MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin’s top-ranked defense faces the challenge of preparing for the unknown as it gets ready to face a Nebraska team that just overhauled its offensive coaching staff.
Saturday’s matchup at Camp Randall Stadium will be Nebraska’s first game since Cornhuskers coach Scott Frost fired four offensive assistants, including coordinator Matt Lubick. Frost made the changes and took a pay cut as part of an agreement allowing him to return for a fifth season next year under a restructured contract.
“A bit of a tough transition for the team and for the offense,” Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez acknowledged. “I think there’s no hiding that.”
No. 19 Wisconsin (7-3, 5-2 Big Ten, No. 15 College Football Playoff ) has six straight victories and can reach the Big Ten championship by beating Nebraska and then winning at Minnesota on Nov. 27. Nebraska (3-7, 1-6) has dropped four in a row and already is assured of a fifth consecutive losing season, which helps explain why Frost needed to take such drastic steps to keep his job.
Tight ends coach Sean Beckton is the only remaining offensive assistant who started the season on Frost’s staff. For the final two games of the season, senior offensive analyst Ron Brown will coach the running backs, offensive quality control staffer Steve Cooper will coach quarterbacks, offensive analyst Mike Cassano will coach receivers and senior offensive analyst Frank Verducci will coach the offensive line.
That means Wisconsin had to get ready for Saturday’s game not knowing how much the Cornhuskers plan to depart from what they were doing offensively before the staff changes.
“We’re going to watch film of past games,” Wisconsin defensive end Matt Henningsen said. “We don’t think they’ll change too much. Even though their coaching staff has changed, we think their offense is going to be close to what they’ve shown, based on all available knowledge obviously. We’ll be ready for whatever they throw at us.”
Wisconsin is allowing the fewest yards per game (211.4), yards per play (3.72) and yards per carry (1.9) of any Football Bowl Subdivision team.
TROPHY AT STAKE
Wisconsin and Nebraska already had faced each other eight times when the Freedom Trophy became a part of this series in 2014. Wisconsin has gone 6-0 against Nebraska ever since the trophy was awarded to the winner.
The face that a trophy is at stake in each of Nebraska’s last two games gives the Cornhuskers some incentive the rest of the year. The Heroes Trophy goes to the winner of Nebraska’s Nov. 26 home game with Iowa.
“We were kind of talking about the feeling we were going to have when we beat one of these teams, running across the field,” Nebraska tight end Austin Allen said. “Taking that trophy back is going to feel awesome, especially for the possible seniors that are going to leave. It would bring a lot of joy to us to run across that sideline and take it back home.”
TAKING NOTHING FOR GRANTED
Wisconsin has spent the week ignoring Nebraska’s 3-7 record and instead focusing on how close the Cornhuskers have come against other ranked teams. Nebraska lost 23-16 to No. 12 Oklahoma (No. 13 CFP, 32-29 to No. 8 Michigan (No. 6 CFP) and 26-17 to No. 5 Ohio State (No. 4 CFP).
“Nebraska’s a good team,” Wisconsin offensive tackle Tyler Beach said. “Their record doesn’t represent that. They’ve done a great job competing with a lot of great teams.”
Wisconsin’s Braelon Allen has rushed for over 100 yards in each of Wisconsin’s last six games. The 17-year-old freshman ran for a career-high 173 yards in the Badgers’ 35-7 victory over Northwestern last week.
MARTINEZ APPROACHING MILESTONE
Martinez could become Nebraska’s all-time leader in total offense Saturday. He enters the game with 10,418 yards of total offense (8,140 passing, 2,278 rushing). The record is held by Tommy Armstrong Jr. with 10,690 from 2012-16.
Both teams rely on exceptional linebacker tandems.
Wisconsin’s Leo Chenal has 6 ½ sacks and 15 tackles for loss in eight games. He ranks third among all FBS players with 1.88 tackles for loss per game. Jack Sanborn has 74 tackles this season and produced three tackles for loss against Northwestern.
Nebraska has two of the Big Ten’s top five tacklers in Luke Reimer (96) and Nick Henrich (87). They’re on pace to become the first Nebraska teammates to collect 100 tackles in the same season since Barrett Ruud and Demorrio Williams did it in 2003.
AP College Football Writer Eric Olson contributed to this report.
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