Although the final tally for the “Freedom Trophy” is a lopsided one, there has been no shortage of drama recently in the rivalry between Wisconsin and Nebraska. The eighth-ranked Badgers will attempt to seize early control of the Big Ten West division Saturday night when they visit Memorial Stadium in search of their fourth straight victory over the Cornhuskers.
Wisconsin, which is 5-1 in this series since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, used a go-ahead field goal in the game’s final seconds to leave Lincoln with a 23-21 win in 2015, then escaped with a 23-17 triumph in overtime in Madison in 2016 after giving up a 10-point fourth-quarter advantage. The Badgers nearly had to withstand another unlikely comeback in last Saturday’s 33-24 triumph over Northwestern, as Wisconsin was in danger of losing a 21-point fourth-quarter lead before the defense forced a safety with less than a minute remaining. Nebraska has silenced talk about third-year coach Mike Riley’s job security with consecutive conference wins to take an early lead atop the West after a surprising home loss to Northern Illinois but enters the most difficult part of their schedule with No. 9 Ohio State set to visit next week. The Cornhuskers’ resurgence can be attributed in large part to their defense, which has yielded only 23 points in the last 14 quarters.
TV: 8 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network. LINE: Wisconsin -12
ABOUT WISCONSIN (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten): The Badgers rank among the nation’s top 10 in several defensive categories - scoring (13.5 points), rushing (74.3 yards), total (247 yards) and third-down (26.3 conversion rate) - and are coming off a game in which they collected eight of their 16 sacks on the season. Freshman running back Jonathan Taylor paces the conference in rushing yards per game (129.5) and rushing touchdowns (seven) while averaging 7.2 yards per carry for the conference’s second-ranked rushing attack (233.8 yards). Tight end Troy Fumagalli, who leads the team in receptions (15) and receiving yards (236) and tied for the team lead in receiving scores (three) despite missing the Northwestern game, is questionable for Nebraska with a left leg injury.
ABOUT NEBRASKA (3-2, 2-0): After a three-game stretch in which he threw a FBS-high nine interceptions (including three returned for touchdowns), Tanner Lee enjoyed his finest game against Illinois last Friday, going 17-of-24 for 246 yards with three TDs and no interceptions. Leading rusher Tre Bryant (299 yards) has already been ruled out for a third straight game with a knee injury, but Devine Ozigbo has recorded consecutive 100-yard rushing efforts and may be asked to do more as fellow junior running back Mikale Wilbon is nursing an ankle injury. Stanley Morgan Jr. returned from a one-game absence with a career-high eight receptions for 96 yards and a score; he ranks third in the Big Ten in catches (26) and second in receiving yards (395).
1. Nebraska has won 20 straight home night games and six of its past nine matchups against ranked teams overall at Memorial Stadium.
2. Wisconsin allowed 25 rushing yards to Northwestern - its best mark in a Big Ten game since 2008 - and has outscored opponents 98-14 in the second half.
3. The last two meetings between the Badgers and Cornhuskers in Lincoln have been decided by a total of five points.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 27, Nebraska 20