The Saturday night showdown between Nebraska and Wisconsin is one of the most anticipated games for Week 9. The winner of this matchup solidifies a case as the top team in the Big Ten West’s Division and moves a step closer to booking a trip to Indianapolis for the conference title game. The Cornhuskers are 4-0 in league play, but this is the biggest test of 2016 for coach Mike Riley’s team. The Badgers are 2-2 in Big Ten action, but those losses came at hands of Ohio State and Michigan – two playoff contenders. Wisconsin needs a little help to cut into Nebraska’s two-game advantage right now, but the Cornhuskers have to play at Ohio State next Saturday.
It’s no secret most of the focus in this matchup will be on Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Wisconsin running back Corey Clement or a couple of key defenders from the Badgers (linebackers T.J. Watt or Vince Biegel. The Cornhuskers are an underdog and on the road in a tough environment. Who could be the x-factor that lifts Riley’s team to an upset?
Here are a few candidates to watch:
Which Nebraska Player is the X-Factor Against Wisconsin?
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer): Terrell Newby, RB
Tommy Armstrong is a natural choice given his penchant for ill-advised turnovers but it might actually be running back Terrell Newby. If Nebraska wants to capture their biggest win of the season they'll need a consistent ground game and that won't be easy against the Badgers' stingy defense. If Newby can be consistent in moving the chains and getting a big play or two against the banged up linebacking corps of Wisconsin, then the Cornhuskers have a shot.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven): Dedrick Young, LB
After a solid freshman season, Young continues to impress in 2016. The sophomore ranks fourth on the team with 42 stops (three for a loss) and has accumulated one sack, four pass breakups and one forced fumble. He’s a key cog for a Nebraska defense limiting opponents to just 124.4 rushing yards per game so far this season and holds rushers to 4.2 yards per carry. Young’s play will be critical on Saturday night, as Wisconsin’s offensive line is capable of controlling the flow of the game in the trenches. If the Badgers win the battle at the point of attack, Young and fellow linebackers Michael Rose-Ivey and Josh Banderas need to keep Wisconsin running back Corey Clement from turning three-yard gains into 15-yard bursts. Tackling and limiting the ground attack for the Badgers is a key area to watch for Nebraska’s defense (and Young) this Saturday.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR): Devine Ozigbo, RB
Ozigbo has basically missed the last two games because of an ankle injury, and his status for Saturday is unknown at this point. But assuming he’s able to return, the sophomore could be a huge part of the game plan against the Badgers even though he's second in the backfield pecking order behind leading rusher Terrell Newby.
Wisconsin’s linebacker corps has been ravaged by injuries as Jack Cichy (shoulder) is now lost for the season. With the Badgers at less than full strength in the middle of their defense, Ozigbo’s size (6-0, 230) could come into play if Nebraska tries to wear Wisconsin down with its running game. In the Badgers’ two losses (Michigan and Ohio State), they gave up nearly 160 yards rushing per game. In the five wins? Just 85.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott): Kevin Maurice, DT
The Husker defense needs to prevent the Badgers from controlling the clock on the ground. Maurice, Nebraska's big man in the middle, will play an instrumental role in that effort. If he can get consistent penetration and push, it will funnel the Wisconsin running game toward the tackles and edges. Once that happens, the athletic Blackshirt linebackers should be able to clean it up.
Additionally, Nebraska should have an advantage in their secondary against Wisconsin's receivers. If Maurice can add to the effort by constantly forcing Alex Hornibrook out of the pocket, the Badgers are going to have a tough time outscoring a Nebraska offense full of versatile weapons.