Nebraska returns to UW with first place up for grabs

first_imgFootball head coach Gary Andersen has never led Wisconsin in a game against Nebraska and his first matchup with the Cornhuskers might be the biggest game of his tenure so far at UW.The Badgers biggest game of the season and Andersen’s first game against Nebraska will come this Saturday afternoon when No. 22 Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) and No. 11 Nebraska (8-1, 4-1 Big Ten) meet for the first time since Wisconsin’s 70-31 trampling of the Huskers in the 2012 Big Ten Title Game.Nebraska enters as the highest ranked team Wisconsin has faced at home since the Badgers last played the Huskers in Madison, when the teams were ranked seventh and eighth in the nation, respectively. With both teams tied atop the Big Ten West Division standings along with Minnesota, Saturday will have big implications on which team will represent the West Division in Indianapolis in the Big Ten Championship.But the game will also play a factor in personal accolades as well, with two of the top Heisman candidates and running backs in Wisconsin’s redshirt junior Melvin Gordon and Nebraska’s senior Ameer Abdullah. Abdullah enters Saturday’s game after suffering a left knee injury in the Huskers’ last game against Purdue Nov. 1, yet head coach Bo Pelini expects his starting running back to play Saturday. Gordon, meanwhile, comes into the big matchup having rushed for 150 yards or more in five of the last seven contests, including 200 or more in three of those games.Despite a head-to-head Heisman matchup for Gordon, he assured that he is focused on the outcome of the game and not what effects it could have on individual accolades.“No, I’m not thinking about that even though I know there will be questions like that asked,” Gordon said. “I’m just focused on winning the game, to be honest. This is one of the tougher teams on our side of the [conference], so that’s the main focus, going out there and just trying to do what we need to do to win this ball game.”On the flip side, Abdullah has rushed for 1,250 yards this season, with four games of more than 200 yards on the ground. But along with his presence in the backfield, the senior also poses a threat in the receiving game and has caught at least one pass in six of nine games this season.If Abdullah is healthy enough to go Saturday, Andersen pointed to his various attributes that could make him a handful for the Wisconsin defense.“He cuts on a dime. He’s fast, he’s quick, he’s physical, catches the ball well, all that stuff,” Andersen said. “He’s a talented, talented young man and all the accolades that is talked about him having and that he’s received in the past are definitely warranted. He’s a tremendous back and the receivers are very, very good.”However, Wisconsin’s defense has played some of its best games of the season over the course of the last several weeks. Since giving up 28 points to Illinois a little more than a month ago, the Badgers haven’t allowed more than one touchdown in any of the last three games, sacrificing just 23 points in the process.But Saturday will be a different test for the Badgers as they face their best Big Ten offense to date. Nebraska ranks as the third best offense in the conference in terms of both total yards and points per game, averaging close to 500 yards and more than 40 points per game this year. Of those 500 yards, Abdullah contributes about 150 of those.Abdullah, however, isn’t the only opponent the Badgers will have to watch out for. Nebraska sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., who averages just more than 200 yards through the air, will test the Badgers’ secondary for one of the few times all season. The last time Wisconsin faced one of the Big Ten’s better quarterbacks, Northwestern’s senior Trevor Siemian exploited Wisconsin’s weaknesses over the middle throughout the game for 182 yards. But as the top defense in the nation in terms of yards allowed, Wisconsin will have high expectations come Saturday.The Wisconsin offense will also face one of its toughest tests of the season against the Nebraska defense. The Huskers have allowed the third fewest points in the conference with just less than 20 per game, and one of their biggest strengths lies in their defense.“That’s probably some of the best D-linemen we’ll go up against this year,” Gordon said. “Not only are they big, but they’re fast and strong as well. Those guys, you don’t really get too many creases. They don’t allow too many and when they do, the linebackers are really in position to stop anything from happening.”Wisconsin will count on Gordon to have success offensively, but the Badgers will need a strong performance from both quarterbacks if they hope to pick apart the Huskers. The good news for UW is that starter redshirt junior Joel Stave is coming off his best game of the season against Purdue where he threw for 219 yards and a pair of touchdowns.The Badgers have developed into a more consistent offensive team over the last several weeks with the two-quarterback system of Stave and redshirt junior Tanner McEvoy becoming much more fluent. But regardless of how much McEvoy and Stave split the reps Saturday, they will need Stave at his best to continue the consistent offensive trend.“I do think we are a stronger team. We’re hitting on all cylinders,” Gordon said. “Those guys are gaining confidence in themselves. It’s always shaky at the beginning of a season with the chemistry. You guys know how that goes. It takes some games for everyone to get on the same page and I feel like we’re really starting to click.”With one of the bigger home games of recent memory, Wisconsin will find out if it’s truly clicking Saturday afternoon. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. from Camp Randall Stadium.last_img

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