Hey Nebraska, welcome to the Big 10! The first in conference game for the Huskers will be on the road against the defending Big 10 champs and current highest rated team in the conference, Wisconsin Badgers. Nebraska isn’t too far behind, as the match up will be the feature game of the week in prime time on ABC and will also be the home of ESPN’s Gameday show. Needless to say, the crowd up in Madison will be riled up and ready to go for this game.
There are several keys to this game.
1) Can Nebraska’s D stop the Wisconsin running game? This will be the Huskers toughest test yet. Washington featured running back Chris Polk who will no doubt play on an NFL team next year, but the Huskies didn’t have the offensive line that Wisconsin boasts. They also have a two headed monster in Monte Ball and James White. Jared Crick, who sat out last week’s game against Wyoming, will be back and in full force. This will help out a ton. The Huskers also have Lavonte David back, who has missed a couple games this year. David led the team in tackles last year with 152.
2) Can Nebraska stop Russell Wilson? So far Wilson has had his way with the opposing defenses, but he hasn’t played a team like Nebraska. The blackshirts will have to put the pressure on early and keep the pressure on all game to try and fluster Wilson and force him into making some questionable decisions. The Huskers safeties can’t bite on the play action. If they stay at home and let the linebackers do the dirty work, the Huskers could have a solid game against this Wisconsin offense.
3) Can Nebraska hang onto the ball? Nebraska has fumbled more than any team (other than South Carolina) in the country. On the other side of the ball, Wisconsin has not fumbled once this season. For Nebraska to have a real shot at winning this game, they need to hang onto the football and not be -3 in the turnover category.
4) Can Taylor Martinez pass the ball? He’s shown consistency, albeit, not good consistency, in the passing game. He usually completes about 11 or 12 passes in 21 or 22 attempts, around 50%. He has hit the big play on several occasions this year, as teams try to cheat and bring their safeties up in case Martinez is gonna take off running. But Martinez needs to hit on more than just the big play. He needs to be able to complete a pass on 3rd and 8 to move the chains and keep a drive alive. He needs to have a game much like the one in last year’s game against Oklahoma State. Martinez proved that he could step up and make plays in the passing game down in Stillwater. That was also a big road game against a top 10 opponent in which the Huskers were an underdog. Maybe Martinez knows how to pick it up in big games.
5) Can Wisconsin stop Taylor Martinez and the Huskers rushing game? So far, the Huskers have been dominant in the ground game. Martinez and senior RB Rex Burkhead are both averaging over 100 yards per game. Nebraska also has several freshman RB’s who are very capable playmakers. Freshman RB Aaron Green had 2 touchdowns in the win vs Washington. Nebraska needs to stick to what they do best and run the ball. Early on against Wyoming, Nebraska tried to pass the ball more than run it. That resulted in a close game at halftime. After the half, Nebraska chose to run the ball over and over again, wearing down the defense and winning big in the second half. Nebraska needs to take a running approach into this game. If they can get the run going early, it will open up for some play action plays which makes the Nebraska offense so dangerous. If Wisconsin can slow the running game down, they have a great chance to win the game.
I think this will be a very close, well fought game. The atmosphere will be intense and Nebraska is young on the offensive side of the ball. Nebraska will need to play mistake free football if they are going to win this game. At this point in the season, I think Wisconsin has the edge, especially with the home field advantage during a night game. Like I said in my pre-season predicitions, I think the Badgers will take this game in a close one, but I think by the end of the season Nebraska will be more experienced and get revenge in the inaugural Big 10 championship game in December.