Although the University of Wisconsin and the University of Nebraska football teams have met only 10 times in the program’s history, it seems the two teams have a lot of connections with each other.
UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez graduated from Nebraska in 1969. Nebraska Athletic Director Sean Eichorst was an assistant to Alvarez in the Wisconsin athletic department from 2006-11. Most notably, however, is the relationship between Nebraska head coach Mike Riley and UW’s head coach Paul Chryst.
Riley gave Chryst his first full-time coaching job as an assistant with the San Antonio Rough Riders in 1991. Chryst then served as an assistant under Riley at both Oregon State University and the San Diego Chargers for years before taking the offensive coordinator job at UW.
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One can imagine the similarities in play style, especially on the offensive side, that No. 7 Nebraska (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) and No. 11 Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) share due to their coaches’ history together. Both schools use the power-running game to their advantage with the success of the passing game relying on receivers creating space over the middle of the field.
“We hate each other nowadays,” Riley joked on Monday.
Fifth-year senior running back Dare Ogunbowale, who rushed for 117 yards during UW’s 23-21 win at Nebraska last year, said he hasn’t seen much of Nebraska’s offense this season. Still, he’d imagine the relationship Chryst and Riley have had would lead to similar styles on the field.
The two coaches still have a close relationship and talk all the time, Riley said. But come Saturday, he expects some curveballs to come his way from Chryst’s play-calling and he is planning the same.
“We are best friends from way back when I was fortunate to get to know him back in 1991,” Riley said. “[We’ve] coached many years together, loved every minute of it. He’s a great friend, he’s a great coach. I love all my time being able to talk football with him.”
Riley’s first year at Nebraska was painful, going 5-7, with several of those losses coming in the final minute. But this year, the Cornhuskers have turned it around as they roll into Madison with a perfect 7-0 record.
Chryst said Nebraska’s rebound has been made possible by Riley staying true to himself and his even-keeled approach.
“Just in times that I’ve talked to him, he’s stayed the course,” Chryst said. “He doesn’t sound any different … it’s consistent. Last year, how they lost those early games, was pretty unique I think.”
Nebraska’s biggest improvements have come on the defensive side of the ball. The Cornhuskers rank fourth in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense, but still lag behind in passing defense (10th).
“I think you see [improvements] across the board,” Chryst said. “I think they’re playing really good team defense. I think they’ve got good players doing that.”
The Wisconsin defense, even with the loss of inside linebacker Jack Cichy, is no slouch either. The Badgers have the fourth-ranked scoring defense in the country, yielding just 14.3 points per game. Allowing just 102.9 yards per game on the ground, they are also the 10th-ranked rushing defense in college football.
The defense will have to be stout against the Nebraska offense, led by Tommy Armstrong Jr. The senior has thrown 11 touchdowns and five interceptions this season, while adding 380 rushing yards — Armstrong’s scrambling ability is something Wisconsin will definitely need to keep an eye on.
Despite the Cornhuskers’ higher ranking, they enter Saturday’s matchup as a nine-point underdog. Armstrong said Nebraska welcomes it.
“I feel like we’re the underdog every week honestly,” Armstrong said. “We’ve been getting picked to lose I think probably 75 percent of our games, so we’re used to it. It’s exciting for us to go to Wisconsin and play those guys.”
Wisconsin has finally begun to find success in the running game. In the last two games, senior running back averaged 149 yards per game and now averages 102.8 yards per game on the season. Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011, UW has averaged 45.4 points per game against the Cornhuskers.
“They’re going to be a good challenge for us,” redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook said of Nebraska. “We can’t to play them on Saturday.”
Bumbaca’s Prediction: Wisconsin 41, Nebraska 17
Remember how awesome that Melvin Gordon game was back in 2014? Like, really, really awesome. No one on either team will run for 408 yards Saturday, but I can see Wisconsin blowing out the Cornhuskers.
The defense won’t miss a beat without Cichy. Ryan Connelly has more than proved himself as a viable replacement and Leon Jacobs is solid as well. I think the defense will get good pressure on Armstrong, thus creating turnover opportunities.
I can also see Clement breaking out on a national stage. The running game has been building steadily. If there was a time for the offense to explode, it would be now.
Finally, Wisconsin is battle-tested. They got through one of the toughest schedules in the country at 5-2. That’s impressive. Meanwhile, Nebraska’s most impressive wins are a five-point win at Indiana and a three-point win over five-loss Oregon.
Nebraska vs. Wisconsin Cheat Sheet
When: Saturday, Oct. 30, 6 p.m.
Where: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisconsin (80,321)
TV: ESPN (Joe Tessitore, Todd Blackledge, Holly Rowe)
Radio: Sirius/XM 81 (Matt Lepay, Mike Lucas, Mark Tauscher, Patrick Herb)
Series Record: Wisconsin leads 6-4
Series Record in Madison: Wisconsin leads 3-1