LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Coming off a three-touchdown loss to Wisconsin, Nebraska will face a top-10 opponent for the second straight week.
Next up is No. 9 Ohio State (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten), which beat the Cornhuskers by 59 points in Columbus last year. The Huskers (3-3, 2-1) are 24-point underdogs for Saturday night’s home game.
Will it be hard to get ready emotionally after the physically taxing loss to the Badgers?
“It can be, especially for guys who really haven’t been through it,” nose tackle Mick Stoltenberg said Monday. “It’s going to be really important for some of our leaders to step up and for guys to bring everyone along. If this week starts out wrong and we don’t prepare well right off the bat, it’s definitely one of those games that could get away from us.”
The Huskers also played Wisconsin and Ohio State in consecutive weeks last year but were a top-10 team at the time themselves. They lost 23-17 in overtime to the Badgers and 62-3 to the Buckeyes.
Nebraska is more fragile mentally than a year ago for this two-week meat grinder. The Huskers gave up 42 points in the first half of their loss at Oregon the week before their stunning loss at home to Northern Illinois. After building confidence with wins over Big Ten lightweights Rutgers and Illinois, the Badgers beat them soundly.
“Every week is an enormous opportunity. Last week was, this week certainly is. That’s all we can ask for is opportunities,” Stoltenberg said. “It’s frustrating we’re in the position we’re at. I’m sure all you guys know that, that we’re frustrated with some of the things that have happened. Our season is not over and we have plenty of football left to play.”
Ohio State has outscored Army, UNLV, Rutgers and Maryland by a combined 210-42 since losing 31-16 at home to Oklahoma. The Buckeyes’ defense allowed just 66 yards and six first downs in a 62-14 win over Maryland on Saturday.
“Not much left to say about the way they’re playing right now,” Huskers coach Mike Riley said. “They’re playing at a high level since that one loss and outscoring opponents. They’re versatile and productive offensively, and in almost every single category they’re near the top. Same thing defensively. It’s a major, major challenge for us.”
This will be only the third time in program history that the Huskers have played top-10 opponents in consecutive weeks of the regular season.
“I know there’ll be questions about where our team is mentally,” Riley said. “I think this group will come back and work hard today. We’re working to get this team better each day and we’ll do that for the week and they’ll be ready for their best Saturday night.”
Notes: Riley said RB Tre Bryant’s knee injury is a “mystery” and he would be in line for a medical redshirt if he doesn’t heal enough to play again this season. Bryant has played in two games, well under the minimum for getting back a year of eligibility. … RB Mikale Wilbon (ankle), who didn’t play against Wisconsin, has improved. … S Antonio Reed (knee) is “questionable, leaning to doubtful,” Riley said.