Breakdown: Nebraska

UW's defense will need to play big (Fleming/File)

With its nonconference schedule in the rearview mirror, Wisconsin looks to start conference play with a win over Nebraska for the second straight season. Badger Nation looks at the matchup.

Wisconsin (3-1, 0-0 Big Ten) vs. No.22 Nebraska (3-1, 0-0 Big Ten)

Date/Time - Saturday, September 29 at 7:12 p.m. CT

Stadium –Memorial Stadium (81,091/FieldTurf)

Television - ABC (Brad Nessler, Todd Blackledge and Holly Rowe)

Radio - Wisconsin Radio Network (Matt Lepay and Mike Lucas)

Series – Tied 3-3 (Nebraska leads 2-0 in Lincoln)

Last Meeting – Wisconsin won, 48-17, on October 1, 2011 in Madison

Last meeting's Badger Nation game coverage

Last week's Badger Nation game coverage

Series Notes

Nebraska is 2-0 all-time against UW in Lincoln, though the teams haven't met at Memorial Stadium since 1973. The Huskers scored a 37-0 win as the nation's No. 2-ranked team in 1965 and won, 20-16, while ranked No. 2 in 1973.

UW has won consecutive games in the series dating back to a 1974 upset of the fourth-ranked Huskers at Camp Randall.

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini went 3-1 against the Badgers as a player at Ohio State from 1987-90.

Wisconsin is 3-3 in Big Ten openers under Bret Bielema, including a 48-17 win over Nebraska last season, and owns a 7-4 mark in Big Ten openers since 2001.

Wisconsin owns a five-game win streak in Big Ten play, tying with Baylor for the longest active conference win streak among BCS conference teams.

Bielema went 1-1 in his previous two stops in Lincoln, a 42-13 loss to the Huskers while an assistant coach at Iowa in 2000 and a 39-8 win over Nebraska as defensive coordinator at Kansas State in 2003.

UW defensive coordinator Chris Ash was 3-3 against Nebraska as an assistant coach at Iowa State from 2002-06 and 2009.

Wisconsin Notes

The Badgers have won 11 of their last 13 night games away from Camp Randall Stadium, including six of their last eight true road games played at night.

The Badgers' defense is one of three nationally that has yet to allow a run of 20 yards this season, along with Texas Tech and UConn.

Ball scored the 58th rushing touchdown of his career against UTEP to surpass Marshall Faulk (San Diego State) and Tim Tebow (Florida) and move into a tie for eighth all-time in NCAA history with Ian Johnson (Boise State).

In the five seasons under Bielema in which UW lost its Big Ten road opener, the Badgers have combined to go 24-7 (.774) in their remaining conference games after suffering the initial road loss:

After starting in opponent territory just once in its first two games combined, Wisconsin has started six drives on the opponent's side of the 50 over its last two contests (excluding a fourth-quarter drive vs. UTEP that consisted of two kneel-downs). The Badgers converted four of those six possessions into touchdowns, with the others ending in a missed field goal and an interception.

Wisconsin's 22 wins over the 2010 and 2011 seasons tied the program record for wins in a two-season span. The Badgers also had 22 wins in 2005 (10) and 2006 (12). The 2005 season was Barry Alvarez's last as head coach and 2006 was Bret Bielema's first.

Nebraska Notes

Nebraska is 849-340-40 all-time, one of just seven schools with 800 all-time victories. Nebraska has won five national championships (1970, 1971, 1994, 1995, 1997).

The Huskers have traditionally started league play well, owning an 86-20-2 all-time record in conference openers. Bo Pelini-coached Nebraska teams have a 2-2 record in conference openers, including last year's loss at No.7 Wisconsin. Both of the losses in conference openers have come against top-10 opponents (vs. No. 4 Missouri in 2008, at No. 7 Wisconsin in 2011). In conference home openers, NU has an 85-13-4 record, including 30 straight victories from 1978 to 2007.

Nebraska's average of 541.8 yards of total offense per game is its best four-game average since the 1995 season when NU averaged 688.5 yards of total offense through four games.

Nebraska is averaging 48.5 points per game through the non-conference portion of the season. The scoring output is Nebraska's best average through four games since the 1995 team averaged 60.0 points per game through four contests.

Through four games, NU has posted an average gain of 8.5 yards on first down. The Huskers have run 140 first-down plays this season and totaled 1,185 yards, producing 54.7 percent of their total yards on first down.

The red zone has been good to Nebraska through non-conference play. Offensively, the Huskers have scored on 16 of their 20 trips into the red zone, producing 15 touchdowns and a field goal. Defensively, the Blackshirts have allowed the opponent to score on just seven of their 13 trips to the red zone, including only two touchdowns. The opposition's 15 percent touchdown rate in the Nebraska red zone ranks third nationally, while NU's overall red-zone defense rate of 54 percent is first in the Big Ten and fifth nationally.

Prediction

The last time Joel Stave started a road game, he was a senior at Whitnall High School in suburban Milwaukee, leading the Falcons into a playoff game at Franklin.

Stave completed 46.5 passes (third worst of his 10 game season) and threw two interception in a 47-25 defeat.

"We weren't as good as them," said Stave. "It was windy, so it wasn't an easy place to play."

It's safe to say the environment will be slightly different this weekend. The Badgers are going against an aggressive secondary, meaning the receivers will need to battle on the perimeter to get open. It's the same thing that Stave saw last season when he traveled to venues like East Lansing and Columbus, getting road experience that he hopes will translate to Saturday when he is actually on the field.

"Getting to go to a place like Michigan State and Ohio State in that night game, big-time atmosphere will really help. Just seeing that and how Russell (Wilson) responded by staying composed (is key)."

Stave said it looked fun watching Wilson quarterback the Badgers in those games last season. He'll have fun if Wisconsin can utilize a healthy Montee Ball, have a balanced run attack and Wisconsin's defense makes Nebraska one dimensional like UW did against UTEP.

After surrendering just 77 rushing yards verse UTEP, Wisconsin ranks third in the Big Ten and 13th nationally in rushing defense, allowing opponents an average of 80.8 yards per game. Wisconsin opponents have rushed for just one touchdown and average just 2.7 yards per carry, but will be tested against a Huskers team averaging 317.5 rushing yards per game, first in the Big Ten and fifth nationally.

Nebraska averages a Big Ten-best 6.6 yards per carry and has racked up 14 rushing touchdowns on the season. Wisconsin has allowed just one rushing touchdown this season. Coincidentally, Nebraska has yet to allow an opponent to score the ball on the ground, impressive considering Nebraska allowed Ball to score four times last season.

Many will point to Wisconsin's offense holding the key to victory, but the old adage is that offense scored points but defense wins championships. Wisconsin's defense has been an underrated unit throughout the first four games of the season, especially considering the numbers.

Wisconsin has forced its opponent to go three-and-out on its opening drive in three consecutive games. Since the start of the 2009 season (44 games), the Badgers have held 20 opponents to three plays or fewer on their opening possessions. UW has allowed an opponent to score on its opening drive just seven times in those 44 games.

Opponents are converting just 29.2 percent of their third-down chances against the Badgers, the third-best mark in the Big Ten. Wisconsin is 34-7 under Bret Bielema when allowing opponents to convert 33 percent or fewer of their third-down tries. Those two marks will have to continue in order to have a chance against Nebraska.

As good as the defense has been, it has to eliminate the big plays and it has to force turnovers. Through four games, Wisconsin has allowed nine touchdowns and six of those have been scored from 20 yards or longer. UW has to limit to big plays that quarterback Taylor Martinez is capable of creating.

The Badgers have yet to force a turnover defensively. It's the same story as last year, as Wisconsin forced just one turnover in the first three games of 2011. In the last 11 games, UW forced a total of 25 turnovers. Over its final 10 games, UW converted 18 of its 23 turnovers gained into touchdowns (78.3 percent). It would be nice for the Badgers to start that trend this week.

The point spread for this game has fluctuated with Nebraska being anywhere from an 11.5 to a 13.5 point favorite. Now in his seven year, Bielema is 12-12 overall in true conference road games, 1-5 in road Big Ten openers under Bielema and is 1-6 on the road against ranked Big Ten teams. Now you know why Wisconsin is double-digit underdogs for only the 13th time in 20 seasons. In case you were wondering, Wisconsin is 0-3 in those games under Bielema.

This game is going to be tough, really tough. I've said all season that the one game Wisconsin would probably lose is this one. After the first four weeks of the season, I see no reason to change my tune.

Nebraska 31, Wisconsin 19

Worgull's Predictions

Straight up: 3-1

Against the Spread: 2-1

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