It’s impossible for Nebraska to finish with a winning record this season. No unlikely division title scenario, no chance at a bowl game. Both the Huskers and their opponent on Saturday are led by interim coaches. It’s not the typical billing of a Nebraska vs. Wisconsin game but that title should be enough motivation.
Interim head coach Mickey Joseph said on Tuesday that he wrote “2012” on the whiteboard and circled it. That’s the last time Nebraska beat Wisconsin. Playing college football at a high level should be enough motivation, interim defensive coordinator Bill Busch said. A seven-game losing streak to the Badgers, that can light a fire too.
“The main motivation for us…is just being grown men and how you handle your business, how you carry yourself,” Busch said on Wednesday. “There’s a motivation in it’s been 10 years.”
Busch said he hadn’t invested much thought in the Senior Day pageantries Saturday brings. Although, he did mention coaching players up and helping them achieve their potential to the point where they’ll see each other years down the line and thank each other. Busch points out certain players as “Applebees guys” so that if they meet down the road, Busch will look through the right side of the menu and buy them two desserts.
In terms of totality, Busch hadn’t thought a lot about what those seniors will experience on Saturday. Even if he’ll experience something similar. This is likely the last time Busch will run out of the tunnel as defensive coordinator at Nebraska — a program he grew up loving and still loves. He recognized the seniors experienced a lot and Saturday brings some finality to those times.
“Everyone that is walking through that tunnel has done a lot for this program,” Busch said. “And, also, everyone who’s gone through that tunnel has been through a lot these past few years.”
There won’t be any special words before Wisconsin. No screenings of Rocky 4. Nothing different to the seniors who are about to play their last home game at Memorial Stadium. It’s a football game, just like the others over the years, and it’s an opportunity to win.
Busch said the players responded well to the elements in practice on Wednesday. He said their work load’s been real, repeatedly playing “trench games” in the gauntlet of Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan. That’s what Nebraska has ahead as well. Busch is familiar with the Badgers staff and knows what awaits on Saturday. It’ll be tough and physical.
“We’ve got our hands full but we have prepared extremely well,” Busch said. “That part’s been a big plus for us. So we’re excited to go on Saturday.”
Busch liked how Isaac Gifford handled moving from nickel to safety sporadically during the Michigan game. Javin Wright increased his snap totals against Michigan and Phalen Sanford came on before a bruise limited his snaps. The defensive coordinator credited Wright and Sanford for stepping into those roles without substantial drop off. He’s excited to see what Myles Farmer can do back in the lineup on his trajectory before his suspension.
There’s some carryover in preparing for a running back like Braelon Allen after scheming for the likes of Chase Brown, Mohamed Ibrahim and Blake Corum in consecutive weeks. Busch said Allen’s ability to finish runs and pull away from defenders made him a unique challenge. Backup running back Isaac Guerendo also poses a challenge. He extends runs from 4 to 6 yards as well as he can create explosive plays with a seam in the defense. Of course, that all starts up front with a typically strong Wisconsin offensive line.
There’s potential opportunity in creating turnovers, something Nebraska hasn’t done a lot of recently. Wisconsin committed three turnovers against Iowa, including a momentous pick-6. Quarterback Graham Mertz was 16 of 35 with an average of 5 yards per completion and two interceptions.
“Biggest thing you go through is when you have the opportunity, you have to make it,” Busch said. “If you’ve got the chance to punch it out, you can’t have a ‘my bad,’ or a chance at an interception you can’t have a drop or a tip or something. It’s a play you have to be able to make.”
Nebraska’s forced seven interceptions this year but not one has come since freshman Malcolm Hartzog’s pick on the initial drive of the Purdue game. In fact, Nebraska trails in turnover margin, 5-1, over the last three games.