aren’t better than Ohio State who we hung around with, so that is somewhat encouraging.
What concerns me is that Wisconsin has their fate in their own hands. If they win out against us and then Minnesota next week, they are heading to the conference championship game in Indianapolis. That could spell disaster for Nebraska since the Badgers easily handled Northwestern last week and were able to take their foot off the gas. Further, Nebraska just got done firing 4 full-time offensive assistants and are only left with Frost and Beckton as the constant there. How will we gameplan and be ready as we face the nations #1 defense in yards allowed (216) and #2 defense in points allowed (14 ppg)?
I also told people in one of my recruiting write-ups that what scared me about where we were is that 2021 was the first time that Wisconsin actually out-recruited Nebraska in terms of overall ranking and average star ranking. Looking at 247sports and their college team talent, this is the first time in the history of that metric that Wisconsin actually has the better players compared to Nebraska.
Is that the end all be all, no. But it does worry me for this game and beyond if they were beating us before with “lesser” players. I didn’t think i’d see the day where Wisconsin overtook us in player talent out of high school. But they did in 2021, and they are currently ahead of us for 2022. That doesn’t make the task on Saturday in Madison any easier.
Lastly, I do know of players that aren’t happy with the staff moves. Can our defense keep us close enough to have a chance in the end? Or are we going to fold because there isn’t a bowl game?
What will Wisconsin do offensively?
It starts with their QB Graham Mertz, a four star prospect out of the Kansas City area. People were scared of this guy as a true freshman. He came out and lit the world on fire, and then fell off a bit of a cliff back in 2020. The opposite has happened this year, where Mertz really struggled against Penn State and Notre Dame early in the season. It had Husker fans coming with “Wisconsin is beatable” based mostly on his play and our confidence with “it just feels different this year” was still pretty high.
In his last three games he is completing 65% of his passes and has a 6TD to 2 INT stat. While those teams are Iowa, Rutgers, and Northwestern, there still is no doubt that Mertz is playing much better than he was in September. I do think our defense can bring him a little bit back down to earth, but his passing won’t be what determines the fate for Chryst and Wisconsin anyway.
The Badgers of course have an unreal RB in true freshman Braelon Allen who has 6 straight 100 yard rushing games and doesn’t even turn 18 until next month. Allen was a four star runningback out of Wisconsin, and the 135th ranked player in the country according to Rivals. Even with the Badgers losing their leading rusher 2 games ago in Chez Mellusi, Wisconsin is 8th in the country in rushing yards per game with 226 per contest. And a huge part of that is their offensive line and the emergence of Allen. They know who they are and didn’t deviate when they caught a tough break.
The Blackshirts absolutely have to force Mertz to throw, as that gets them out of their comfort zone and makes it so their statistics look much worse. Wisconsin is 115th in passing yards per game with 162 yards, and 93rd in completion percentage. While I know I stated Mertz is doing much better now, our only shot is to get him to throw and not let the Badgers offense run on us.
With that said, Mertz has an unbelievable “safety valve” in TE Jake Ferguson who was just accepted to the senior bowl like Domann was from our team.
The bright spot though is Wisconsin is fairly turnover prone, giving it over roughly 2 times per game. If Chinander and the defense can collect a few of those, we could be in business.
Wisconsin on Defense
Wisconsin runs the exact defense we do. Chinander stole us taking our NG out in nickel and passing situations from Leonard and his defense in Madison. Our offense could go against the Blackshirts in practice and it’s pretty much the same thing. The difference is that the Badgers are just so much better at running it so far and their offense doesn’t put them in bad spots. Wisconsin is 6th in the country with time of possession, having the ball for 58% of the game. Nebraska is 110th in the country in TOP having the ball 46% of the time. Their defense is not on the field much at all, and ours is.
Where Wisconsin will really trip you up is if you make a mistake and get zero yards or negative yards one play, you are basically screwed that series. The Badgers are 2nd in the country in opponent 3rd down conversion percentage, as opponents only convert roughly 25% of their chances. And Wisconsin is only giving up 3.6 yards/play which is good for first in the country. If Nebraska goes zero or negative yards on any play, or becomes reliant on any one player such as Martinez, Toure, etc., it will be a long, long, long day.
Here’s a good look at how well coached Wisconsin is on defense. The NG takes the LG and Center and effectively makes both of them block him. He knows that if that LG is engaged with him, that the looping player will have a free path to the QB because the LT has to take the outside rusher on the left.
You also see the down DL on the right understand that he has to keep his outside shoulder free at all times. This is because if the QB tries to escape that side, he has to force him back to where all his help is. If he tries escaping the other way, he’s dead in the water because the “looper” has a free run at him for a sack. Here’s an example of what i’m talking about, if the QB tries to escape to where it “looks open” the “looper” is standing right there to force him the other way:
Wisconsin is just so well coached, has a great scheme, and players that understand it. While I love Henrich and Reimer on our defense, here is what the Badgers are sending out against us in the middle of the field:
If that isn’t enough, their two OLBs are four star players according to Rivals in Noah Burks and Nick Herbig. And of course, just to show you how well Wisconsin is developing, here is one of their starters on the DL:
SUMMARY AND PREDICTION
I think this tweet sums this game up pretty well:
Wisconsin and Nebraska are pretty much the same IMO, except that Wisconsins defense is much better and offensively while they aren’t great, they know who they are so they are able to do enough on that side of the ball to get W’s. Conversely, the Blackshirts keep Nebraska in every single game but our offense doesn’t know what we are so we can’t score and lose close battles time after time.
I think we can hang with them, our defense will keep us in every game we play. But I just don’t think our offense can score enough against them. We have a bye week where we have never won a game coming out of one of those, and we are doing it this time down 4 assistants. Wisconsin just has too much at stake and they rarely trip up in these situations.
24-13 bad guys. Go Big Red!