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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Nebraska Cornhuskers: Pelini, Andersen look for signature win

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Fasten your seat belts Big Ten fans, because at approximately 2:30pm central time on Saturday, November 15th, the race for the B1G West division will all but be decided over the course of a 3 hour (most likely 4 hour) football game, as it’s the Wisconsin Badgers vs. Nebraska Cornhukers.

The two teams will be battling for the first-ever Freedom Trophy, a trophy some veterans are not too happy with and many fans wish would go back to the drawing board.

Technically, Minnesota is still in contention for the West division as well, but it would take not one, but two massive upsets in Lincoln and Madison (in back-to-back weeks no less) to pull it off.

Bo Pelini comes into Saturday’s matchup without a true road win over a ranked opponent since 2011.  His last win over a ranked opponent was Penn State, and that game was played under some extenuating circumstances (that was the Jerry Sandusky Scandal week).  Since that win in Happy Valley, Pelini’s Huskers are 0-5 in games played against ranked teams that were not held at the comfy confines of Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.

Nebraska is still in contention for the college football playoff if they were to win their remaining 3 games as well as knock off No. 8 Ohio State in the B1G title game.  But after being dropped 3 spots by the College Football Playoff committee on their bye week (from 13 to 16), it is clear that the college football selection committee wants to see Nebraska prove themselves on the field. This much is clear, a win at Camp Randell will look very good on any team’s playoff resume.  Since 2004, Only LSU (69) and Ohio St (68) have recorded more wins at home than Wisconsin has (67).

Gary Andersen is currently in his second year at Wisconsin, and he has yet to record a “big” win to help win over some wavering fans who are unsure about the new head man.  Saturday’s contest represents a great opportunity for coach Andersen to go ahead and get that first “big” win at Wisconsin.

The only other ranked team to visit Camp Randell since Andersen arrived in 2013 was the 19th ranked Northwestern Wildcats.  That game was a 35-6 blowout in favor of Wisconsin.  I would be surprised by anything less than a fantastic college football game come Saturday.

I am going to highlight some keys to look for on Saturday:

Keys for a Nebraska win:

1) Play a clean game – anything more than one turnover will be a lot to overcome on the road.  Penalties will be drive killers against the top ranked Wisconsin defense.  Nebraska needs a clean performance from its players to deliver a big win on the field.

2) Stay committed to the running game – regardless of star tailback Ameer Abdullah’s health, Nebraska must not fall in love with the pass against Wisconsin’s top ranked pass defense.  Even if they don’t have immediate success running the ball, Tim Beck needs to stay patient and incorporate Tommy Armstrong and Imani Cross into the running game in order for it to be successful.

3) Defensively, don’t allow the big play – This one is much easier said than done against the top running back duo in the nation in Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement.  The defense needs to react much better to the jet sweep (which i can guarantee UW will run at some point) than they did in the teams last meeting in 2012. Wisconsin also likes to shoot for big plays in the passing game as well too keep opposing teams’ defensive backs honest.  Gordon will get his, (averages approximately 166 rushing ypg) but holding Wisconsin to field goals in the red-zone will be a great indicator of the outcome.  Gary Andersen’s record when Wisconsin scores more than 30 points is 12-1, with the lone loss at Arizona St (in which the officials completely mishandled the final seconds of the game).

Keys to a Wisconsin win:

1) Force Tommy Armstrong to beat you with his arm – Armstrong is one of the best running quarterbacks in the B1G, but the Huskers passing game isn’t especially strong.  Wideouts Kenny Bell and Jordan Westerkamp will receive most (if not all) of the targets when Nebraska does elect to pass.  Wisconsin would much rather rush the passer anyways, as outside linebackers Vince Biegel and inside linebacker Derek Landisch will be looking to get after Armstrong with a variety of different blitzes and stunts at the line of scrimmage.

2) Be sound in special teams – Nebraska has a very deadly return game this season.  Demornay Pierson-El has already taken 2 punt returns for scores and Ameer Abdullah has been returning kickoffs for the past few weeks.  Gary Andersen was harping about how the punt and kickoff coverage units need to improve earlier this week.  Field position could easily decide the game with a big return at a critical juncture.  Wisconsin needs to be ready to go come Saturday.

3) Andy Ludwig needs to play to his quarterbacks’ individual strengths – This has improved in the past couple of games but it remains very important.  Wisconsin uses a two quarterback system with two players with different skill sets.  When Stave is in the game, keep him in the pocket and let him air it out on early downs to keep the huskers D off balance.  When McEvoy is in the game,  utilize his mobility by moving the pocket and running some triple option with Gordon/Clement in the backfield.  If Ludwig can play to his quarterbacks strengths and not ask them to do too much, it will only make things easier on Saturday.

Whether the fanbases like it or not, this yearly matchup between perennial B1G powers is quickly blossoming into one of the B1G’s best rivalry games.  If you are a fan of college football, Saturday’s 2:30 pm time slot has it all.  Get your popcorn ready!

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Former Badger Rose Lavelle scores in World Cup final

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Now the rest of the sporting world knows what Wisconsin Badgers fans already knew — Rose Lavelle is amazing.

After a stellar career as a Badger, Lavelle has become one of the key components to the United States women’s national team. That was on full display in the Women’s World Cup final agains the Netherlands on Sunday.

Following a penalty kick goal from Megan Rapinoe, it was Lavelle that put the final nail in the coffin. She took near midfield in Dutch territory and walked all the way up unbothered and slotted home a powerful and signature left-footed strike to make it 2-0 in the 69th minute.

It was her 10th career national team goal and the third of this tournament after scoring twice in the 13-0 route of Thailand in the opener to this World Cup.

Lavelle would be given the Bronze Ball following the game, as the third-best player in the entire tournament. Teammate Megan Rapinoe would be given the Golden Ball as the best player, to go along with her Golden Boot for the most goals scored in the competition.

The USWNT have joined Germany as the only teams to repeat as Women’s World Cup champions and Lavelle had a major hand from the start to the finish.

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Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers ILB’s in 2019

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We hope you enjoyed the Independence Day holiday, but it is time to get back to some business and that means continuing our series looking in to every position group for the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver | Outside Linebacker |

Since we went outside the last time around, today we will focus on a position that has long been a strength of the Badgers program — inside linebacker.

What could happen with this group in 2019? Let’s find out.

Best Case Scenario

Yes, the Badgers face life without an All-American and a steady veteran thanks to the graduations of T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly. But, the good news is that this group was one of the deepest and most productive overall last season.

Veteran Chris Orr will get one starting spot and former 4-star recruit Jack Sanborn will step in to the other starting role. So, the best case scenario for this group is that Orr, who started as a freshman, gets back to that kind of form, and we see quality play from a combination of younger players like Sanborn and freshman Leo Chenal.

No one had a bigger breakout this spring than Chenal did. He came in as an early enrollee, but well under the radar. By the end of spring ball, it looked very much like he won’t be redshirting and will be challenging for a lot of snaps in the fall.

It would be great to see that happen, because Orr has just one year left in the Cardinal and White.

Worst Case Scenario

What would really hurt this group is if Orr or Sanborn were to go down with an injury here. Yes, Chenal looked good in spring ball like I mentioned before and yes Mike Maskalunas has shown flashes of ability, but are they really ready to be thrust in to the majority of snaps at inside linebacker together?

Experience is an issue for this group and I could see an injury exposing that lack of experience in a big way. Even if the Badgers wanted to go with an older player, the only other option would be Seth Currens and he just converted from safety in the spring himself.

Other than that it would be Hunter Johnson or two walk-ons that were here in the spring.

The Badgers only inside linebacker recruit in the 2019 class was Chenal too, so there will be no more help coming in to fall camp.

Most Likely to Happen

The good news is that I don’t see the worst case scenario actually happening, at least not in a major way. Orr’s medical history suggests he could be prone to missing a game or two with a nagging injury, but don’t expect anything crazy to happen.

I also believe we will see the emergence of Sanborn and Chenal as the future of this position for the Badgers. In fact, Sanborn has looked so good in spring and in his limited playing time last season, that I suspect he could be a darkhorse for All-Big Ten honors at season’s end.

Look for this group to be a downhill, hard-hitting and more athletic group than we saw last season and that could make a major difference for those playing behind them.

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and his staff have a lot to figure out, but they should feel safe with the talent that is available to them at inside linebacker.

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Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers OLB’s in 2019

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This time next month, the pads may be popping and the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers fall practices will be under way. It’s so close we all can almost taste it.

But, as we look forward to the 2019 season we’re going to try something a bit different. Gone are the usual ways of looking position groups and giving you a fall preview that last’s a week.

Well, that’s because this season is vital to the Paul Chryst era. There’s a changing of the guard going on. After a disappointing 2018 season that saw UW drop Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time in 15 years and not win the Big Ten West, the question is if that’s a sign of decline or a blip on the radar.

In order to best answer that question, we’re actually going to start with a look at what needs to happen, what the Badgers need to avoid and what is really likely at every position.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver

Up today is a look at the outside linebacker position.

Best Case Scenario:

Last year, the outside linebackers contributed just 8 total sacks to a team total of 19. That’s a lot of contribution to the effort, but the effort was far below expectations set by previous groups. Additionally, the graduation of Andrew Van Ginkel means just 2.5 sacks return from the outside linebacker position in 2019.

Those sacks belong to Zack Baun, who got his feet wet as a starter last season and is looking for big things to happen in 2019. The good news is that Baun was one of Wisconsin’s best run-stoppers on the edge.

Ideally, Baun not only is a leader of this defensive group in 2019, but becomes much more disruptive behind the line of scrimmage too.

Wisconsin has a lot of potential that could start opposite of him. Former Alabama transfer Christian Bell, former 4-star recruit Noah Burks and former inside linebacker Griffin Grady all had their moments of shine in spring ball.

In a best case scenario, the Badgers have more than one of that group step up as contributors to an overall group of outside linebackers that don’t have a lot of in-game experience or depth.

Getting this group to contribute double-digit sacks as a whole would be a great step forward.

Worst Case Scenario:

Noah Burks or Christian Bell don’t live up to their enormous potential. It’s as plain and simple as that.

Wisconsin needs them to become pass-rushing specialists in a big way if this defense is going to be as aggressive as it is designed to be. Often times last season, the inability of the front seven to get pressure really hung an inexperienced secondary out to dry.

If UW experiences more of that, it could really be trouble in 2019. The Badgers need this defense to step up its game, and having both of the expected top contenders in replacing Van Ginkel flame out would be a disaster all the way around.

Most Likely to Happen:

Given all the unknowns surrounding the outside linebacker position, this is a difficult position to predict. However, I will say this — Zack Baun will end up as an All-Big Ten performer.

I believe he just scratched the surface of his potential last year, especially since he was just coming off an awful injury history prior to it. If he stays healthy in 2019, I predict he becomes a surprise player to many outside observers in the Big Ten.

That said, I also believe we will see Christian Bell and Noah Burks become a handful for opposing offensive coordinators to deal with. Both have been patient with the talent that was in front of them, but they are bursting with potential when they have seen the field.

So, to answer the question most want to know…I believe this all signals a position group ready to be a major force once again after that down year in 2018.

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Best, Worst case scenarios for Badgers Wide Receivers in 2019

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The heat of summer is upon us and the recruiting trail has been even hotter for the Wisconsin Badgers. However, that heat also indicates that the long offseason nightmare is about to be over.

With that in mind, we’re taking a summer-long look at each position group heading in to the 2019 season.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line |

Today, we flip back to the offensive side of the ball and look at a second skill position — wide receiver.

After what was supposed to be a breakout year for the group in 2018, what will this group have in store for 2019? Let’s look at the best and worst case scenarios at play.

Best Case Scenario

If the Badgers want to get going in the pass game, the wide receiver group needs to step up the deep game in a big way. While A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor have proven to be reliable assets, 2018 felt much like they all barely scratched the surface of their potential.

The trio combined for 95 receptions (which was 53 percent of all receptions as a team), 1,212 yards and 11 of 19 touchdown receptions on the year.

For this season, the best case scenario actually involves the quarterback position almost more-so than anything this group can do. The receivers could benefit from a consistently good passer at quarterback and a more open playbook as well.

Whether it is Jack Coan or wonderkid recruit, Graham Mertz, the consistency and trust to open up the playbook needs to be there.

Additionally, an increased role for speedster Aaron Cruickshank would be the best case scenario.

Worst Case Scenario

Danny Davis emerged as the most targeted receiver last season, catching 40 passes to lead all wide receivers on the team. He will enter his junior season with an increase in expectations and no off-field distractions like he had to deal with last season thanks to his stupid decision-making.

That aside, Davis is the most well-rounded receiver in this group and the one that could wind up be the deep threat that has been missing for awhile now. So, any injury to Davis would be bad news.

In fact, any sustained injuries to the likes of Davis, Pryor and Taylor would not be good. UW is very inexperienced behind this trio, and inexperience at QB and WR may not be a fun combination.

Dare I say, it would lead to UW not being back on top of the West division mountain?

Most Likely to Happen

I fully believe that the coaching staff will go in to the season knowing which quarterback they’ll go with and stick with. Confidence is key to helping this wide receiver group and I expect the Badgers offense to be much more balanced in 2019 than it was over the past two seasons.

Look for Davis, Pryor and Taylor to all increase their overall numbers and likely go over the 15 touchdown mark as a group. More importantly, I expect much more play-action and much more from the deep passing game too. That should be music to a talented, but under used group’s ears.

Don’t be surprised to see one of the Badgers wide receivers make a run at All-Big Ten honors as a result of that shift back to balance.

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