Nebraska Coach Mike Riley will lead the Huskers Saturday against Wisconsin Coach and longtime friend Paul Chryst.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

On Wisconsin: Huskers Sharpen Their Focus

By NU Athletic Communications

Huskers Host Badgers in Big Ten Home Opener

Olson: Huskers Facing Great Mental Challenge

Nebraska Plans for Physical Wisconsin Offense

Randy York N-Sider

Official Blog of the Huskers

Someone, somewhere, sometime has to say that the best way to measure progress isn’t to look back and see how far you’ve gone, but to look ahead and see how close you are. With that thought foremost in mind, I have a two-word qualifier for the information I’m about to share. Everything included in today’s N-Sider column from Monday’s press conference has met the only criteria that matters moving forward – On Wisconsin!

I’m not talking about the Badgers’ Fight Song when Nebraska hosts Wisconsin for Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. national telecast on ABC and ESPN2 in the outer markets. I’m talking about the physical challenge that Wisconsin presents when it visits Memorial Stadium. When that question about the Badgers' physicality was asked Monday, Nebraska Head Coach Mike Riley was ready to rock instead continuing to roll over every minute detail that cost his Huskers another win in a windy, waning moment last Saturday at Illinois.

“I know the coach there (Paul Chryst) pretty well so I know style-wise how Wisconsin plays,” Riley said. “We’ve played Wisconsin ourselves when I was at Oregon State a few years back. Unfortunately, that was the year they got Russell Wilson. But style-wise and approach-wise, what they did then and what they’ve been doing now appears to be right on track with their Wisconsin identity. They’re going to be physical, so you better be able to handle the run.”

Fortunately, Nebraska is only allowing an average of 85 rushing yards per game, ranking the Huskers third in the Big Ten and 12th nationally against the run.

Kevin Maurice (No. 55 above) played well, but the defensive tackle “will be in a boot for four weeks, so that position is interesting," Riley said. 

Riley: Badgers’ Physical Front Enables Play-Action Success

“They’re going to have some good play-action stuff, whether it’s bootleg out-of-the-pocket stuff or what they do in the backfield with the quarterback faking the run,” Riley said. “That’s their game, so you have to be able to handle it physically upfront and then be sound and in good position in the secondary (with) a lot of double-move deep play-action stuff.”

Talk about friendly foes on opposing sidelines. Both know how reality can bite because they have a long coaching history together. Chryst worked for Riley on two different occasions at Oregon State (as offensive coordinator in 2003 and 2004 after being an assistant coach in 1997 and 1998). He was even on Riley’s coaching staff with the World League’s San Antonio Raiders. 

Talk about Nebraska-Wisconsin ties. Nebraska Director of Athletics Shawn Eichorst was on Wisconsin’s athletics staff under former Husker Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin’s Hall of Fame head football coach and successful athletic director. A linebacker, Alvarez wore a Blackshirt at Nebraska and recently returned to his alma mater to join his 1965 teammates celebrating a 50-year reunion. Alvarez also has coached Wisconsin to three Big Ten Championships and three Rose Bowl wins.

Want another example of interesting NU-WU ties? Wisconsin assistant coaches Ted Gilmore (2005 to 2010) and Joe Randolph (2007) were both members of the Nebraska coaching staff.

Coach Mike Riley on true freshman running back Devine Ozigbo (No. 22 pictured above): “His growth has been good. He’s earned more time.”

A B1G Deal: Winning Team Will Be 1-1, Losing Team 0-2

When both schools dropped their Big Ten season opener last week in games that could have gone either way into the final seconds, Riley was asked about the stark reality for one of these two teams to be 0-and-2. “I thought about it, and I know probably that they have too, so it’s definitely an issue,” Riley said.

The question was asked: Is Nebraska built to go against teams like Wisconsin? “Well, you would hope so,” Riley said. “I think the strength of our team has shown to be defensively upfront, and we’ve been pretty good against the run. (Now) We have to prove it against a team that’s good running the ball and knows how to throw the ball.”

Matching wits with a good friend adds spice to the matchup. “I’m excited about it, and I’m sure Paul is, too,” Riley said. “It’s a pretty unique situation for as long as we’ve known each other.”

The answer will depend on which team philosophically exploits the weaknesses of the other team’s defense. “We’re not going into a game and say, ‘They’re really good at this, so we can do that,’” Riley said while providing a “for instance” to explain his thinking.

After contributing 48 yards of offense at Illinois, Mike Riley said Andy Janovich (No. 35 above) also had "another really good special teams’ game.” 

Huskers Seeking High-Percentage Game Plan of Their Own

“It’s not like ‘Well they’re really good upfront, so we’re not going to run the ball,’” Riley said. “That would be a real mistake for us to make. We’ve established through last night and this morning, what we think are going to be our best base-run that we’re going to emphasize against them. We’ll have our play-action game that goes with that and some, but not too much early-down drop-back passing that we would hope would be high percentage.”

This week, “On Wisconsin” is the criteria for Husker players as well. The feel of a 2-3 team with a 0-1 conference start against a traditional power like Wisconsin “is what it is,” said Nebraska linebacker Chris Weber, who led the Huskers' defense last week with 17 tackles at Illinois.

“We gotta get better and use this week to prepare to play Wisconsin,” Weber said. “They kind of have the same identity. They want to run the football, so that’s something we’re going to have to stop right away. We’re going to find out real quick how good we are at stopping the run.”

When the Badgers resort to play-action, “You have to be disciplined with your eyes to see what you need to see and take care of your coverage,” Weber said. “If you stop the run at first, it’ll be easier to see the play-action.”

Tommy Armstrong Jr. (No. 4 above) on Wisconsin being a rival: “We have to treat it like any other game. Every game in the conference matters.”

Tommy Amstrong: We’ll Be Prepared for Whatever They Throw at Us

Nebraska junior quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. isn’t sure how to describe the difficulty Wisconsin presents on defense. “We have a different playbook this year,” he said. “We’ve seen blitzes; we’re seeing different things. Wisconsin knew our playbook from last year and how to place things because we’ve played them three years in a row with the same offensive playbook.”

Having something different this year is inspiring. “Whatever they throw at us, I’m pretty sure we’re going to be prepared for,” Armstrong said. “We just have to make sure we study film.”

Defensive end Jack Gangwish points to what he calls Wisconsin’s high level of tradition. “They have a great fan base,” he said. “There’s a lot of similarities between Wisconsin and Nebraska, and I think since we’ve been in the Big Ten there’s been a lot of good battles. I think all those things contribute to that hype that surrounds this game.”

Mike Riley, left, and kicker Drew Brown, right, are excited about the punts from Big Ten Special Teams' Player of the Week Sam Foltz (27).

Huskers 3-0 All-Time Versus Wisconsin at Memorial Stadium

Wisconsin leads the all-time series, 5-4, including a 3-1 edge in Big Ten regular-season matchups. The Badgers have won four of the last five meetings, but the Huskers are 3-0 all-time versus Wisconsin in Lincoln.

Nebraska junior Sam Foltz (pictured above), the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week for his remarkable punting performance last weekend, is anticipating a fun game. “It’ll be another Big Ten game, and I’m excited for it,” he said. “You always look forward to playing top competition, and Wisconsin is the type of team you want to go against every year. We’ve won some; we’ve lost some...I’m just excited for Saturday to see the atmosphere. Two hungry teams are going to have to put their best foot forward and try to get a win on Saturday. I’m excited!”

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