The teams: The No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers (4-0, 1-0) vs the Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-2, 2-0)
The time: 7 p.m. CDT, Saturday
The place: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
The TV coverage: BTN with Kevin Kugler and Matt Millen in the booth, and Lisa Byington on the sideline.
The last time: Dare Ogunbowale ran for 120 yards and the game-winning touchdown in overtime as the Badgers beat Nebraska 23-17 at Camp Randall Stadium last October.
The series: Wisconsin leads 7-4
The line: Wisconsin -11.5
The Badgers injury report:
TE Troy Fumagalli (leg)
DE Isaiahh Loudermilk (leg)
K P.J. Rosowski (leg)
RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
DE Chikwe Obasih (knee)
WR George Rushing (leg)
LB Jack Cichy (knee)
LB Zack Baun (foot)
RB Sam Brodner (knee)
LB Mason Stokke (leg)
THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
1) Claim the West
There is still plenty of football to be played, but the winner of Saturday night’s game will grab the inside track to the Big Ten West title, and that’s especially true of Wisconsin. While Nebraska still has games against Ohio State and a road trip to Penn State, this has the potential to be the toughest road game left on the Badgers schedule. Get by this one, hold serve at home against Iowa and Michigan, and Wisconsin will put itself in position to be a legitimate College Football Playoff contender.
2) The real Alex Hornibrook
Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s numbers are very good. He leads the Big Ten in pass efficiency, ranks second in completion percentage and already has as many touchdowns this year (9) as he had all of last year. But he’s also been a little shaky at times, specifically after making a mistake. Coach Paul Chryst said after last week’s win, in which the sophomore quarterback threw one touchdown but also two interceptions, that Hornibrook needs to trust what he’s seeing and let it rip. The Badgers have been able to overcome the inconsistency so far, but the margin shrinks on the road in Big Ten play.
3) The Blackshirts are back?
It took 1 1/2 games, but it appears Nebraska’s defenders are warming up to the new 3-4 scheme that Bob Diaco brought with him when the Huskers made him the highest-paid assistant in school history this offseason. After giving up 42 points in the first half at Oregon, Diaco’s defense has allowed just two touchdowns since then, including keeping Illinois out of the end zone last week. The big question, though, is whether that’s a product of good defense or subpar offenses? Wisconsin will figure out the answer to that question one way or the other on Saturday night.
4) Bringing the pressure
Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson got acquainted with the Wisconsin defense last week to the tune of eight sacks — the most for the Badgers since 2001. Hitting those numbers again this week aren’t likely, but Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee can expect plenty of people in his face. And as opposed to Thorson, who could pull the ball down and run a little bit, Lee is not mobile. It would be a surprise if the Huskers don’t find a way to get the ball out of Lee’s hand quickly or run some draws and screens to try and slow Wisconsin’s rush.
5) Walking into a hornet’s nest
Nebraska doesn’t lose home games at night. The Huskers have won 20 straight games at night in Memorial Stadium, and the environment, like it is at Camp Randall Stadium, changes when the lights come on. Add in the fact Wisconsin is No. 9 in the country, is a double-digit favorite and the mounting pressure on coach Mike Riley to deliver a marquee win, and the Badgers should expect a scene unlike most of the players on the team have dealt with before. It’ll be key for Wisconsin to buck its trend of slow starts and not give Nebraska any extra energy in a stadium that will already be full of it.
NUMBERS TO CONSIDER
— Nebraska is a double-digit underdog at home for the first time since 2008 against Missouri. The Huskers lost that game 52-17.
— Despite missing the Northwestern game, tight end Troy Fumagalli leads the team in targets, catches (15), yards (236) and is tied for the lead in touchdowns (3).
— Wisconsin has outscored Nebraska by 110 points in their six meetings since the Huskers entered the Big Ten in 2011.
Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 27, Nebraska 20 (4-0 on the season, 3-1 against the spread)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 31, Nebraska 13 (4-0 on the season, 2-2 against the spread)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 28, Nebraska 13 (4-0 on the season, 2-2 against the spread)