The current national perception of the Nebraska Cornhuskers is that they can't win the big game. There's little doubt that Bo Pelini's resume is lacking that signature win (partly because Missouri always falls apart after Nebraska beats them). Tonight is a great opportunity for Bo and the 'Skers to make a statement to the rest of the Big Ten. "We may be new, but make no mistake, this is OUR conference."
That being said, I feel good about this game. It feels like the pressure is off of Nebraska (Wisconsin now a 10 point favorite). Almost nobody (and their mother) has the Huskers winning tonight (although Lee Corso just did). Pelini may have learned his lesson from putting too much pressure on his own team against Texas last season, so he has been downplaying everything about this historic game for the Huskers (read about it here). Good move, Bo.
My biggest fear about the game is the Wisconsin running game. The Blackshirts' run defense has been rather un-stout (more like a Belgian White) so far this year. The Badgers will attack you with run, run, run, and then hit you with a playaction over the top. I trust the discipline of the Husker defense, I'm just skeptical of their ability to stop the run. However, the Blackshirts haven't been at full health yet this year. Tonight should be the first game that both CB Alfonzo Dennard and DT Jared Crick will both be on the field (Fonz missed first three, Crick last week). It could make a huge difference to have all three leaders of the defense (combined with LB Lavonte David) on the field at once.
How bout some stats...
~~Stats you need to know~~
- Taylor Martinez is 12-4 as a starter. He has averaged 113 rushing yards per game in his 12 career victories. In his 4 losses, he's averaged 7.25 yards per game.
- T-Mart's 2011 numbers running the option: 19 attempts, 175 yards, 3 touchdowns.
- Nebraska's 2nd half rushing totals the last two weeks: 217 (vs. Washington), 220 (vs. Wyoming).
- Wisconsin is 1 of 3 teams in the nation to average 240 yards both passing and rushing (Baylor, Missouri).
- Since the start of 2010, Russell Wilson leads all quarterbacks with 16 first down runs on 3rd and 5+.
Key Matchup: Wisconsin WR Nick Toon vs. Nebraska CB Alfonzo Dennard - A favorable matchup (if the Fonz is 100% - he looked good last week) for the Huskers, as they can match strength vs. strength on the Badgers' biggest weapon. I expect Dennard to follow Toon (son of Tecmo Bowl star Al Toon!) all over the field. This is a matchup you could see on future Sundays.
X-Factor: The Nebraska specialty teams - The Huskers might need a big play out of the kicking game tonight. They definitely have the tools. Returner Ameer Abdullah is explosive (averaging 42.5 yards per kick return). K Brett Maher is 8 of 9 on the year, and his only miss was from 50+ and it even looked good to me (but you couldn't tell because of those damn short goalposts in Wyoming).
Keep Your Eye On: Nebraska WR Jamal Turner - Recruited to play QB, this dynamic freshman is like butter when he gets the ball in the open field. He will be one of the most exciting players in College Football over the next four years of his career.
Everybody is on Wisconsin because they've dominated all of their games up to this point, but might that actually be a condemnation? First off, the Badgers' best opponent (Northern Illinois) was beaten by Kansas. Second off, they haven't played a meaningful snap in the second half. Meanwhile, Nebraska has broken open two close games after the intermission, and then dealt with an undefeated Wyoming team last week. This is why...
If the game is close, I'm taking Nebraska.
I don't think the game will be close enough. I'm afraid the Blackshirts have been faulty up to this point, but not bad enough to make any defiant changes. It's best to know your weaknesses and I'm not sure if Nebraska views anything as a problem yet. It all comes down to whether the Huskers can stop the Badgers ground game tonight. If they can, I expect a close game and a Nebraska victory. But if they can't...
Prediction: Wisconsin over Nebraska 30-17*
*However, if the Huskers come out in the much-rumored black uniforms ("oops" photo preview can be seen here in the top left corner), to match the expected 30,000 Nebraska fans in Madison tonight, I'll take the Huskers in a landslide.
Go Big Red,