Struggling Huskers’ next challenge: No. 16 Wisconsin
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Good times are coming at Nebraska, coach Scott Frost promises.
It may not happen this weekend against No. 16 Wisconsin. The Cornhuskers don’t have any wins yet under the first-year coach, but he does have hope.
They better bring their run defense, too, to Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday night to stop Jonathan Taylor, the nation’s leading rusher.
Yet another challenge for the Huskers (0-4, 0-2 Big Ten) in what has been a trying start for Frost.
“As a player a long time ago, I learned perseverance and willingness to keep fighting no matter what,” he said.
Nebraska has lost eight straight games for the first time in the school’s distinguished 129-year history. A 42-28 loss last week at home to Purdue followed a 46-point blowout defeat to Michigan at the Big House on Sept. 22.
“You go through hard times in life in a lot of different ways, and all that does is make it sweeter when it all turns out the right way,” Frost added this week in Lincoln. “That happened to me as a player, and it will happen again as a coach.”
Rested after a bye week, Wisconsin (3-1, 1-0) had its own set of challenges recently, though they have been on a lesser scale.
A 24-21 upset loss to BYU on Sept. 15 blemished the resume for the College Football Playoffs. But the Badgers won at Iowa two weeks ago to remain on track as the favorite in the Big Ten West.
“It’s real easy to fall into that trap,” Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Edwards said when asked about underestimating winless Nebraska. “Just progressing throughout the year, they’re going to get better and better, and for sure we’re going to get their best shot.”
Things to watch on Saturday:
The sophomore running back leads the nation averaging 157 yards a game on the ground. He had perhaps his breakout game as a freshman last year against Nebraska on the road, when Taylor ran for 249 yards and two scores on 25 carries.
The Huskers this year rank 12th in the 14-team Big Ten in rush defense, allowing 165 yards per game.
Nebraska true freshman Adrian Martinez will be starting his third straight game. He’s coming off his best performance after throwing for 323 yards and running for 91 against Purdue. He also threw an interception and the Huskers turned the ball over on downs on their last three possessions.
“Him and their offense make you defend the whole field, and really the whole play, when things break down, can be very dangerous,” Badgers coach Paul Chryst said.
Wisconsin’s pass rush has been lacking, with a Big Ten-worst three sacks in four games. Some of that stems from the kinds of offenses the Badgers have faced.
Wisconsin also has new starters at its edge positions in the front seven. The most experienced pass rusher, outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel could play more this week after suffering a foot injury in the BYU game.
The Badgers are also playing freshmen or sophomores at cornerback who are learning on the job in coverage, which goes hand in hand with the pass rush.
BIG HOUSE LESSONS
The 56-10 loss at Michigan last month seems like one to forget for Nebraska, though Martinez sees at least one small takeaway as the Cornhuskers get ready to play in another hostile environment.
“Honestly, just having that warrior mentality, knowing it’s going to be a little rowdy, things might not go our way with the refs, certain calls,” Martinez said. “Keep your head down and know we’re all we got. On the road it’s the teammates, coaches and that’s it.”
FOURTH AND GO
Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook saves his best work for last. He is 18 of 23 (78 games) for 246 yards with two scores and no interceptions this season. At Iowa, Hornibrook orchestrated a 10-play, 88-yard drive in 4:33 that ended with the go-ahead touchdown to A.J. Taylor with 57 seconds left.
It’s the kind of poise that gives the Badgers trust in their offense in late-game or clutch situations.
AP College Football Writer Eric Olson in Lincoln, Nebraska, contributed to this story.