The Badgers came into the season with their usual high hopes coming off of another Big Ten Championship and trip to the Rose Bowl in 2011 but losing start quarterback Russell Wilson and six assistant coaches had proven to be a bigger obstacle than expected in Madison. Wisconsin has struggled early in the season like many other Big Ten teams, but the Badgers problems are quite possibly the most surprising with the majority of the issues coming on the offensive side of the ball.
The Badgers are averaging just over 300 yards per game offensively and rank near the bottom of college football in passing (169 yards per game) and rushing (143 yards per game) for 113th and 87th in the nation respectively. Wisconsin is averaging only 21 points per game which ranks 102nd overall through four games this season. The Badgers have only scored five first quarter points this season as compared to 51 points through four games in 2011.
Many of the offensive struggles can be attributed to losing Wilson to the NFL and the poor quarterback play the Badgers have had early in the season. Transfer Danny O’Brien was tabbed the starter to being the year, but O’Brien struggled, and was pulled at halftime of the week three contest against Utah State. Freshman Joel Stave replaced O’Brien and went 12 of 17 for one touchdown and one interception in his first career start against UTEP.
While the drop off at quarterback play could have been expected, the Badgers inability to run the ball has caught many off guard. The usually dominant Wisconsin running attack has been pedestrian at best during non-conference play. Pre-season Heisman hopeful Monte Ball has had a slow start to the season averaging only 90 yards through four games. Ball was knocked out of the Week 4 contest against UTEP with a head injury but is expected to play this week at Nebraska. Back up running backs James White and Melvin Gordon have filled in and picked up some of the slack in the early season combining for over 260 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Defensively the Badgers have been solid but not spectacular, holding teams to 326 yards per game – 245 coming through the air – and just 17.8 points per game which ranks 34th nationally. Wisconsin has held three of their four opponents to under 80 yards rushing with only Utah State cracking the century mark on the ground.
Saturday will mark the Badger’s first trip to Lincoln since a 20-16 loss to Nebraska in 1973. The Huskers and Badgers are tied with three wins apiece in six previous match-ups.