Big Ten showdown: No. 11 Wisconsin hosts No. 7 Nebraska
MADISON, Wis. (AP) Nebraska has a prime-time opportunity to silence the doubters.
To do that, the seventh-ranked Cornhuskers must prove themselves on Saturday against a team that has thrived all year long on proving its own detractors wrong.
Tested by a rigorous schedule , No. 11 Wisconsin hopes to topple another top 10 opponent when Nebraska visits raucous Camp Randall Stadium.
''I feel like we're the underdog every week, honestly. We've been getting picked to lose I think probably 75 percent of our games, so we're used to it,'' Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. said.
''I'm pretty sure they probably have us losing (to Wisconsin), but like any other week, we're ready for them,'' Armstrong said.
The leaders of the in the Big Ten West Division, the Cornhuskers (7-0, 4-0) are off to their best start in 15 seasons. But they could use a statement game on the road to pad their playoff resume. Their biggest win was a 35-32 win at home over then-No. 22 Oregon in Week 3.
Otherwise, coach Mike Riley's team has drawn skeptics for closer-than-expected victories against what should have been overmatched opponents.
Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2) knows what it's like to be doubted.
The Badgers have endured a tough schedule that has already included four top 10 teams and a trip to Iowa. Their two losses have come to Michigan and Ohio State by a combined 14 points.
Now the Badgers have to prove themselves yet again. Their tough defense will play its first game without its leading tackler, inside linebacker Jack Cichy , who has a torn pectoral muscle.
''We're still going to need his presence on the sideline,'' outside linebacker Vince Biegel said. ''He was our energy to our defense, we're still going to need him to be that person if we want to get where we want to be at the end of this season.''
With two losses already in conference, the easiest way for Wisconsin to return to the Big Ten title game is to win its final five games, starting with Nebraska.
Other notes and things to watch on Saturday evening:
Besides Cichy, Wisconsin will also be without space-eating nose tackle Olive Sagapolu for a second straight game. But the Badgers have weathered injuries well under coordinator Justin Wilcox.
Ryan Connelly and Leon Jacobs should be capable fill-ins for Cichy. Starting cornerback Derrick Tindal (right leg) has also been cleared after getting hurt last week against Iowa, and there's a chance that the secondary could get a boost with the return of third cornerback Natrell Jamerson. He has been out since Week 2 with a left leg injury.
Nebraska's offense should be replenished with the return of senior receiver Jordan Westerkamp, who has missed two games with a back injury. He has a team-high four touchdown catches.
''We're going to be stronger. I think that our guys can win and make plays, so I feel great about that group,'' Riley said.
The dual-threat Armstrong needs 11 yards of total offense to become the 11th player in Big Ten history to pass 10,000 for his career. He's also 244 yards from setting the school career record for total offense. After missing the Ohio State game and J.T. Barrett because of a foot injury, Biegel is eager to get another shot at stopping a mobile signal-caller.
Credit Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst with coming up with different ways to spice up the offense the last couple weeks. Two weeks ago against Ohio State, the Badgers dusted off the jet sweep with receiver Jazz Peavy and got good results. Last week against Iowa , Chryst used backup quarterback Bart Houston for a couple series against Iowa.
Houston, who is more mobile than starter Alex Hornibrook, led the Badgers on a touchdown drive. The offensive-minded Chyrst probably has a new wrinkle or two ready for Nebraska, too.
The Badgers have been beset by problems in the red zone, where they have converted on 75 percent of drives inside the 20. They're ranked 112th out of 128th FBS teams. Wisconsin is also looking to clean up fumbles, penalties and other mistakes that slow the offense.
''There's execution and those are things that we've got to own,'' Chryst said, ''and it can be the difference between winning and losing.''
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