Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah has scored 19 touchdowns this season, recorded 14 runs of 20 yards or longer and finished four games with more than 200 yards rushing.
Not to mention the threat he presents on kickoff returns.
Abdullah has no problem filling a highlight reel every week, but University of Wisconsin football coach Gary Andersen would be perfectly content with watching the leftovers.
“He has some runs that are even 5- or 6-yard runs where he’s cutting and moving and bobbing and weaving and then being physical at the end of the run that are just as impressive to me as a football coach,” Andersen said. “They’re not going to make the sports highlight reel, but they make a coach’s highlight reel.”
As good as Abdullah has proven to be this season, Andersen and the Badgers’ defense have much more to worry about than Nebraska’s Heisman Trophy candidate Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s rushing ability gives defenses an extra threat to worry about, and the 11th-ranked Cornhuskers (8-1, 4-1 Big Ten Conference) use that to their advantage with a heavy dose of read-option and misdirection plays.
UW defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said Nebraska uses the fly sweep with regularity, and the Cornhuskers will often use that to mislead the defense and run the opposite direction.
“There’s a lot of moving parts,” Aranda said. “You’re not going to be able to sit there and line up and hone in on things. They’re going to make you move and have to be able to see what you need to see on the run.
“We have faced teams that have been that way, but the difference is they don’t have the skill that Nebraska has. So whereas maybe in the past, if we’re late, it’s an 8-, 9-yard gain. Their gains go a long ways.”
Armstrong, a sophomore, has rushed for 571 yards and four touchdowns on 90 carries this season.
The 22nd-ranked Badgers (7-2, 4-1) have played against mobile quarterbacks, but the rest of the Cornhuskers’ skill position players make it difficult to account for everyone when Armstrong has the option to keep the ball.
“The quarterback, when he’s running, you don’t have people to account for him if you’re playing coverage at all,” Aranda said. “That’s where the skill of Nebraska puts you in a bad spot because maybe with some other people we played low safeties and said, ‘We’re going to stop this play.’ You do that with Nebraska, they’ve got speed on the perimeter, so it’s a tough challenge.”
UW could use nose guard Konrad Zagzebski more than ever Saturday.
The fifth-year senior left early in last week’s game at Purdue with a left ankle injury and was seen on the sideline with crutches, but Zagzebski is expected to play against Nebraska.
“It feels good, and we’ll be out there Saturday rolling,” Zagzebski said. “Once I knew it wasn’t broken, I knew I could at least rehab it and get it to a point where I’d be able to play on it.”
The Badgers will need him to take up as many blockers as he can in the middle.
Nebraska averages 280.67 yards per game on the ground, the 10th-best in the country. The next-best team in that category that the Badgers have played this season is 29th-ranked LSU.
It will likely be the biggest test of the season for a Badgers team ranked first nationally in total defense and fifth in rushing defense.
“Nebraska presents some different challenges,” UW linebacker Vince Biegel said. “We’re going to have our work cut out for us, but I think we’ve got a great game plan going into (the game). We’ve got some different things to throw at them, so we’re excited come Saturday.”
From the infirmary
Andersen said Thursday that he expects fullback Derek Watt to play against Nebraska.
The redshirt junior sat out last week after feeling tightness in his quad during pre-game warmups.
Andersen also said redshirt freshman offensive lineman and Madison West graduate Aidan McNamara, who suffered a leg injury in Wednesday’s practice, will be out the rest of the season but should be healthy for spring practice.