When the Nebraska Cornhuskers travel to Camp Randall on Saturday it will not only be the first meaningful game in the Big Ten this year but it will be the first Big Ten game for the Huskers. Some introduction to the conference, huh? So far this year Russell Wilson and the Wisconsin Badgers are clicking on all cylinders as they've crushed all of the patsies that have been placed before them on their early schedule. Nebraska also comes in 4-0 but have not quite had the early scoreboard success the Badgers have as they've given up more points than expected so far this season. Nebraska has the unenviable tasks of going into a hostile environment this weekend and trying to deal with the offensive attack of Heisman Contender Russell Wilson, RB Montee Ball (who already has 9 TD this season), RB James White and WR Nick Toon (21 rec 5 TD). Are the Huskers up for this early season test? I tracked down our Huskers guy, Brandon Collard, to get his take on this big B1G game.
Q: Where do you see Nebraska as having advantages in this game?
A: I think that the one place where Nebraska has a definite advantage over Wisconsin is in the running game. I don’t like to admit it, but Taylor Martinez is a very adapt runner if he can get the right plays being called from the Offensive Coordinator. It probably seems like an obvious thing to say, but it’s true. Taylor Martinez (for as suspect as he is in the passing game) can more than make up for it in the ground game if he can get something, anything through the air. If that means he has to throw it 15 times? Great! They just can’t try and get into a shootout with Wisconsin because it won’t be a pretty sight. Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah are excellent options to have in the backfield as well because both provide something completely different to one another. Rex is the power back (for as small as he is), who runs straight and gain yardage, while also having the ability to turn the corner to pick up large gains as well. Ameer is best utilized off of pitches and trick plays, but he is a great resource to have because if you can get him involved in the offense then the defense has to respect his ability which will allow for more creativity within the offense so that they can move the ball. What is the real question? Whether or not Tim Beck and the rest of the coaching staff has the ability to see this and actually change up their game plan accordingly if it is not working.
Q: Who needs to step up for Nebraska to win this game?
A: From a game plan perspective the people whom need to step up this week are the entire wide receiver corps. Nebraska is obviously a run based offense, but if the run isn’t working as well as you’d like it to then you have to go to the air. Kyler Reed is an excellent weapon to have in the tight end role, but he can’t be the only one in the passing game to get the bulk of the attention from the coaching staff. After Week One I stated that I thought Quincy Enunwa was going to be huge for this offense this year, and he has promptly…yup. Anyway, the point is, the wide receivers have to step up in this game, and for the people whom are clamoring for Jamaal Turner to get more touches I must remind you that he is 1.) A true freshman, which doesn’t mean much, but it is when going into a big game such as this one. 2.) This is his first year playing the position, so thinking that someone can just jump up to be one of your go to guys (not saying he can’t) might be asking a bit too much.
Who needs to step up for Nebraska to win this game? That answer is very simple it is the man by the name of T. Martinez. I have been very, very critical of Taylor Martinez this year, and last, but I feel that it is warranted. You can blame a lot of it on coaching of Shawn Watson, you can blame it on Tim Beck, you can blame it on Bo Pelini but at the end of the day Taylor Martinez has to be the one to step up during the course of the game. Moreover, the offense is HIS this season, he isn’t looking over his shoulder at Zac Lee and Cody Green, and he has this offense for himself this year. Has it looked good in spots this year? Yes. Does the offense need more creativity from its coaching staff? Absolutely. In the end, though, Taylor Martinez needs to step up and make better decisions in an effort to take pressure off of the run game and off of the defense. I know I have mentioned before about him needing to be “Trent Dilfer” and just let the defense take care of things, but the defense hasn’t been the best this year so the offense, more importantly, Martinez needs to step up and make plays and win this game for them.
Q: If you were the Nebraska OC what approach would you take to this game?
A: If I was the Nebraska Offensive Coordinator I would have turned in my resignation by now. That isn’t the answer you are looking for? Well then, I would try to use a lot of ball control offense with some trick or gadget plays worked in. It’s obviously in Nebraska’s best interest to try and not get into a shootout with the Badgers so you have to do things like this to keep the clock running and let the defense get a chance to rest. I would also use Ameer Abdullah to his fullest potential with a lot of screens and option plays, I have said in the past that I don’t think the repeated read option plays work, but there are way more than just that play to use a combination of Martinez/Abdullah or Martinez/Burkhead during offensive possessions. The other thing that I would use is a trick play or two using Jamaal Turner’s Quarterback background. He was a very highly touted quarterback coming out of high school whom happened to change positions this year so it’s not a stretch for him to do something like this. Potential reverses and laterals should be used to their fullest advantage in order to keep Wisconsin’s defense guessing and staying honest.
Q: What needs to happen for Nebraska to win this game?
A: The key thing that needs to happen for Nebraska to win this game is that the team can’t have mental errors like they have been having over the past two seasons. Nebraska constantly has too many dumb holding penalties, fumbles and overall miscommunication. Against a team like Wyoming, UT-Chattanooga and Fresno State they don’t, usually, come back to bite you. A team like Wisconsin, on the other hand will capitalize on every opportunity which is presented to them.
Nebraska absolutely cannot get down early in the game. If they get down by 14 points by halftime, then the offense will have to go to the air and that is not something Cornhusker fans want to see against Wisconsin. As good as Nebraska is on defense (or are perceived to be…) they don’t want to see if Russell Wilson and Montee Ball are the real deal this year, or not. They have to stick to their game plan (unless it is not working) and control the time of possession, so they aren’t stressing over the defense potentially not getting enough rest.
The defense HAS to show up in this game. On paper they still look pretty good but when you actually watch the games you see there are a lot of holes which can be exploited by a really good team such as Wisconsin. Alfonzo Dennard returned last week and had as good of a game that could have been expected against Wyoming, but he is still rusty since it was his first week back. He needs to show the type of skills everyone knows he is capable of and the reason he is one of the best corners in the country. Jared Crick needs to step his game up as well; he has looked very suspect this year, and it’s time to see if he is worth all the hype he has gotten since Suh left. They also need to make it so that Wisconsin can’t exploit the weaknesses on the defense, but no matter what some of the players are just going to stick out as not being very good. I never thought that the loss of Eric Hagg would be a big deal, but replacing him with Justin Blatchford has caused me to have flashbacks to the days of Tierre Green and Andrew Shanle starting in the defensive backfield. (For those of you who don’t follow Nebraska that closely; that is an extremely bad comparison.) The other place where there is a talent issue is the corner opposite of Dennard, whether that is Corey Cooper, Ciante Evans or Andrew Green. They all have issues and aren’t as talented as Dennard was playing opposite of Prince Amukamara. There is no way to stop Wisconsin from exploiting the match-ups, but you need to keep those to a minimum and hope for the best when they do happen.
In my pre-season preview I MAY have listed Nebraska as going 12-1, but I can’t remember; I think I hit my head right before I wrote it out, but if I did such a thing I thought this was the game they would lose. While there will be about 20-30,000 Husker fans in attendance; I don’t think it will be enough and I think Wisconsin will take all the openings that Nebraska gives them and picks them apart. I am sad to say this, but I think that this game will be going to the Badgers. If they meet in the Big 10 Championship game then I may change my tone.
Final Score: Wisconsin 27 – Nebraska 17.
(Definitely not a reverse jinx at all...)