On Oct. 25, Nebraska linebackers coach Trent Bray was asked if any of his players have told him about what happened when the Huskers invaded Madison in 2014.
“To be honest, I don’t want to know and I don’t care,” he said. “It’s all about who we are now and where we are now, then going up there and getting it done.”
Big Red fans and likely Big Ten fans in general remember that Nebraska hasn’t fared very well when going up against the Badgers, especially in Camp Randall Stadium. Why mention 2014? That game is known as “Route 408” in Lincoln. Melvin Gordon made the Blackshirts look pathetic. You’ll still hear the occasional “Melvin Gordon’s still scoring…” joke made around Husker circles.
However, that was two years and a coaching staff ago. Gordon is now a San Diego Charger.
Last year, Nebraska came oh so close to handing Wisconsin a loss in Lincoln. A 46-yard field goal by kicker Rafael Gaglianone denied the Huskers in the final seconds. Another case of shoulda, coulda, woulda for the snake-bitten 2015 squad.
This year, the stakes are different. Nebraska is 7-0 instead of 2-4 and a Big Ten West championship is still within reach for both teams. However, should the Huskers go into Madison, defy the odds and one-up the Badgers, Wisconsin’s chances of heading to Indianapolis to face the East’s best essentially go up in smoke since the Badgers already have two conference losses.
Few people outside of those wearing Nebraska t-shirts, polos and lapel pins think that will happen. Nebraska’s offensive line is a documented hodgepodge of injured starters and second-string Swiss Army knives.
The Wisconsin defense is stout, and the while the Badgers’ offense may not exactly light up the scoreboard by putting up an average of 24 points per game, the home field advantage is very real.
To make matters even more intense, this contest will be held under the cover of darkness during the Badgers’ annual Freakfest, Madison’s annual Halloween celebration. There’s going to be so much congestion on the roads that alternate routes to the stadium have been provided.
It’s safe to say the scene is going to be “lit,” in the parlance of our times.
Wisconsin running back Corey Clement — noted by Nebraska defensive coordinator Mark Banker as the best his Blackshirts will have seen so far this year — had some comments about the Huskers last year that still resonate with fans and surely a few players (I can think of about 14).
He was recruited by both teams and was present for the Huskers’ 70-31 evisceration at the hands of Bret Bielema’s boys in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game. When asked how the game affected his eventual decision at last year’s Big Ten Media Days, Clement said:
“It’s like, you’ve got an iPhone. Then you got a flip phone. You see all these great features the iPhone can do, and then you look at the flip phone, which phone are you going to go with? I’m going with the iPhone. That’s how I compare Wisconsin to Nebraska.”
Unfortunately, Clement was out with an injury when the Badgers stopped by Lincoln last year, so pleasantries couldn’t be exchanged between him and the Big Red defense. That’s not the case this year, and don’t think the Blackshirts have forgotten.
No doubt Clement is interested in testing a bunch that is in no small way responsible for Nebraska’s nation-leading fourth-quarter margin of victory.
Then of course there’s linebacker T.J. Watt, brother of NFL superstar J. J. Watt. He figures to play into Wisconsin’s plans of wrapping up Tommy Armstrong, Jr. and not allowing the “savage professionalism” of the Husker wideouts to enter the office that is the gridiron.
He’ll have to bring a game worthy of the family name, because stud inside linebacker Jack Cichy, the Badgers’ top tackler, has been lost for the remainder of the season with a torn pectoral muscle.
The betting line favors the Badgers by nine points as of this writing, which sounds about right. There’s just enough doubt that Mike Riley’s Huskers can’t possibly get the job done. This would be a vast improvement from not getting blown out of the water. However, stranger things have happened than Riley taking a talented, yet dinged-up team with a Top-25 defense into Madison and leaving with a win.
Bo Pelini’s era and Riley’s are still attached at the hip in a few areas; this is one that remains. If Nebraska loses a close, hard-fought game, the ties that bind will loosen. If Nebraska wins, they’ll rip free.
Time to dip the pen into ink and let Joe Tessitore tell the tale.