Wisconsin Badgers vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers Pick 10/31/20
(9) Wisconsin Badgers (1-0 SU, 1-0 ATS) vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers (0-1, 0-1 ATS)
NCAA Football Week 9
When: Saturday, Oct. 31 at 3:30 pm ET
Where: Memorial Stadium - Lincoln, NE
Point Spread: WIS -3/NEB +3 (Find Bitcoin Sportsbooks)
Over/Under Total: 46.5
The Big Ten opened things up last week, and after just one game, the conference looks to have a couple of playoff hopefuls. The Wisconsin Badgers moved into the AP Top-10 after downing Illinois in the opener, and they now head to Lincoln to take on Nebraska. The Huskers were outclassed by Ohio State last week, but Scott Frost’s squad hung with the Buckeyes for the first half, and most observers noted this Nebraska team is improved from recent versions. Redshirt freshman QB Graham Mertz was pressed into a starting role due to injury, and he immediately vaulted himself into national relevance by throwing for five touchdowns. A Wisconsin team with a quality quarterback could be a scary thing for the Big Ten West, but Mertz has been shut down due to positive CoVid tests, throwing this game into a bit of betting disarray. Since entering the Big Ten, Nebraska has lost eight of nine games against Wisconsin, with their lone win coming at Memorial Stadium in 2012.
QB Problems for Wisconsin
Wisconsin entered last week with a couple of big questions on offense, and at least one was answered with the standout performance by Graham Mertz. In his first collegiate start, Mertz hit on 20-of-21 passes for 248 yards and five touchdowns. The Badger O-line protected him well, and he showed poise while going through his progressions like a veteran. Mertz failed consecutive CoVid tests this week and will be shelved for 21 days per Big Ten rules. His backup, Chase Wolf, also tested positive and is reportedly facing the same quarantine. Wisconsin lost Jack Coan to a foot injury in camp, leaving Danny Vanden Boom as the only healthy QB on the roster. Vanden Boom is a former Wisconsin Player of the Year but has not seen the field much in his time in Madison. The second question Wisconsin faces on offense is how Jonathan Taylor will be replaced. The Badgers did a decent job running the ball against Illinois as they racked up 182 rushing yards by the end of the night, but it looks like the big play on the ground is not just around the corner as it was over the last few seasons. Garrett Groshek and Nakia Watson combined for 132 rushing yards, but neither scored, and the Badgers long run for the day was a pedestrian 13 yards. Groshek was a high school quarterback and will be the emergency option at the position if necessary.
Things were supposed to turn around quickly when Scott Frost arrived in Lincoln, but a 9-15 start through two seasons and a 6-12 conference mark left Nebraska in what appeared to be the beginning stages of a rebuild. It seems like the Huskers are not going to be judged by their win-loss record in 2020 as most were inclined to give them a passing grade despite being on the wrong side of a 52-17 decision against Ohio State. Adrian Martinez rushed for 85 yards and a score, with Luke McCaffrey adding 80 more yards on the ground to power Nebraska to 210 rushing yards as a team. That kind of playmaking from the QB position could spell trouble for Wisconsin as they allowed Illinois’ QB Brandon Peters to average 10.7 yards per carry last week. The passing game remains somewhat slow as 20 Nebraska attempts netted just 160 passing yards and no scores. Wan’Dale Robinson led with six catches but failed to crack the 50-yard plateau, and the Huskers could be without TE Jack Stoll after he left the game last week with a knee injury. A defense that just gave up 52 points will be without starting CB Cam Taylor-Britt and S Deontai Williams for the first half as both were disqualified for targeting in the second half against Ohio State. In general, there were some good things going for Nebraska in the early going before penalties, turnovers, and OSU’s skill advantage turned the tide. Wisconsin is a step down from OSU, so this game should be quite a bit closer if Nebraska can clean up the mistakes and get some production through the air.
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Wisconsin has largely owned this series, averaging 40.6 points per game with Nebraska at 22.4 per contest. The Huskers are 1-8 over that span and just slightly better against the spread with a 3-5 mark. This series has routinely featured some large spreads and opened with Wisconsin -11 before the Mertz news broke and pushed the line to three. There have been just two games in this series with a spread at three or fewer. The teams have split those games, with the notable outcome being the 70-31 Wisconsin win in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game. Nebraska has allowed 313 rushing yards per game against Wisconsin since joining the conference and has outgained the Badgers just twice in nine contests.
Who Decides It?
The Wisconsin defense is the best unit on the field come Saturday, so don’t count out the Badgers just because of their seemingly insurmountable QB situation. Nebraska showed their Martinez-McCaffrey rotation can stress a defense with their running ability, and that should be a big part of the plan considering throwing against a stout Wisconsin secondary would probably play right into the Badgers hands. Nebraska may only need to be turnover-free this weekend to seal a win, and I think Scott Frost is smart enough to limit the chances taken by his QBs. With Wisconsin likely limited in the passing game, Nebraska can commit some extra bodies to stopping the run, and they should improve on the 215 rushing yards they allowed to Ohio State. That should spell trouble for Wisconsin as they averaged just 3.4 yards per carry against Illinois. It looks like a Nebraska advantage to have a fourth-string signal-caller dropping back often, and it could be disastrous for Wisconsin if Vanden Boom is throwing against a defense that isn’t honoring the play-action pass. I think Paul Chryst is going to have enough wrinkles on offense for Wisconsin to move the ball, but scoring will be the problem, and the Badgers are going to wind up on the wrong side of a 20-16 decision.
Ted Walker’s Pick to Cover the Spread: Nebraska. Bet your Badgers vs. Cornhuskers FREE by taking advantage of a 100% REAL CASH bonus on your first deposit of $100 to $300 at MyBookie Sportsbook!
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