LINCOLN, Neb. — Mike Riley knows Nebraska’s history with Wisconsin hasn’t been pretty.
Last season was a 23-21 loss after Nebraska couldn’t run out the clock. In 2014, the last time Nebraska played in Madison, the Huskers were buried in the snow by 35 points. In 2012, Wisconsin hung 70 points on Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship game. Even in Nebraska’s first Big Ten game back in 2011, Wisconsin beat Nebraska 48-17.
But those were different teams, Riley said on Monday during his press conference. This Saturday, despite the ugly history, Riley expects a “slugfest” in Camp Randall.
“This is the 2016 Husker team,” Riley said on Monday. “So we’re going to get ready to play football against a good football team.”
Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) escaped its treacherous run against No. 2 Michigan, No. 6 Ohio State, and Iowa with just one win, but the Badgers are still the No. 11 team in the country and provide a unique challenge for No. 7 Nebraska, Riley said.
He called the Badger defense one of the best in the country, which it is. The Badgers are second in the Big Ten in scoring defense, third in total defense and second in rush defense.
The key, Riley said, will be being effective on first down, which Nebraska (4-0, 7-0) was not against Purdue last Saturday.
“I think that we can move the ball, I think that we have to put plays up more consistently,” Riley said.
And though Wisconsin isn’t known for being an offensive powerhouse, Riley called the Badgers “clever.”
“We are going to have to play sound defense,” Riley said. “The two big keys defensively will be containing the run, they will not ever compromise running the ball, even if it’s not going great early, because then all their play action comes off of it — that helps their protection. And we can’t give up big plays and we can’t let them just control the ball on the run.”
The 2014 loss was not something Riley wanted to talk about. Senior QB Tommy Armstrong also deflected questions about the 59-24 loss the last time Nebraska traveled to Wisconsin.
“This is a totally different team than 2014,” Armstrong said. “Can’t compare that team to this one.”
Nebraska hasn’t been able to put four quarters together but has really stood out in the second half, a trait that will come in handy this weekend, the way Riley sees it.
“All our games have been hard and competitive and we haven’t won them until the fourth quarter of games, and maybe that’s good preparation for this game,” Riley said. “Probably the best football team we’ve played so far this year. I would think, especially offensively, the way we’ve been the last couple of weeks, it will be playing more consistency will be the key.”
For Armstrong this win would be huge. He’s 0-2 against the Badgers. And with last year’s loss and just the history against Wisconsin, Armstrong likes the idea of the Huskers going to Wisconsin as an underdog.
Plus, he said, Nebraska needs this game.
“We have a lot of critics about if we are good or not,” Armstrong said. “It’s honestly exciting for me and the team just to go into somewhere 7-0 and go out there and play your hearts out for your team. We need something like this where we need to get a test like this to see how well we can do and I think our team is excited for it. We’re looking forward to going up there and getting a win.”