All-Out Blitz: Nebraska
Welcome to BadgerBlitz.com's All-Out Blitz, where you'll find everything you need to know about Wisconsin's next opponent.
This week the Badgers will host the No. 16 Nebraska Cornhuskers in what is shaping up to be their biggest home game of the year. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. CST, and the game will air on ABC.
Head coach: Bo Pelini (7th season @ Nebraska), 66-25 (21-8 Big Ten)
Nebraska All-Time Record: 873-358-40 (.703)
2014 Record: 8-1 (4-1 Big Ten)
Ranking: 16 (CFP), 11 (AP), 11 (Coaches Poll)
All-Time record against Wisconsin: 4-4-0
What to expect when Nebraska has the ball
Again, let's start off by looking at some contextual stats. The Cornhuskers have averaged 74.5 offensive plays per game so far this season, which makes them the fourth-fastest team in the Big Ten this year behind Michigan State, Northwestern and Ohio State. It will be interesting to see how the Badgers handle that aspect of the game after they gave up 5.1 yards per play to the Wildcats a few weeks ago.
Nebraska has also run the ball just a little less often than the Badgers have so far this season. The Cornhuskers have passed on just 36 percent of their plays this year, whereas the Badgers have passed on 34 percent of their plays. The Cornhuskers are running the ball more often this year than they did last year, though, and part of that has to do with having a new quarterback under center.
The Cornhuskers effectively turned the reigns over to Tommy Armstrong last year after Taylor Martinez couldn't stay healthy, but the transition wasn't seamless. Armstrong completed just 51.9 percent of his passes as a true freshman and finished with a 124.3 passer rating, which was the 10th-best rate out of the Big Ten's 12 starting quarterbacks.
Armstrong seems to have taken a step forward this year, though. His passer rating is up to 131.45, and his completion percentage has ticked up to 53 percent, with a 10 to 6 touchdown to interception rate. Armstrong has made an impact with his legs, too. So far this year he's averaging about 10 rushes per game (although that number does include sacks), and he's averaging 6.3 yards per carry so far.
But while Armstrong might not be perfect, the Cornhuskers haven't needed him to be more than he is because they have a pretty great running back of their own. Ameer Abdullah broke out on to the scene last year when he rushed for 1,609 yards (6 yards per carry) and scored nine touchdowns, mixing in 232 receiving yards as well.
Abdullah has been even better this year, too. So far he's rushed for 1,250 yards (6.7 yards per carry) and has scored at least one touchdown in every game except for Nebraska's last game against Purdue, when he left early in the first half with a knee injury and didn't return. Reports say that Abdullah is back and practicing this week, though, so the Badgers can expect to have their rush defense tested in a big way this weekend.
As for the rest of Nebraska's passing game it looks like they have a little bit more to work with at the wide receiver position than the Badgers, but not by much. Sophomore Jordan Westerkamp currently leads the team with 600 receiving yards and four touchdowns on 33 receptions, and Kenny Bell is still around as a senior. So far this year he's caught 34 passes for 577 yards, including two touchdowns. Abdullah is the other receiving threat: he's caught 13 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns as well.
Nebraska is also third in the Big Ten with a 45 percent conversion rate on third down, and they've scored touchdowns on 73.8 percent of their redzone trips. Both marks are the best the Badgers will have seen in conference play so far this year.
When Wisconsin has the ball
It would be hard for any Wisconsin fan to forget the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game, where the Cornhuskers gave up 70 points to a one-dimensional offense. But don't let that game color your impression of Nebraska's current defense, because they've taken a step or two forward since the last time these two teams met.
The run defense in particular has been better for the Cornhuskers. They allowed 4.7 yards per rush in 2012 (including the Big Ten Championship Game), but this year they're down to allowing 3.7 yards per carry. That's good enough for fifth in the Big Ten, and for the most part they've been consistent this year. Only Michigan State has topped four yards per carry against Nebraska this year, and it shouldn't surprise you that Nebraska's lone loss this year came to the Spartans.
Nebraska actually boasts some pretty impressive stats when it comes to pass defense. They've limited opposing quarterbacks to a league-best 97.92 passer rating, and a 46.9 percent completion percentage, which is second behind only Wisconsin in the Big Ten.
Overall the Cornhuskers allow 4.83 yards per play, and an opposing success rate of 35.7 percent, the 16th-best rate in the country. Nebraska is also the best in the Big Ten at preventing teams from converting on third down, and allow teams to score a touchdown on 54.1 percent of their redzone trips.
The pick: Wisconsin 31 Nebraska 28
I'll get this out of the way and say that I think Wisconsin's defense is one of the best in the nation, but they haven't faced many good offenses this year. I think the Cornhuskers will find a way to put some points on the board behind Ameer Abdullah, but ultimately I don't think their run defense has improved enough where they'll be able to stop Melvin Gordon and beat the Badgers on the road. If this game was in Lincoln I'd probably go the other way, but as it is I'll take the Badgers this weekend.
The point after:
Wisconsin's safeties coach, Bill Busch, is a Nebraska native and spent four years as an assistant coach with the Cornhuskers from 2004 to 2007, in addition to four other seasons as a Nebraska graduate assistant.
John Veldhuis covers Wisconsin football, basketball and recruiting for BadgerBlitz.com on the Rivals.com network. Follow him on Twitter at @JohnVeldhuis.