When the Badgers have the ball
Freshman running back Braelon Allen showed he was ready for lead-back responsibilities last week with his 173-yard, three-touchdown performance against Northwestern. The Wildcats’ defense was one of the worst in the country at stopping the run, but Allen has a stiffer test coming against Nebraska. The Cornhuskers rank 39th in the FBS and seventh in the Big Ten allowing 132.5 yards rushing per game.
Nebraska will be playing its first game of the season without linebacker JoJo Domann, who’s out for the season with a hand injury. Domann was third on the team in tackles with 72 and had nine tackles for loss, including three sacks. He also had two picks and two forced fumbles. Linebackers Luke Reimer (96 tackles), Nick Henrich (87 tackles) and Garrett Nelson (45 tackles, 10½ for loss) will be tasked with slowing down Allen.
UW quarterback Graham Mertz and the passing game have found a rhythm in the past three weeks, adding balance to the offense and improving the team’s ability to convert third downs. UW has converted 46.2% of third downs the past three games and 28.4% the rest of the season. If Mertz can continue moving the chains and avoiding turnovers, UW’s offense should be in good shape against Nebraska’s pass defense, which ranks ninth in the Big Ten (230.6 yards per game allowed).
When Nebraska has the ball
Nebraska’s offense starts and stops with quarterback Adrian Martinez. When he’s good, the Cornhuskers are tough to stop because he can challenge the defense deep with his arm while also taking advantage of space underneath by scrambling. Martinez is Nebraska’s leading rusher (50.2 yards per game) and passer (251.2 ypg) this season.
However, when he’s bad, it often means turnovers and big plays the other way. Martinez has thrown eight interceptions and has lost three of his seven fumbles this season. Martinez has had success against UW before, averaging 375 total yards of offense and 2.5 total touchdowns in two matchups.
UW defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said the 2019 game against Nebraska opened his eyes to some adjustments the Badgers needed on defense, and he said he believes the group is better-equipped to contain Martinez this season.
Samori Toure, a transfer from Montana, leads Nebraska in every receiving category (33 catches, 718 yards, four TDs). UW was also in pursuit of Toure on the transfer market. Running back has been a weak spot, with Rahmir Johnson leading that group with 495 yards on 112 carries. Tight end Austin Allen (29 catches, 404 yards, two TDs) is a difficult matchup on size alone — the junior is 6 foot 9 and 255 pounds.
The Badgers have been creating turnovers at a high rate during their win streak. Their 17 takeaways are the most of any Power Five team over that six-game span.
Nebraska’s field-goal kicking has been a consistent weakness this season, and coach Scott Frost said Monday there wasn’t much he could do to ensure his kickers are ready psychologically to perform. Connor Culp (6 of 12) and Chase Contreraz (2 of 4) are a combined 6 for 11 on field goals under 40 yards.
The Cornhuskers, like the Badgers, haven’t produced much in the return games.
UW’s Andy Vujnovich is fifth in the Big Ten with an average punt of 45.4 yards and 11 of his 42 punts this year have gone for 50-plus this season.
Edge: Slightly Wisconsin
UW’s six-game winning streak is tied for second-longest under coach Paul Chryst. He is 5-0 against Nebraska since becoming UW’s coach, with the average score in those games being 32.4-20.
Mertz has thrown for more than 210 yards in back-to-back games for the first time in his career.
Frost is 0-5 at Nebraska the week following an open date, with one of those losses coming to UW in 2019. The Cornhuskers are on a four-game losing streak; the program has had a losing streak of at least four games in three of the four years Frost has coached.