LINCOLN, Neb. — From the beginning, Nebraska players and coaches have been clear: They really don’t want to talk about 2014.
“This is the 2016 Husker team, so we’re going to just get ready to play football against a good football team,” coach Mike Riley said this week. “The history of it doesn’t really matter to me.”
On Monday, senior quarterback Tommy Armstrong said he “doesn’t remember much” from the 59-24 loss against Wisconsin in 2014 in Madison.
“That was like, what, three years ago? Two years ago? I’m not really focused on that right now,” Armstrong said.
But it’s clear the wounds from that 2014 loss are deep.
Both senior WR Jordan Westerkamp and senior DT Kevin Maurice said this week they have “painful” memories of that snowy disaster at Camp Randall in 2014.
And even before that game, Wisconsin’s handed out painful memories to Nebraska in games played away from Lincoln, Neb.
In 2011, in Nebraska’s first-ever Big Ten game, Russell Wilson threw for 255 yards and a trio of running backs burned Nebraska in a 48-17 loss for the then-No.8 Huskers at Camp Randall Stadium.
One year later, in Indianapolis at the Big Ten championship game, the Badgers put up 21 points in each of the first three quarters on their way to a 70-31 drubbing.
The most recent loss, the third blowout, is what stings most for current players. And two years removed from that game, though they don’t like to talk about that 2014 loss, some Huskers (7-0, 4-0 Big Ten) believe a win could be the turning point for the program, and it could come by using using some lessons learned from that blowout.
For starters, No. 7 Nebraska knows what not to do going into the game against No. 11 Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2), Westerkamp said. The attitude and preparation this year is much different now than it was two years ago.
“The general mood of being 7-0, that’s huge momentum for us,” Westerkamp said. “This year guys have just been so bought in to what we’re doing and prepared like crazy so it’s great to have a team care like that and care so much about what’s going on.”
Historically, Nebraska has struggled against Wisconsin’s defense. In 2014, they only conjured up 180 total yards. And most of that came in the first half, when Nebraska bolted to a 17-3 lead.
“Wisconsin has always been a tough matchup for us,” Westerkamp said.
In 2014, Armstrong only had six completions for 62 yards. Westerkamp had one catch for 6 yards. He noted the Badgers switch between covering the receivers in man and zone, and it takes a bit to figure out patterns of their defense.
But Westerkamp said he and the rest of the receivers are “expected” to win those matchups, no matter what. He said the receivers have had this date circled on the calendar for a while now.
“We gotta beat these guys,” Westerkamp said.
On the defensive side of the ball, Nebraska has given up more than 200 points to the Badgers since joining the Big Ten in 2011, and gave up 56 straight points in 2014 in three quarters.
“They just exposed us,” Nebraska safety Nate Gerry said of the 2014 game.
The Badgers put up 627 yards on Nebraska, including 408 rushing yards from Melvin Gordon, an FBS record at the time.
“We saw some stuff that we didn’t see in film throughout the year,” Gerry said of the 2014 game. “That’s just the type of team they are. They just throw things at you.”
The main thing you have to do for Wisconsin is prepare for everything. And that’s something Nebraska has done well every week so far, Gerry said.
Plus, the mindset this year is different.
“I think we have more attitude,” Gerry said. “At the end of the day, we’re going to win the football game because of us, and that’s the one thing we’ve been focusing on this year, is us and being able to handle our job and by doing that we’ve done pretty well so far.”
With Wisconsin, it’s usually a boxing match, Gerry said. Wisconsin is going to put Nebraska in a corner and see if the Huskers can punch their way out.
Gerry promised they’ll be swinging.
“For us, it’s just walking through their front door and letting them know, ‘We’re here.’”