Wisconsin is used to spoiling Nebraska's season; will 2016 be any different?
Looking back, it was a fitting introduction to the B1G.
Nebraska came into Camp Randall with all sorts of expectations. Entering conference play in 2011, the Huskers were ranked No. 8 and hoped to begin a run to the BCS National Championship. College GameDay was in Madison that day. Brent Musburger and Kirk Herbstreit were on hand to call the primetime showdown for the new B1G battle.
But instead of catapulting Nebraska into the elite level, the trip to Wisconsin served as a humbling reality check. Some guy named “Russell Wilson” threw all over the Husker secondary, and by the fourth quarter, it was a party in Madison.
Nebraska’s first B1G game was a sign of things to come. The Huskers’ expectations always seem to be at their highest entering the Wisconsin game, only to have them fall flat after 60 crushing minutes of football. Wisconsin is the hurdle that Nebraska hasn’t been able to clear since joining the B1G.
Saturday, all eyes are on the Huskers in what will be their first true test of the year. Wisconsin will determine whether or not Nebraska is a contender. Undefeated, yes, but once again, their hopes will depend on getting past the Badgers.
Will Nebraska finally leave Wisconsin in the dust? Or are the Huskers in for another deflating defeat? The goal is to change that narrative on Saturday, and ultimately, keep the College Football Playoff dreams alive.
History doesn’t determine future results. That’s a good thing for Nebraska because the history against Wisconsin is about as bad as it gets.
Five times, the two teams met. Four of those five times, Wisconsin came out on top. In three of those four defeats, Nebraska was ranked with B1G title hopes. Last year’s meeting was the only time that neither team was in the top 25.
But of course, Wisconsin got a second chance at a game-winning field goal and dropped Nebraska to 0-2 in the B1G for the first time since joining the conference. One could argue that the previous three losses had already done plenty to crush Nebraska’s 2015 season. Fine. Wisconsin still drove a dagger through it.
At least that game came down to a last-second field goal, unlike their previous meeting. “The Melvin Gordon game” is a sensitive subject for Nebraska fans. In their defense, not many people enjoy watching their team let up 408 (!) rushing yards to ONE person.
While that didn’t technically eliminate the Huskers from the B1G West crown, they ultimately lost control of their own destiny and watched the Badgers march past them to Indianapolis.
Not every regular season meeting with Wisconsin was a humiliating loss. Remember in 2012 when Taylor Martinez rallied the Huskers back from down 17 to win in Lincoln? There was a feeling that the Huskers got revenge after the 2011 embarrassment in Madison. Even though they had to see them again in the B1G Championship, the Huskers were confident going into Indy.
Then Wisconsin hung 70.
So if you think about it, Wisconsin ruined Nebraska’s conference title bid four of five seasons since joining the B1G. And with the exception of 2015, it usually comes down to the rushing battle.
|2011 in Madison
|2012 in Lincoln
|2012 (B1G Championship)
|2014 in Madison
|2015 in Lincoln
The same figures to be true again on Saturday. Neither team wants their quarterbacks put in third-and-longs. Both would much rather chip away with 15-play drives and wear down the opposing defense.
Nebraska is a different team than the group that was out-rushed by a combined 812-277 in two trips to Madison. Corey Clement — while talented — isn’t Gordon. Alex Hornibrook — while promising — isn’t Wilson.
Perhaps more importantly, Mike Riley isn’t Bo Pelini.
Pelini’s teams had a tendency to spiral out of control when things didn’t go their way. In Pelini’s four B1G seasons, Nebraska lost 11 games by 11 points or more.
That hasn’t happened once since Riley took over.
Sure, the Huskers lost games they should’ve won, but they haven’t lost by more than 10 points in Riley’s 20 games as coach. Nebraska hasn’t suffered through “Build Me Up Buttercup” in the final minutes of a blowout loss.
Does that mean the Huskers will keep it close on Saturday? It’s not a given, but this team has more discipline than it did in years past.
If Tommy Armstrong starts throwing off his back foot into double coverage, it won’t be close. If Nebraska deviates from the ground-and-pound game plan that fueled a 7-0 start, it could get ugly. The Badger defense is capable of exposing an offense unlike any unit the Huskers have seen in 2016.
Wisconsin made a yearly tradition of exposing Nebraska. From their struggles to stop a power running game to their inability to close out a game, the Badgers have been the Huskers’ kryptonite.
If Nebraska wants to finally get back to the place it hasn’t been in the post-Tom Osborne era, it has to accomplish something that’s looked all but impossible since that B1G opener in 2011 — get out of Camp Randall with a win, maintain control of their B1G destiny and end the narrative once and for all.
That’s always so much easier said than done.