Five Burning Questions: Wisconsin Badgers vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers
BadgerBlitz.com brings back its "Five Burning Questions" series for the 2019 season. On Tuesday, we examine a handful of topics before the No. 15 Wisconsin Badgers travel to Lincoln to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
1. How many yards will Jonathan Taylor run for against the Huskers?
In the past two seasons, the junior back -- with help of his offensive line -- has rushed for 470 yards and five touchdowns against this Big Ten West rival. Taylor will come off his season-best 250-yard performance against Iowa, one where he gained 18, 36 and 42 yards on fourth quarter runs -- facing a unit that only allowed 87.8 rushing yards per game entering that divisional battle.
Nebraska comes into Saturday's game allowing 173.7 yards per contest; however when facing Big Ten teams, that average balloons up to about 220 yards per game with big time ground performances from Illinois (221), Ohio State (368), and Minnesota (322).
In what likely will be Taylor's final game against Nebraska, can he and the run game make it a trio of dominant performances?
2. What will we see out of Adrian Martinez and the Nebraska offense?
BadgerBlitz.com already mentioned it already in our 3-2-1 preview on Monday, but it bears asking again -- can the sophomore signal caller regain the production seen last year?
In 2018, Martinez lit up Jim Leonhard's defense inside Camp Randall Stadium for 384 passing yards and two touchdowns through the air while also adding a rushing touchdown.
After completing 65 percent of his throws for over 2,600 yards, rushing for 630 yards and contributing 25 touchdowns (17 passing, eight rushing) as a freshman, this season has been different.
Missing two games due to injury, Martinez has completed over 59 percent of his passes for 1,492 yards with seven touchdowns but six interceptions. For what it is worth, he leads the team in rushing (399 yards).
"They do a lot of quarterback run game," outside linebacker Zack Baun said on Monday. "I think all front five, four or five, will be read on one play or another, so just being patient and understanding that he can make plays and tackling him is going to be big."
3. How will Wisconsin defend J.D. Spielman and Wan'Dale Robinson?
Last season against the Badgers, Martinez found Spielman for nine receptions that resulted in 209 yards and a touchdown.
This season, Spielman has three 100-yard receiving games to his credit, leads the team in receiving yards (689) and averages just under 20 yards per catch. However, he has just one touchdown out of the passing game.
With Spielman hauling in 35 catches, who leads the team in that category? That would be true freshman Wan'Dale Robinson. The first-year Husker has reeled in 40 balls for 453 yards and two scores through the air. He also has rushed for 326 yards but has averaged just 3.8 yards per carry in nine games.
Wisconsin contained Iowa last week to under 300 yards, but the defense did allow a 75-yard touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter. Limiting those chunk plays against this duo of Nebraska standouts will be needed to pull off the road win, especially if Robinson is healthy and plays..
4. Will we see rotation from Wisconsin's offensive line moving forward?
It appeared on Saturday, and based off of Tyler Biadasz's comments after the game and PFF's grades, that Wisconsin did not rotate for its guard positions against the Hawkeyes. Redshirt seniors David Moorman and Jason Erdmann held down the left and right guard spots, respectively.
On Tuesday, I asked offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Joe Rudolph about any rotation on the line, if we would see more Moorman and Erdmann or if it would go week by week.
"It just depends," Rudolph said. "I didn't think the way that it started actually in both halves, we kind of didn't get rolling on the first or second series and so kind of went to kind of keep rolling with that group. If there will be rotation, if it would be within the guards.
"[I] have confidence with the guys that would step in and got confidence with the way that group worked and liked the way they handled things in the game."
5. Can Iowa knock off a top-10 Minnesota squad that would help keep Wisconsin in the Big Ten West race?
Granted, there is one more game after this weekend's contests before the Badgers and Gophers face off in the regular season finale on Nov. 30. However, this Saturday's contest between No. 23 Iowa and No. 7 Minnesota will be the most likely chance to hang an "L" on P.J. Fleck's squad before the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe resumes (sorry, Northwestern).
The loss to Illinois on Oct. 19 drastically altered Wisconsin's season. If the Badgers win out, they need some help from either the Hawkeyes or the Wildcats in the next two Saturdays to make that late November showdown become the de facto Big Ten West division championship game.
Emotions were high inside TCF Stadium on Saturday during Minnesota's upset of Penn State, which was ranked No. 4 in the initial College Football Playoff rankings. Will that momentum continue with a trip to Iowa City that has been host to some close contests with Top 5 teams? In 2017, the Hawkeyes nearly pulled off the upset against No. 4 Penn State before the Nittany Lions scored a last second, game winning touchdown. Five games later, Kirk Ferentz's squad knocked off No. 3 Ohio State in a 55-24 rout of Urban Meyer's squad.
Will there be some more magic within Kinnick Stadium on Saturday?