Real Question, is Wisconsin Ready for Nebraska?
BY TODD NEELEY
I’m not totally buying into the hype.
Pundits have given Nebraska hardly a chance against Wisconsin in Madison Saturday, but in all the excited fog surrounding the game is a dose of reality.
There are plenty of reasons to believe the Huskers have a shot to beat Wisconsin.
Sorry to upset the Russell Wilson apple cart here, but tell me one time early in this 2011 season that the Badger quarterback has had so much as a hand in his face.
Yeah I didn’t think so.
Wilson will face a much more athletic, physical defense than he’s faced all season. Wisconsin has barely broken a sweat in going 4-0, but things will change with Nebraska coming to town.
The Badgers may not face a better, more physical, faster team this season unless they play in the national championship game.
The Blackshirts will need to come to play this week, but defending Wisconsin is not impossible.
Week in and week out the Nebraska defense was challenged by the likes of Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Missouri, Texas A&M, Texas and Texas Tech.
Let’s face it, Nebraska hasn’t lived up to its standards in 2011 – they rank an embarrassing 52nd in the country in total defense. These are the kinds of numbers that once got Craig Bohl fired as defensive coordinator, and proof that Husker coaches are pounding on their
defenders in practice.
Bo Pelini has a history of making adjustments on defense, and usually has that unit peaking by midseason. The fact that Nebraska hasn’t played very well on that side of the ball yet means its best game is yet to come.
It would be a great week to put it all together.
Setting all the hype and history aside, Nebraska has a clear path to its first Big Ten win.
First, the Nebraska defensive line must get a push against a mammoth Wisconsin offensive line – one of the biggest at any level of football. This means Husker all-American Jared Crick has to somehow find a way to re-establish the line of scrimmage two to three yards in the Badger backfield, forcing Russell Wilson to run. The guy is a better passer than he is a runner.
If Nebraska can force Wisconsin into third and long, then the Huskers can bring the heat and get hits on Wilson.
Nebraska has to make the Wisconsin defense make decisions on the perimeter. The Badgers have to be made to choose between containing Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead – making the option the perfect play to run against what appears to be a good, but fairly slow defense.
Nebraska has a lot of speed at receiver and will need to take shots downfield and exploit holes in a Wisconsin zone defense.
NU has been outstanding on special teams with kicker/punter Brett Maher and kick returner Ameer Abdullah. Nebraska will need to win the field position battle to put pressure on the Wisconsin defense and these guys can make a huge difference.
The Huskers have to force at least two turnovers in this game. Simply put, Wisconsin hasn’t made mistakes and that will have to change. Conversely, Nebraska has to hold onto the ball – they laid the ball on the ground four times at Wyoming last week. What’s more, Nebraska has to not beat itself with dumb penalties.
If you watch Russell Wilson during his days at North Carolina State, he had plenty of games when he made knuckleheaded mistakes with the ball – proving defenses can get to him.
Finally, Nebraska can’t allow the Wisconsin offense to just pound away in the running game and control time of possession.
Though Husker fans are up in arms about Nebraska’s slow defensive start that may be the silver lining heading to Madison – this is a Nebraska team that hasn’t come close to reaching its potential on defense.
The Nebraska offense has improved significantly from game one – finally finding an identity that includes a power running game and a big-play quarterback. NU holds a speed advantage on both sides of the ball and Nebraska’s special teams have been special, Wisconsin’s not so much.
With all the talk about how NU is facing a balanced and disciplined team in a hostile environment, you’d swear Nebraska has yet to play in the kind of atmosphere it will see at Camp Randall Stadium.
Nebraska fans remember well playing at Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Washington, Oklahoma, you name it. Kids come to Nebraska to play in the big games on a big stage with a lot on the line.
Wisconsin has been good, really good, but championships aren’t won by playing softies. So far the Badgers have been playing weekly scrimmages, but this week they face an opponent that will punch them in the mouth – win or lose.
Is Wisconsin ready for Nebraska?