The Wisconsin Badgers (5-5) will take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-7) in Lincoln on Saturday. Two interim coaches will battle it out The Badgers are currently on the cusp of earning bowl eligibility under coach Jim Leonhard with a victory over the Huskers.
Can Wisconsin Solidify a Bowl Appearance?
The Badgers are projected to make the Guaranteed Rate Bowl against Oklahoma, per CBS Sports. A win over Nebraska this Saturday will give the Badgers their sixth win, which would qualify the Badgers for a bowl.
Wisconsin is coming off a 24-10 loss to Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. The Badgers only managed to gain 51 yards on 31 carries and fumbled four times. The Badgers recorded three turnovers, including a 32-yard interception return touchdown. Graham Mertz and the offense struggled against a top defense in Iowa, but Wisconsin hopes to bounce back this week.
The Cornhuskers still need to play Iowa next Friday at Kinnick Stadium. The Huskers have three wins, and they would need to win both games to potentially make a bowl. Due to the new bowl rules, 6-6 or better teams automatically receive a bowl appearance. After that, 5-7 teams will be considered to fill the remaining bowls.
Badgers Must Utilize the Run Game
The Badgers have had offensive success this year when they are able to set the run. Braelon Allen has the ability to burst past the defense at any time, and Isaac Guerendo and Chez Mellusi have also been effective. Allen has recorded 1029 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. Allen has rushed for less than 100 yards in a game only four times this season, with one of them being a 98 yard game against Washington State.
When the Badgers are able to establish the run game it also allows Graham Mertz to perform under less pressure. The Badgers haven’t lost a game this season with 150+ passing yards and 80+ rushing yards. Mertz has struggled when the rushing game has worked like the games against Michigan State and Maryland. Gaining yards on the ground against a struggling Nebraska defense.
Holding Onto the Ball Critical for Badgers
The Nebraska Cornhuskers have had their share of turning the ball over this year. The Huskers have turned the ball over 18 times while forcing 11 turnovers on defense. 13 of their turnovers have been interceptions from quarterbacks Casey Thompson and Chubba Purdy. Thompson, the Texas transfer, has dealt with elbow injuries and inconsistent blocking this season but hopes to play Saturday.
Will #Huskers QB Casey Thompson play on Saturday?
"Yes, I mean, unless he wakes up tomorrow and says, 'My whole elbow is numb,' OK? Yeah, he's going to play." pic.twitter.com/4bDhpzTkG7
— Hail Varsity (@HailVarsity) November 17, 2022
The Huskers are nearly bound to turn the ball over. Between their offensive line’s inconsistent play and the chaotic nature of their offense, holding onto the ball hasn’t been their strong suit. The Badgers defense, on the other hand, has forced 15 interceptions, four forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. Along with the turnovers created, the Badgers defense also has 25 sacks on the year. The Badgers defense should have a field day, but the offense will need to limit their turnovers as well.
The loss to Iowa is largely defined by an inability to hold onto the ball. The Badgers lost by two touchdowns to the new-found Iowa offense because of the extra drives the Hawkeyes had. The Badgers have only won once this year when Graham Mertz has an interception, which came against New Mexico State. When the Badgers are able to maintain control, they can stay competitive and win games.