While Nebraska (3-7) has officially been eliminated from bowl contention, two games remain against Big Ten foes, including Saturday’s game against Wisconsin (5-5). The Huskers have a chance to send their seniors off with a win in their final home game, while also potentially hurting the Badger’s chances at a bowl game in the process.
Nebraska Team Preview
According to interim head coach Mickey Joseph, the Huskers will trot out junior quarterback Casey Thompson on Saturday. Thompson has had a solid year, with 2023 passing yards despite missing two and a half games this year. On the flip side, the 12-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio doesn’t look good. There’s no denying, however, that Nebraska’s offense is exponentially better with Thompson starting at quarterback than anybody else on the roster. Both freshman Chubba Purdy and sophomore Logan Smothers have struggled mightily this year for the Huskers in place of the injured Thompson, as they both combined have only 208 passing yards and no passing touchdowns through the three games they have played in. Purdy is out for the rest of the season with a high ankle sprain, so Smothers would get the start for Nebraska if Thompson is unable to play.
Junior Anthony Grant has been the workhorse in the backfield for Nebraska, as he has 880 rushing yards on 188 carries. He has also had a nose for the endzone all year, with six touchdowns on the season, which leads all skill position players on the roster for the Huskers. Even with how productive Grant has been, Michigan completely took him out of last week’s game, as he only had 22 rushing yards last week.
The star of the show for the Huskers all year has been junior wide receiver Trey Palmer. Palmer’s 58 receptions and 831 receiving yards are both the fourth most in the Big Ten, and he is only two receptions and one receiving yard behind third. combine that with his five touchdowns, and Palmer has had a magical year for the Huskers. He even broke Nebraska’s single-game receiving record with 237 yards against Purdue this season.
The Blackshirt defense has been a major problem all season for Nebraska. While they have improved throughout the year, they are still giving up 29.9 points a game, which is ranked 99th in the nation. The focus for the defense is going to be stopping the run game. They allowed Michigan running back Blake Corum to rush for 162 yards and a touchdown last week, although his longest run of the day was only for 12 yards.
Wisconsin Team Preview
Nebraska once again faces off against a Big Ten team that relies heavily on the run game. Wisconsin star sophomore running back Braelon Allen has been very efficient this year, rushing for 1029 yards on 189 carries, averaging 5.4 yards a carry. He’s done this while also scoring 10 touchdowns on the year. However, we’ve seen Allen struggle before, as Iowa held Allen to just 2.4 yards per carry in the Badger’s loss against Iowa last week.
Wisconsin junior quarterback Graham Mertz has had a rough season so far, as he enters this week with an 18-8 touchdown-to-interception ratio while throwing for only 188 yards a game. Mertz’s struggles continued in their last game against Iowa, as he completed just 16 of his 35 passes for 176 yards. He also threw two interceptions, one resulting in a pick-six.
Wisconsin has a go-to wide receiver of their only just like the Huskers do with Palmer. Junior Chimere Dike has 39 receptions for 601 yards for an average of 15.4 yards per catch. He did this while also recording six receiving touchdowns on the season, which is tied for the fourth most in the Big Ten.
While Wisconsin’s offense isn’t lighting the world on fire, their defense has been solid this year. Junior outside linebacker Nick Herbig and senior safety John Torchio lead a Badger defense that only allows only 20.9 points a game, which is ranked 27th in the nation. They were able to get to the quarterback six times in their last game, so Nebraska’s offensive line will be tested mightily this week.
Nebraska’s Keys to Victory
- The Huskers must stop the Badger’s run game. Nebraska is 0-6 when allowing teams to run for more than 175 yards.
- Protect the quarterback. The Huskers allowed 2 sacks last week and will have to do an even better job this week protecting whoever starts at quarterback. Speaking of that….
- A healthy Casey Thompson. Nebraska was beating a ranked Illinois team 9-6 before Thompson went down. Nebraska’s slim chances of winning Saturday will dwindle even more if Logan Smothers starts for the injured Thompson.
- Get pressure on Mertz. Wisconsin is 0-5 when they don’t connect on at least 60% of their passes. If Nebraska can throw Mertz off his game, they have a good chance of winning.
- Get Palmer going. Palmer, who was at one point leading the nation in receiving yards, has been very quiet in recent weeks. He’s only caught 11 passes for 50 yards since his big game against Purdue. While quarterback troubles have been the main culprit, Nebraska still needs to find a way to get Palmer going.
Score Prediction: Wisconsin 24, Nebraska 17
This prediction is contingent on Thompson’s health. While I do think it will be a close game, the Huskers are going to struggle to contain Wisconsin’s run game in the same way they did against Illinois and Michigan. That will be the inevitable downfall of Nebraska’s final home game of the season. But maybe the Huskers and head coach Mickey Joseph will surprise me, we will have to see.