This is an extensive analysis because 1) it’s Wisconsin and 2) this is the ‘next’ ‘most’ important game of the season. After this weekend there should be at least three teams and possibly four with two conference losses – Iowa (0-2), Northwestern (0-1 playing Penn St), Illinois (0-1 playing Iowa) and Minnesota (0-1 vs Purdue 0-1). A win puts Nebraska at 3-0 which is a big deal with possibly 4 teams with 2 conference losses this early in the season. Offense Wisconsin runs a heavy pro; double WR single back set but will also run a lot of i-formation. They also go double TEs and will run some pre-snap movement with a huddle – first opponent in six games to do so. At QB, Hornibrook (#12, 6’4” 215) is a fairly mobile lefty but won’t run unless pressured. Uses a 3 to 5-step drop with a tendency to go zombie-mode looking for a receiver. He plays within the offense; decision-making is solid which is evident in that he’s ranked 5th in the country for efficiency. His other tendency is to throw the high ball which is a double-edged sword. RBs: Taylor (#23, 5’11” 215) reminds me a lot of Ozigbo; runs hard with minimal wasted movement and has a knack to get through the scrum at the line. Shaw (#7, 6’1” 220) had some good runs in last year’s game; James (#5, 5’10” 220) is a target coming out of the backfield. Wisconsin dots the “i”, thus the FB plays, blocks very well and carries the ball some and releases and becomes a receiving target. WRs: Excellent edge blockers; run good routes and are solid receivers. They find the open spots and have the speed to stretch the field and are solid after the catch but like Nebraska, have had some silly drops in the first few games. The fastest WR (Peavy) caught balls in last year’s game but hasn’t produced much this year. The leading receiver is Fumagalli (TE) but didn’t play last week (hamstring) and is doubtful for Saturday. Hams can be a tough hurt but if he plays and is healthy expect him to be targeted at least 8 to 10 times. Back-ups are Penniston and Neuville but are not in the same league as Fumagalli but can be effective. OL: Strong but not at the level as last year. 6 of 10 on the 2-deep are freshman and sophomores and no seniors. OL gets a big assist from its TEs and the H-backs and are all solid run blockers. In passing plays they create a nice pocket but teams have been able to apply some pressure. Some of their technique can be lacking at times but they’re young and it shows. They have made some dumb mistakes, penalties and show frustration on double edge stunt pressure but are good and are learning and will be the best OL Nebraska will have seen to date. Defense Wisconsin runs a 3-4 and is extremely disciplined in their assignments, space recognition and outside contain with solid tackling. They don’t have lights-out speed but are rarely out of position. Front 7: The DL is quick and athletic with strong motors and don’t wear down easily. Along with the LBs, they are solid; very disciplined and quick to the edge. They disguise a lot of looks and sometimes put 7 or 8 guys in the box because they trust their DBs. They have a great understanding for the flow of the play and are quick to react. So, rarely will you see a single defender tackling a ball carrier because it’s usually 3 or 4. 12 of 14 on the 2-deep are juniors and seniors so they’ve played in the big games. DBs: These are not 4 and 5-star guys but they have good speed, recognition and excellent hips. Fluid hips can be the difference between a 1-star turning and running in stride with a WR vs a 4-star DB that only has straight-line speed and getting smoked off the line. Corners will sneak up and come in on delayed blitz packages. Special Teams The kicker hit the winner two years ago; is solid and puts it where it’s needed. The punter is OK but I saw a couple of things with their punt block scheme and its personnel. Nebraska may take a shot at the punter if the opportunity presents itself and if they see what I see and work on it. My guess is the Wisconsin coaching staff will fix it. Haven’t seen much in the return game so Brown and Lightbourn need to keep booming it. Attacking Wisconsin The offense needs to find a rhythm; identify weaknesses, run the ball, hold on to the ball and not be discouraged by short gains. Decker and Lee need to be cognizant of the defensive alignment and communicate because Wisconsin shows a lot of different looks. Last year Nebraska WRs and TEs were running open all over the field – same defense this year so the #1 assignment for WRs: run crisp routes and catch the ball. Lee needs to be relaxed and make safe & smart throws. The OL needs to be stout in run blocking and pass pro and Lee needs to be cognizant of overloads and the direction of the pressure. Langsdorf needs to stay within the plan and bring in an extra blocker or two to help loosen up the defense. If something is working… continue but mix it up some but don’t get cute or have Lee launching “yolo” balls. Setting up the run with short 1 to 3 step drops (quick) pass plays is key to get Lee going but he needs to pay attention to the DBs disguising coverage and LBs sliding out on bubble screens and slants. Nebraska needs at least 60% on 3rd conversions. Defending Wisconsin This is the blood bath I’m excited to watch because it should be true blue football. Wisconsin’s offense is heavy oriented with a lot of running and play action. Early on I would bring two LBs down on the edges; show 5 and put the CBs in press coverage; attack with 4; disguise blitz package slam the run and force them to throw. Apply enough pressure on the QB and he will make mistakes. Sacks are nice but his habit of throwing high will turn into an INT. Wisconsin runs huddle which will help Nebraska rotate the DLs to keep them fresh. LBs need to be downhill on running plays but must pay attention to play-action and not get locked up on TEs, HBs and allow themselves to be taken out of the play. CBs need to get off blocks and help with outside run contain… can’t stress this enough. Defensive recognition needs to be sharp. When Wisconsin is in the “i” the tendency is the FB’s pre-snap movement (slight right or left) which usually dictates direction of the play. Downside is being lulled into thinking “direction” every time and Wisconsin will run counter, misdirection and play action. When Wisconsin lines up heavy in the double-wing and a single RB it’s “usually” a run off guard or tackle. If Nebraska lapses in their assignment discipline and gets caught up in thinking it’s run all the way, Wisconsin will go play-action so the safeties need to stay smart. They’re called “safeties” for a reason. Their OL has some weaknesses and I expect to see designed counter roll-outs to get the QB away from strong-side pressure so weak-side contain needs to stay awake. If Wisconsin gets into a 3rd and long (12 yards or more) on their side of the 50, they go conservative with a run or throw underneath. The idea is to not exacerbate the situation and put their defense in a bad spot. If it’s 3rd and long inside the opponent’s 50 they will take a few more chances but not many. The Final Nebraska matches up very well against Wisconsin with strength and speed. The first team with a pulse (Northwestern) gave them a few gut shots and exposed some things but Wisconsin did what it was supposed to do – win. Nebraska needs to win the turnover battle; minimize penalties; stay relaxed and win the time-of-possession and control field position; so special teams could be huge. Simple skinny… stop the run and make them one-dimensional. If Wisconsin establishes the run, chews up yards and clock then demoralize the defense with play action it will be a long night. Stop/contain the run; put them in obvious throwing situations and maintain assignment and space discipline. Offense needs a continuation from Illinois; simple execution and stay with the small ball; play smart and hang on. Nebraska 27-17.