Nebraska Preview: Cornhuskers Host #9 Wisconsin
So far, the 2017 football season has been a head scratcher for the Nebraska Cornhuskers and their fans.
After five games, we've seen some encouraging things on both sides of the ball, but we've also seen stretches of play that make you wonder if the Big Red will ever win another game in 2017.
But despite all of the ups and downs, one thing is certain - Nebraska (3-2/2-0 Big Ten) can move into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West with a win over Wisconsin, Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.
The Badgers (4-0/1-0 Big Ten) will present the Huskers with their biggest challenge so far in 2017. The number-nine team in the nation has been solid on both sides of the ball through four games.
Offensively, freshman running back Jonathon Taylor has emerged as a star. The 240-pound back is tough to bring down and has gained 130 yards per game.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook has already equaled his touchdown pass output from all of last season (9), and he should get his favorite target, tight end Tony Fumagalli, back after he missed last week's game against Northwestern with a leg injury.
Wisconsin scores 41 points a game and averages seven yards every time they snap the ball. That's helped them convert on a Big Ten best 51 percent of their third down chances.
The Badgers will be going against a Nebraska defense that gave up a ton of points and yardage early in the year, but has only allowed one touchdown in the last seven quarters.
The Blackshirt defense got some good news this week as safety Joshua Kalu, linebacker Marcus Newby, and cornerback Chris Jones have all been cleared to play.
The Wisconsin defense is every bit as good as their offense - second in the Big Ten with just 14 points per game allowed.
The Badgers are doing it without their leader on defense. Linebacker Jack Cichy is out for the entire season after tearing his ACL.
In his absence, linebackers Chris Orr, TJ Edwards, and Garret Dooley have stepped up. Dooley has four of Wisconsin's 16 quarterback sacks on the year. Safety D'Cota Dixon leads the team in tackles.
Three keys for the Nebraska offense:
- Find a way to establish a running game against a team that only allows 74 rushing yards per game.
- Pick up yardage on first and second downs to stay out of third-and-long situations against a defense that's holding opposing offenses to just a 26 percent conversion rate.
- Protect Tanner Lee against a defense that will blitz early and often.
Kickoff is 7:00 PM, Saturday in Lincoln.
You can catch all of the action on Information 1000 KSOO-AM.
Nebraska has won 20 straight night games at Memorial Stadium.
The Cornhuskers turned in their most complete game of the season last week with a 28-6 win at Illinois.
The Nebraska offense turned poor field position into three straight touchdown drives in the first half. Those drives covered an average of 84 yards and took a combined 12:29 off the clock, as Lee completed 11 of his 13 passes for 167 yards and two scores in the first half.
De'Mornay Pierson-El caught three of those balls for 84 yards and a score. Devine Ozigbo added a touchdown run.
Meanwhile, the Cornhusker defense limited Illinois to just three first downs in the first 30 minutes.
In the second half, the Big Red offense sputtered a bit, but the defense rose up. After allowing a field goal on the first possession, the Blackshirts held Illinois to just ten plays and zero yards the final three times they touched the ball.
Chris Weber had nine tackles (two for a loss), a sack, and an interception to lead Nebraska.
I talked with the 'Voice of the Huskers', Greg Sharpe, about the Illinois win and the match-up with Wisconsin: