LINCOLN, Neb. – Nebraska knows what's coming and believes it's ready.
The Cornhuskers knew last year, too, but definitely weren't prepared for Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon to run for an FBS-record 408 yards and four touchdowns in a demoralizing 35-point loss in Madison, Wis.
There's a new coaching staff at Nebraska, and defensive coordinator Mark Banker's unit has been among the best in the nation at stopping the run so far. These Huskers have yet to see the style of power running game Wisconsin presents, and fans still cringe when reminded of the 581 and 539 yards rushing Nebraska gave up the last two times the teams met.
Gordon has moved on to the NFL's San Diego Chargers, top running back Corey Clement is still out recovering from sports hernia surgery and the Wisconsin offensive line isn't as imposing as some in the past. Alabama and Iowa beat the Badgers by all but shutting down their ground game.
The Huskers (2-3, 0-1) hope to do the same Saturday when Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1) visits in a key Big Ten West game, with the winner claiming the Freedom Trophy.
"I'd say this defense is built to stop any team, but yes, I think that our defense may be especially suited for this type of offense," Nebraska defensive end Jack Gangwish said. "Wisconsin has a very smash-mouth approach to football. They're going to run the ball straight at you. There's not a whole lot that's really fancy about what they do."
Taiwan Deal and Dare Ogunbowale will share the carries for Wisconsin, and quarterback Joel Stave will use play-action to try to exploit a vulnerable Nebraska secondary.
In addition, Nebraska remains shorthanded on the defensive line. Tackles Vincent Valentine and Kevin Williams have been battling injuries, and fellow tackle Kevin Maurice is out four weeks because of a stress fracture after making his first start last week. Defensive end Greg McMullen probably will move inside, at least part-time, and line up alongside Maliek Collins.
Both teams are looking to rebound following disappointing losses. The Huskers are off to their worst start since 1959 after Illinois drove the field in the last minute to pull out a 14-13 win. Stave committed four turnovers in a 10-6 loss at home to Iowa.
"We've got to do a better job of continuing to help coach our guys and help them grow. And we get that opportunity this week, and that's what's fun — and with a group that wants to get better, a group that wants to be coached," first-year Badgers coach Paul Chryst said.
Wisconsin's Chryst and Nebraska's Mike Riley have a history dating to 1991. Riley hired Chryst as an assistant on the team he coached in the old World League of American Football, and Chryst also was his aide at Oregon State and with the Chargers.
"I think one of the things that we both have in common is we respect the game and truly respect those that play it, and our job is to help them play it," Chryst said. "So I don't feel like it's me against Mike."
Nebraska hired Riley from Oregon State last December. The following week, the Beavers filled their coaching vacancy by hiring Gary Andersen from Wisconsin, leading to the Badgers athletic director Barry Alvarez — a Huskers linebacker in the 1960s — hiring Chryst from Pittsburgh.