Nebraska heads to Madison on Saturday in search of its first win of the season as the Huskers take on the No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers. The Badgers come into the game with a 3-1 record and 1-0 mark in the Big Ten Conference.
Here are three storylines to watch this weekend:
Jonathan Taylor, Jonathan Taylor and more Jonathan Taylor
The Wisconsin sophomore running back had a breakout true freshman season last year and has continued that pace with a strong start to the season. Taylor averages 157 rush yards per game this season, the best in the county, and has five rushing touchdowns as well. He is the workhorse back for the Badgers and the best running back in the Big Ten, and possibly the country.
Stopping Taylor is a near-impossible task, so don’t expect Nebraska to bottle him up. What Nebraska can try is containing him as much as possible. The defense folded earlier in the season when faced with a great opposing running back in Karan Higdon of Michigan, as the senior gashed the defense for long runs all game.
That can’t happen again.
Last year, Nebraska did not do well against Taylor as he ran for 249 yards on 25 carries with two touchdowns. The Huskers will have their hands full, but if they can do a better job than last year, they will have a chance.
Nebraska offensive line woes
While this team has struggled everywhere this season, they have struggled most on the offensive line. Pro Football Focus ranked Nebraska as the worst offensive line in the Big Ten, and it’s not hard to see why. An encouraging start against Colorado was quickly followed by consistently poor performances in the next few weeks.
The only game comparable to what Nebraska’s offensive line is going up against this week is Michigan. Michigan’s front seven is better and has more NFL talent, but Wisconsin is close. The pass rush for Wisconsin is nearly nonexistent, ranking 126th in the country in sacks averaging less than one sack per game. While they don’t apply pressure, they do a great job against the run.
It should be noted that on the Nebraska depth chart this week, senior Tanner Farmer moved from guard to center, with Boe Wilson replacing him at guard. This gives the offensive line a new look, but whether this change improves the overall play of the group remains to be seen.
It will be imperative for the offense to run the ball this game, as Wisconsin has a stellar secondary. Running the ball starts with the offensive line, so if they can’t get in a groove, the offense will have a hard time moving the ball.
Will Nebraska clean up its play?
One of the disappointing aspects of this team are all of the mental mistakes they make, particularly with penalties and turnovers. Head coach Scott Frost said he is frustrated with all of the mistakes, and it will be interesting to see if this is the week they fix these problems.
“I saw a lot of selfish and undisciplined decisions,” Frost said at his Monday press conference. “You can’t bust on things and not do your assignment. You can’t hit people four yards out of bounds.”
Nebraska currently sits at 128th out of 129 teams in the country in both penalties per game and penalty yards per game with 10.50 and 96.75, respectively. No team is going to be successful with those numbers.
The turnover problem is just as bad. Nebraska sits at 127th in turnover margin per game with -1.5 per game. These statistics paint a picture of a team that does not do the little things right, something Frost preached from the start.
To beat Wisconsin, Nebraska cannot beat itself, especially against a team known for not making mistakes. There have been encouraging signs this week that the team is starting to grasp how hard they have to work, but their progress won’t be seen until Saturday.
Nebraska takes on Wisconsin at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. The game will be televised on BTN.