Scott Frost and Nebraska (4-5, 2-4 Big Ten) have had more than a handful of issues standing in the way of sorting out who they are, while Wisconsin (7-2, 4-2) has a proven commodity in its physical style.
Ideally, you could call the game one in a long line of Big Ten trophy games.
However, the Freedom Trophy has never resided in Lincoln since its inception. Wisconsin leads the overall series, which started in 1901, by a 9-4 margin and is currently on a 6-0 winning streak. The Badgers have taken those wins by an average score of 42-22.
Wisconsin at Nebraska
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 16 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: Big Ten Network
Spread: Wisconsin -14.5
When Wisconsin Has the Ball
Jack Coan continues to lead the charge at quarterback for Wisconsin. An extremely effective passer, he’s completing 73.2 percent of his passes for 1,664 yards with a 12:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. His biggest threats at wideout include Quintez Cephus (504 yards, 4 TDs), Danny Davis III (195, TD), and A.J. Taylor (192, TD). Tight end Jake Ferguson is firmly in the mix as the team’s No. 2 receiver (266, 2).
On the ground, Nebraska faces one of the best running backs its regular-season slate has to offer in Jonathan Taylor. He’s averaged 139.9 rushing yards per game in 2019 and has racked up 15 touchdowns in the process. Last year, he pounded the Huskers for 221 yards and three scores on the ground. Taylor is supported by a standard bullying Badger offensive line, including standouts at left tackle (Cole Van Lanen) and center (Tyler Biadasz).
The Cornhuskers should offer largely the same personnel they have used as of late. Outside linebacker Garrett Nelson continues to impress as he earned himself a Blackshirt after last Tuesday’s practice, signifying a start spot on defense. Defensive linemen Keem Green and Ty Robinson could see some minutes in relief. Obviously, defensive coordinator Erik Chinander has to concern himself with the brutal running style of Taylor, but with Coan being such a confident passer, it may be feast or famine for this defense.
When Nebraska Has the Ball
Head coach Scott Frost is resolute when it comes to Adrian Martinez starting if he's healthy, so look for No. 2 to take snaps as long as he’s able. If he’s unable to continue during the course of the game, Noah Vedral and Luke McCaffrey both show up as questionable on the team's injury reports as of this writing. It could be do-or-die with Martinez no matter what barring an extreme emergency.
Running back Dedrick Mills is available as a starter, but Wan'Dale Robinson continues to give the Big Red offensive firepower even though he’s clearly not close to 100 percent. His status at this time remains a game-time decision. Wyatt Mazour was unavailable versus Purdue due to a lower-body injury, making his status for the Wisconsin game a toss-up as well.
The offensive line has remained static with Brenden Jaimes, Trent Hixson, Cameron Jurgens, Boe Wilson, and Matt Farniok starting from left to right. They'll have to deal with a tough Wisconsin front seven, which features a litany of fundamentally sound and hard-hitting players. The defensive line touts Isaiahh Loudermilk and Garrett Rand with Bryson Williams at nose tackle.
The linebacking corps is its usual stout self with demons in both Zack Baun on the outside and Chris Orr on the inside. It will take almost perfect execution to pull any of the Badgers’ first or second level out of any given play. Faion Hicks and Rachad Wildgoose are the bookend corners with Reggie Pearson and Eric Burrell manning the safety positions.
Nebraska has faced several teams that are comfortable in their own skin. However, the only one more content with what they do to this point is Ohio State. The Badgers’ foundation for success is decades in the making, and they’re a throwback to the days of when the Huskers shoved people around.
Even if the Big Red offense can finally get in gear, it’s hard to imagine the Blackshirts being able to stop Jonathan Taylor from getting his yardage and repeatedly scoring as he did last year. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that he surpasses his 2018 performance, as operating an effective ground game against Nebraska’s 83rd-ranked rushing defense would be almost effortless.
Jack Coan will continue to lead a smooth passing attack to give Wisconsin some balance. Nebraska must be at least plus-two if not plus-three in turnovers to keep this game close. If the margin is even or the Huskers find themselves in the negative, this one could get even more ugly. However, a garbage-time touchdown may make the game look closer than it actually would be.