Husker legend Johnny Rodgers says No. 8 Stanley Morgan Jr. is one of the best receivers in college football.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Johnny Rodgers Feeling Positive for Wisconsin Game

By Randy York

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Johnny 'The Jet' Rodgers, Nebraska’s first of three Heisman Trophy winners, is downright eager to see the Huskers play Saturday night when they host No. 8 Wisconsin in front of the 358th consecutive sellout crowd inside Memorial Stadium, plus a national television audience on the Big Ten Network.

On Sunday afternoon, Rodgers was feeling positive vibes that help him envision his alma mater beating Wisconsin.“You don’t have to beat Wisconsin physically. You have to beat them mentally,” Rodgers said. “It’s a big challenge against a Top 10 team, but I like our mindset and I think we’ll be up for a big performance.”

Why can Rodgers feel it?

“We lost in overtime last year in Madison,” he pointed out. “We know we have to take one step at a time, and we know that we can run and we can pass. We have the ability to run long or get four or five yards when we really need it. We also have two of the best receivers in the country in De'Mornay Pierson-El and Stanley Morgan Jr.

"It’s a strong challenge, but I think Tanner Lee has learned a lot and adapted well," Rodgers said. "We were questionable early on in the season, but we did not have any turnovers at Illinois, and that’s a huge step mentally. Our defense has played well, and I think our players and coaches are eager to show what they can do.”

Nebraska Coach Mike Riley would second that emotion. Late Sunday afternoon, Riley tweeted this to Husker Nation: “Love the progress made the past two weeks! Coaches and players are dialed in. Time for Wisconsin. Should be an electric atmosphere in front of the best fans in America.”

Former Husker Barry Alvarez Worked Directly with Tom Osborne to Get Nebraska into the Big Ten

One reason why Nebraska-Wisconsin has been an interesting rivalry in the Big Ten Conference’s West Division relates directly to  Barry Alvarez, a former Husker player who became a legendary coach at Wisconsin before becoming the Badgers’ iconic athletic director.

“Husker fans should be glad that Barry was in the Big Ten because he worked directly with Tom Osborne and helped Nebraska join the Big Ten Conference,” Sean Callahan told me Sunday before the countdown begins with Nebraska hosting Wisconsin Saturday night in a nationally televised game on the Big Ten Network.

“Wisconsin’s overall approach is almost identical to what Nebraska did to excel and separate itself from others in college football,” Callahan said. “Barry played for Bob Devaney and copied a system he’d already learned that worked, and he was smart enough never to change it.”

Wisconsin offensive lines are incredibly big in size. “The linemen have in-state roots or live close by in a neighboring state,” Callahan said. “They recruit 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-7 offensive linemen across the state and nearby to build a solid system that helps win conference championships and play in major bowl games. Wisconsin recruits well because they know who they are and they do not change.”

Callahan, the publisher, realizes Wisconsin has doubled the point output in the Badgers’ 5-1 record against the Huskers since Nebraska joined the Big Ten.

“I think Nebraska fans still have nightmares about (quarterback) Russell Wilson (running backs) and Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon,” Callahan said. “The running game formula simplified itself. It enabled Wisconsin to recruit large, if not immense offensive linemen who opened huge holes for the Badgers’ explosive weapons.”

Wisconsin recruiting is different from most of its peers. “Barry Alvarez and Paul Chryst do not care about where they stand in national recruiting rankings,” Callahan said. “They know what they want and they get what they need.”

Living in Wisconsin, a state about three times bigger than Nebraska, “benefits recruiting, especially when they recruit some of the biggest and best linemen in college football every year,” Callahan said.

Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Rodgers says De'Mornay Pierson-El (No. 15 above) is also one of the best receivers in college football. 

First-Team All-America Quarterback Steve Taylor: It’s Time for Huskers to Change Rivalry’s Course

Steve Taylor is among those fully ready and totally prepared to change the course of the Nebraska-Wisconsin football rivalry in the West Big Ten. “Let me start with this,” Taylor told me Sunday. “I like and respect Wisconsin, but I'm a little ticked off with them! Their former head coach and now AD was a player at NU. He's taken our secret winning recipe and our culture to Badger Country and gotten the best of us while using it.

“They’re supposed to be our little sister,” Taylor says with a teasing smile. “Their colors, philosophy and niceness are almost identical to ours. They even added a little spice with some Hip Hop. I find myself cheering for them, but then I realize that that is a ‘W’ on their helmets and not an ‘N’. I want to put them in their place and remind them that I'm the older brother, so get back in line!”

Taylor laughs at himself and uses his sense of humor to cap the only three words that describe what he wants to hear Saturday night inside Memorial Stadium. He wants the loudest roar of Go Big Red ever to remind another NCAA record sellout crowd that no NCAA Division I football team has won more games in the last 50 years than the University of Nebraska, Alvarez’s alma mater.

Hail Varsity Editor Mike Babcock Has Not Lost Faith; Sees Time for Huskers to ‘Just Win, Baby’

Mike Babcock knows odds makers will consider Wisconsin favorites when they visit Lincoln Saturday. “They deserve to be,” said Babcock, who nevertheless decides to take a Marshall McLuhan quote out of context. "There is no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what’s happening," Babcock said. “That could apply in this case, just as it did when Troy upset LSU Saturday night or when Northern Illinois came to Memorial Stadium two weeks ago.”

In realistic terms, “it reflects the joy of college football, even though it wouldn't necessarily apply in all cases,” Babcock said. “Nebraska's defense has been solid and the offense, though inconsistent, has shown flashes. The Huskers have gotten the job done twice in Big Ten play.”

Can the Huskers win a third straight conference game in an electric stadium waiting to exhale against Wisconsin?

Babcock defers to a quote from NFL legend Al Davis: "Just win, baby," he said.

“You never know,” Babcock added. “As the cliché goes, that's why we play the games.”

Tom Shatel: Alvarez Proud to Mirror Bob Devaney Footsteps

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