Another week, another ranked foe for tested, No. 11 Wisconsin
(AP) Most college football teams circle the calendar when they face a team ranked in the Top 10. But for No. 11 Wisconsin, it’s become the norm.
For the fifth time in eight games this season, the Badgers (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) will face a team ranked in the Top 10, this time unbeaten and seventh-ranked Nebraska (7-0, 4-0) on Saturday night (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis.
Wisconsin opened the season with a 16-14 win over then-No. 5 LSU at famed Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. Three weeks later, it took down then-No. 8 Michigan State 30-6 in East Lansing, Mich.
The Badgers have lost their last two games against Top 10 foes, a 14-7 defeat at then-No. 4 Michigan and a 30-23 overtime setback to then-No. 2 Ohio State on Oct. 15.
The brutal schedule has taken its toll physically on Wisconsin, which announced Monday that standout inside linebacker Jack Cichy will miss the rest of the season with a torn pectoral muscle suffered in last week’s 17-9 victory at Iowa. Cichy, who leads the team in tackles with 60, suffered the injury late in the second quarter but still finished the game.
“There were times where Jack actually threw himself into the quarterback with one arm,” outside linebacker Vince Biegel said. “As a competitor, it really speaks upon the character he is to not let an injury like this drag him down and bring him down.”
Biegel made his return to the lineup Saturday after missing Wisconsin’s losses to Michigan and Ohio State with a fractured foot. Inside linebacker Chris Orr also is out for the season after tearing the ACL in his right knee on the Badgers’ first defensive play of the year against LSU. Inside linebacker T.J. Edwards missed the beginning of the season because of a fractured foot suffered in the summer, meaning four of Wisconsin’s top five linebackers have missed time due to injury.
Nebraska, meanwhile, is off to its best start in 15 seasons, will get star receiver Jordan Westerkamp back from a back injury suffered late in an Oct. 3 win at Illinois. Westerkamp led the Cornhuskers with 65 catches for 918 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago.
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong is excited to get his roommate and number one target back.
“It’s going to help a lot,” Armstrong said. “I think the whole team is excited about just having another threat out there on offense. Just getting back to having a full unit even though we have guys that rotate in and out, here and there. But having Jordan back is going to be an important key for us.”
The trip to Camp Randall brings back some bad memories for the Nebraska. Nineteen players were on the field at some point during the last trip there in 2014, a 59-24 loss that played a big part in coach Bo Pelini getting fired two weeks later. The Cornhuskers actually held a 17-3 lead in the second quarter before the Badgers and Melvin Gordon got rolling. Gordon finished with 408 yards rushing, breaking the NCAA single-game record.
“I’m not really focused on that now,” said Armstrong, who finished 6 of 18 for 62 yards with an interception and was sacked four times in that loss. “This is a totally different team than it was in 2014. There’s nothing to compare about that. We’ve got different coaches, different players. You really can’t compare that offense to this offense.”
Armstrong has started to thrive in his second year of Mike Riley’s offense. He has completed 103 of 186 passes for 1,611 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions while rushing for another 380 yards and six TDs. He’ll be tested by a Wisconsin defense that has surrendered just eight total touchdowns — four rushing and four passing — this season, fewest in the FBS. The Badgers have given up just nine plays of 20-plus yards in seven games.
“All of our goals are still in sight,” Biegel said. “Obviously, we have two losses, but winning the Big Ten West is still a reality. We have Nebraska. The Big Ten Championship’s still in sight, and who knows, the College Football Playoff potentially.”