For now it looks like Nebraska’s new defense needed a six-quarter grace period. Nebraska gave up a bunch of yards against Arkansas State – though it wasn’t as bad as everyone made it out to be – and then gave up a punch of points in the first half to Oregon a week later.
Since then? The Blackshirts have been pretty good, shutting out the Ducks in the second half, holding three straight opponents to less than 215 yards and only allowing two touchdowns. You can say “yeah, but look at the offenses they played” (and that would be a valid point), or you might look at it as those opponents were just what a developing defense needed just when it needed it. Either way, we’re going to find out how “real” those past three performances were on Saturday.
This Wisconsin offense is a bit of a different animal from what it has been the past two years. Scheme’s still the same, but the results are a little bit different. This stat from a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story does a pretty good job of setting the stage:
UW averaged 5.5 yards per play last season. Through four games this season the number is 6.6.
Five Power Five programs are averaging at least 5.0 yards per rush and at least 9.0 yards per pass attempt.
They are Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Washington, Oregon and UW.
That’s some elite and somewhat unusual company for Wisconsin, which has always been more of a meat-and-potatoes kind of offense. But here the Badgers are alongside one of last year’s playoff teams (Washington) and a couple of traditional high-flyers in Oklahoma, Oregon and Oklahoma State who always seems to put the 'o' in offense. Of that group, Wisconsin is most similar statistically to Washington, though Oregon isn’t far behind. (Oklahoma is obliterating everyone by the way at 5.6 yards per rush and 13.3 per pass.)
When I pulled together toxic differential national leaders (Premium) heading into the last week – which adds turnovers to the explosive-play mix – Wisconsin ranked second nationally overall, fourth in the offense categories (getting big plays, avoiding turnovers) and first defensively (preventing big plays, getting turnovers). Prior to Northwestern, the Badgers were checking almost every box and that didn’t change much last week.
If the Huskers are to hang in this game, they’ll need something from the offense, of course, but I’m most excited to see how Nebraska plays defensively. And I do think the defense gives the Huskers the best shot to hang in this game. Diaco’s defense is sort of built for an offense like this.
I’m just not sure it was scheduled to be completed at this point. We’ll see, I guess. It’s not very catchy, but this is starting to feel like Find-Something-Out Saturday for Nebraska on many fronts.
The Grab Bag
- Ole Miss AD Ross Bjork denied rumored interest in the Nebraska job, and Alabama AD Greg Byrne has as well.
- According to a Courier-Journal report, 98 percent of the Adidas cash from Louisville's deal with the supplier went to Rick Pitino the past two years. John Talty of AL.com writes that the days of the shoe company megadeal could come to an end because of this basketball scandal.
- Ryan McGee of ESPN explores why visiting locker rooms are so crappy.
- ICYMI: Chris Jones and Joshua Kalu are expected to be available on Saturday, Greg Smith takes a closer look at 5-star prospect Micah Parsons and Derek Peterson examines Devine Ozigbo's rise back up the depth chart.
Today's Song of Today
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.