“I still think turnovers and explosive plays make the biggest difference in winning the game,” Coach Mike Riley said Monday at his weekly press conference. He was illustrating the point that after giving up a 44-yard pass and an 88-yard pass, Nebraska’s defense actually settled in and played relatively well. But, the 44-yarder led to a touchdown, the 88-yarder was a touchdown, and those were Purdue’s only two scoring drives of the game.
Riley was on such an explosive-plays kick that he talked about it on offense, too.
“We did have 13, believe it or not, explosive plays offensively,” he said. “It was so sporadic you didn’t often notice it. But we had I think eight runs over 10 yards and five passes over 20 (yards). So, we had our share of those, but it was like I said very sporadic and not in a great flow in the game.”
Better sporadic than not at all, however, which, in a nice bit of symmetry, was a point Wisconsin Coach Paul Chryst was making in Madison on Monday.
“Still feel like we’re not really explosive yet,” UW coach Paul Chryst said during his weekly press conference Monday. “We have a long way to go.”
But the 11th-ranked Badgers are making tangible progress and, as a result, are still featured prominently in the Big Ten title discussion.
Wisconsin has had 14 big plays from scrimmage in its last two outings, including its longest run and pass play of the season.
Senior tailback Corey Clement broke off a 68-yard run against Ohio State on Oct. 15 and true freshman wide receiver Quintez Cephus hauled in a 57-yard throw from redshirt freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook versus Iowa on Saturday.
It all represents a significant upgrade from the first five games when UW managed a combined 18 plays of 20 yards or longer. That includes a season-low two versus Michigan and three each against LSU, Georgia State and Michigan State.
For the season, Wisconsin ranks 76th nationally in plays of 20-plus yards. Nebraska’s offense ranks 38th nationally.
Flip it around and the Badgers defense ranks 14th nationally in the same category, the Huskers’ defense 31st.
Not to oversimplify things, but for a game that looks like it will be played in close quarters, the team that wins this specific battle is probably going to be the actual winner on Saturday.
Just ask Mike Riley. Or Paul Chryst.
One more interesting note from the slate of Wisconsin news on Monday: Nebraska is the fifth team ranked in the top 10 that the Badgers have faced this season. The other four: LSU, Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State.
The Badgers previously played four top-10 clubs in a single season — 1956, ’59, ’60 and ’61 — but never this many.
Should Wisconsin win the West, it’s probably not done either. You’re virtually certain to face a top-10 team in the conference championship game and, depending upon what happened there, another one in a bowl game. Seven isn’t out of the question.
Nebraska, as you may have heard, hasn’t played any top-10 teams this season, but that’s not the shocking stat. This one is: Based on AP poll rankings, the Huskers have faced seven top-10 teams total since joining the Big Ten in 2011. Nebraska is 2-5 in those games.
THE GRAB BAG
- ICYMI: Josh Banderas is serious enough about making the NFL that he has added long snapping to his repertoire.
- Paul Chryst says Wisconsin will continue to use two quarterbacks on Saturday.
- Wisconsin-Nebraska is developing into one of the best new rivalries in college football writes ESPN’s Jesse Temple.
- Point taken, Air Force, which included this on the informational flyer it sent to Big 12 officials: “Of the military academies, AFA is the winningest football team in history. The reality is that the Army/Navy game is often played to determine who is second best.”
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.