LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) Nebraska knows what’s coming and believes it’s ready.
The Cornhuskers knew last year, too, but definitely weren’t prepared for Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon to run for an FBS-record 408 yards and four touchdowns in a demoralizing 35-point loss in Madison.
There’s a new coaching staff at Nebraska, and defensive coordinator Mark Banker’s unit has been among the best in the nation at stopping the run so far. These Huskers have yet to see the style of power running game Wisconsin presents, and fans still cringe when reminded of the 581 and 539 yards rushing Nebraska allowed the last two times the teams met.
Gordon has moved on to the NFL, top running back Corey Clement is still out recovering from sports hernia surgery and the Wisconsin offensive line isn’t as imposing as some in the past. Alabama and Iowa beat the Badgers by all but shutting down their ground game.
The Huskers (2-3, 0-1) hope to do the same Saturday when Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1) visits in a key Big Ten West game.
”I’d say this defense is built to stop any team, but yes, I think that our defense may be especially suited for this type of offense,” defensive end Jack Gangwish said. ”Wisconsin has a very smash-mouth approach to football. They’re going to run the ball straight at you. There’s not a whole lot that’s really fancy about what they do.”
Taiwan Deal and Dare Ogunbowale will share the carries, and quarterback Joel Stave will use play-action to try to exploit a vulnerable Nebraska secondary.
Both teams are looking to rebound following disappointing losses. The Huskers are off to their worst start since 1959 after Illinois drove the field in the last minute to pull out a 14-13 win. Stave committed four turnovers in a 10-6 loss at home to Iowa.
”We’ve got to do a better job of continuing to help coach our guys and help them grow. And we get that opportunity this week, and that’s what’s fun – and with a group that wants to get better, a group that wants to be coached,” first-year Badgers coach Paul Chryst said.
Some things to watch as the teams battle for the Freedom Trophy:
RILEY-CHRYST REUNION: Wisconsin’s Chryst and Nebraska’s Mike Riley have a history dating to 1991. Riley hired Chryst as an assistant on the team he coached in the old World League of American Football, and Chryst also was his aide at Oregon State and with the San Diego Chargers.
”I think one of the things that we both have in common is we respect the game and truly respect those that play it, and our job is to help them play it,” Chryst said. ”So I don’t feel like it’s me against Mike.”
D-LINE SHUFFLE: Nebraska remains short-handed on the defensive line. Tackles Vincent Valentine and Kevin Williams have been battling injuries, tackle Kevin Maurice is out four weeks with a stress fracture and end Freedom Akinmoladun will miss two weeks with a knee injury. End Greg McMullen probably will move inside and line up alongside Maliek Collins. Gangwish and Ross Dzuris would then be the primary ends.
WISCONSIN INJURIES: TE Austin Traylor, who hurt an arm and shoulder late in the Iowa game, had surgery Monday and was not listed on this week’s depth chart. He’s the third tight end to be injured. Also, WR Alex Erickson was being treated for a concussion this week. His status was uncertain.
DEFENSE ON A ROLL: Since losing 35-17 to Alabama, Wisconsin has held four straight opponents to 10 points or fewer. That’s the third-longest run of its kind in program history.
NEBRASKA-WISCONSIN TIES: Badgers athletic director Barry Alvarez played linebacker for the Huskers from 1965-67 and coached high school football in Nebraska in the 1970s. Wisconsin assistants Ted Gilmore was on Nebraska’s staff from 2005-10 and Joe Rudolph in 2007.
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org