MADISON, Wis. — What use, really, is an extended conversation about that cold day that grew colder by the touchdown?

"That was, like, what, three years ago? Two years ago?" Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong said.

To be exact, it was Nov. 15, 2014, the last time Nebraska came to Wisconsin, and let's just tell it like Elaine from "Seinfeld" would tell it: It was snowy, Melvin Gordon was there, and yada yada yada … Wisconsin won 59-24.

Yeah, De'Mornay Pierson-El will admit, that one "burned for a little bit."

Mike Riley was coaching 2,100 miles away.

Nate Gerry, a sophomore at the time, wasn’t so fortunate. He saw it up close.

"I was young and we got our butts handed to us," said the Husker safety. "I think there's a chip on our shoulder. They're that team in the West side of the thing that we need to duke it out with. Recently it's been us or them."

Unfortunately for Nebraska, it's been more of them, with Wisconsin winning four of the five meetings against the Huskers since NU joined the Big Ten in 2011.

Nebraska fans know the horror stories and don't need them recounted in novel form: there was the 48-17 licking with Russell Wilson's involvement, there was the 70-31 Husker collapse in Indianapolis, there was the Gordon game (408 rushing yards, 16 yards a carry).

Nightmares if you dwell on them. Nebraska players and coaches, who weren't even here, certainly aren't this week.

The son of a high school history teacher respects what came before. But forgive Riley for not being overly interested in talking about the Huskers' last visit to Madison. He was coaching against Arizona State that night.

"I think that's probably something to know, but I'm not really concerned about that," Riley said of Husker-Badger history. "This is the 2016 Husker team, so we're going to just get ready to play football against a good football team. We have to win on the road if we want to be that team that we want to be."

Indeed, it's about this staff and these players in 2016. What happens Saturday night between No. 7 Nebraska and No. 11 Wisconsin has nothing to do with Gordon, Wilson or Jared Abbrederis.

Some of Nebraska's veteran players, though, will agree with the idea that given recent history, Wisconsin represents a wall the Huskers really need to scale.

"I would say so," said senior wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp. "Wisconsin's always been a tough matchup for us. We kind of have a little receiver group chat going right now, and everyone's just kind of saying this game has always been one that's circled on the calendar. We just gotta beat these guys."

Fellow receiver Stanley Morgan summed it up in just a few words: "This is a test we need."

Senior linebacker Josh Banderas thinks so, too, while also noting this is no time for the Huskers to change the approach that has served them well so far.

"I think being 7-0, we haven't been that since 2001, so this team has already done something amazing," Banderas said. "But we didn't come into the season to be 7-0 or 8-0. We came in trying to get to Indianapolis. So this definitely is a big hurdle, but we've got to treat it the same. We can't get uptight and start changing our ways now. We have to keep that steady lane and keep doing what we're doing."

Get ready for a boxing match. That's what Gerry thinks playing Wisconsin is like.

"They're disciplined," he said. "They just keep hitting you with the same plays. Especially in the secondary, it all comes down to our eyes, and overall toughness, and whoever swings the most punches is going to win."

As for what happened in the past, Gerry said it’s "like Purdue and Illinois and anyone else. It's one of those things we put in the back of our head, but we're going to win the football game because of us. That's one thing we've been focusing on is us, and being able to handle our job."

A year ago, in Lincoln, the Huskers blew opportunities to build on a lead in the third quarter and did just enough wrong to get nipped 23-21 by a Badger field goal in the final seconds.

But these Huskers, for whatever flaws they have, are 7-0 and a confident bunch.

Reasons why this Husker-Badger game might be different.

* Senior defensive tackle Kevin Maurice points out this defense's ability to "bow up" after a bad play or when put in stressful situations.

"Just being able to bounce back and hit the reset button," Maurice said. "I think that's one of the best things we have on the defense right now."

* Westerkamp feels players on this team have "bought into what we're doing and preparing like crazy." There's an investment from everyone in Year 2 of the Riley era that he feels is showing on Saturdays.

* A staff-player chemistry that hadn't fully formed a year ago when Nebraska last saw Wisconsin.

Gerry points out the challenges these coaches faced when they arrived to coach a team that, even with that implosion at Wisconsin in 2014, had won nine games.

"They got put in a tough position, too. It's not easy taking over a winning program," Gerry said. "Same thing for us. It's not easy letting go of coaches that won football games and things like that."

* The thought in August that the Huskers would have a strong senior class of leaders has seemed to been a reality.

They've been through a lot, including true tragedy of a lost teammate. "I just think the senior class is second-to-none," Gerry said. "I think the bond we have is phenomenal."

Now they face their biggest test of the year, together, under the lights, with plenty of doubters out there.

Gerry thinks these are the games you live for as a player. As bad as that Nebraska visit was to Madison in 2014, he thought Wisconsin's famous "Jump Around" routine was pretty cool.

While talking about it, Gerry slipped in a line that could easily be glossed over if not paying close attention. It probably shouldn't be. Because there was a most confident air about it.

"The 'Jump Around' thing is their fourth-quarter thing," Gerry said. "But I wouldn't want to see us in the fourth quarter either."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.


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