2011 Predictions & Game Story
Week 5 - Nebraska at Wisconsin
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Oct. 1 at Wisconsin 48 … Nebraska 17
CFN Analysis: The win went better than the coaching staff could've ever dreamed. The offensive line was physical and dominant against the good Husker defensive front, and the defensive front was able to control the line with mostly a three-man look. The Badgers were explosive, brutish and consistent, moving the ball at will against a real, live defense. Russell Wilson was in total command completing 14-of-20 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns, highlighted by a gorgeous 46-yard touchdown pass to Nick Toon. This was a total team effort in a blowout with the world watching. The secondary still needs work, and health will be an issue, but with two weeks off before the layup against Indiana, there's a nice three week break before the make-or-break showdowns at Michigan State and Ohio State.
This could've been seen coming. The passing game wasn't good enough to throw a scare into the Badger safeties, and the linebackers had no real worries about any short to midrange throws. Taylor Martinez ran relatively well, especially early on, but his three interceptions were a killer. The turnovers, the horribly ill-time nine penalties, and too many defensive mistakes helped the Badgers win, but the lack of enough big plays made it a blowout. The defensive line wasn't even close to holding up against the huge Wisconsin front, and up next is a wounded Ohio State line that's going to be blistered all week after its performance against Michigan State. There's time to turn things back around in a hurry with three home games in the next four, but there's a ton of work to do to polish up on both sides of the ball.
(AP) MADISON, Wis. -- Russell Wilson gave Nebraska a harsh welcome to the Big Ten, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another in No. 7 Wisconsin's 48-17 rout of the eighth-ranked Cornhuskers on Saturday night.
Montee Ball ran for 151 yards and four touchdowns for the Badgers (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten). But Wilson was the main attraction for a primetime television audience as Wisconsin overcame a slow start to solidify its status as the class of the conference.
"If there's a better player in college football right now, I'd like to see it," Badgers coach Bret Bielema said of Wilson.
Taylor Martinez threw three interceptions for the Huskers (4-1, 0-1), who showed they weren't quite ready for the best of the Big Ten.
By the time the Camp Randall Stadium public address system blared "Jump Around" to get fans hopping before the fourth quarter, the game already was in the bag for the Badgers.
"I knew there was a lot of hype going into this game," Bielema said. "That's why I kind of challenged our players to embrace it all week. I knew if we went out and played well and did what we do, we'd get a lot more attention."
It was the sixth meeting between the teams and the first since 1974, but clearly the biggest and one of the most anticipated games in recent memory for Wisconsin. The Badgers fans didn't exactly have Camp Randall to themselves.
The crowd of 81,384 was filled with plenty of Nebraska fans -- they wore black to differentiate themselves from Wisconsin fans who wear a similar shade of red -- amid reports earlier in the week that thousands of fans were expected to make the trip to Madison this weekend for the Huskers' first conference game as a member of the Big Ten.
"We didn't make plays," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "I'm embarrassed. I apologize to the fans of Nebraska."
The Badgers sent them home disappointed, but the two teams could be on track to meet again.
Wisconsin is in the Leaders division of the Big Ten and Nebraska is in the Legends division, meaning the two teams could play in the conference championship game.
It was another big step for Wilson, the former North Carolina State quarterback who gave up minor league baseball to return to college football and play for a Badgers team that seemed to have all the pieces of a BCS bowl contender but needed a quarterback.
Five games into the season, there's no reason to think otherwise.
Wilson had played well in his first four games for the Badgers after joining them over the summer, but hadn't yet been tested by a top-level opponent since his days with the Wolfpack.
And Wilson found himself under pressure early, especially by standout Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick. But then Wilson started showing his ability to scramble out of trouble and extend plays -- and Nebraska's defense couldn't keep up.
"Russell throws the ball on the move about as well as he does in the pocket," Bielema said.
Wisconsin's defense also appeared to be in for a long night, allowing a pair of early -- and easy -- touchdown drives to Martinez and the Huskers that put the Badgers behind 14-7 early in the second quarter.
Wilson answered with a drive, and Ball scored his second touchdown of the day. The extra point try was blocked by Crick, and Nebraska still led 14-13.
Later in the quarter, Wisconsin's defense picked off Martinez on two straight possessions, the first by linebacker Mike Taylor and the second by safety Aaron Henry.
Wilson made the Huskers pay for both turnovers, firing a 36-yard touchdown to Jared Abbrederis, then a 46-yard touchdown to Nick Toon with 0:32 left. Nebraska missed a 50-yard field goal try near the end of the second quarter, and Wisconsin took a 27-14 lead into halftime.
Martinez then threw another interception on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, this time to cornerback Antonio Fenelus.
Wilson helped the Badgers cash in again, this time with his legs. On first-and-goal at the 10, Wilson faked a handoff and took off running, leaving the Huskers' defense in his dust on a touchdown run. Wisconsin took a 34-14 lead, effectively ending the game early in the third quarter.
Rex Burkhead had 18 carries for 96 yards for the Huskers.
Nebraska (4-0) at Wisconsin (4-0) Oct. 1, 8:00, ABC
Here's The Deal … Considering college football started back in 1869, it's hard to come by anything that's truly historic. While Nebraska's move to the Big Ten might be overhyped and overblown just a wee bit, it does represent a major moment to remember.
There wasn't much fanfare when Utah and Colorado began their new lives in the Pac-12, and it wasn't exactly earth shattering when Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Miami kicked off ACC play after taking off from the Big East a few years ago. It was a big deal when Penn State started out the 1993 season with a Big Ten opener against Minnesota, but that was a home game against a bad team.
Nebraska going to the Big Ten is different. It feels right geographically, and it feels like the right fit at the right time in the new world of conference expansion and realignment. More importantly, at least for the moment, this is a really, really big game.
Call it the Barry Bowl. Legendary Wisconsin head coach and athletic director Barry Alvarez is a Nebraska alum, and from the moment he set foot on the UW campus over two decades ago he talked openly about the idea of the two big red schools squaring off. When the Husker head coaching job was available a few times since the retirement of Tom Osborne, Alvarez was front and center on rumors to take over, but he decided to continue to build Wisconsin into a powerhouse, and now his dream is coming true.
Nebraska's inaugural Big Ten game couldn't be against anyone else.
The two schools are roughly eight hours apart, but they haven't met since 1974 – a 21-20 Badger win – and they've only played five times, with the first game an 18-0 Badger win in 1901. Now the two teams are in opposite divisions, and while this first game is big, it's possible they could hook up again in the inaugural Big Ten Championship game, too.
For Wisconsin, this is its chance to put its name in the national title discussion. The respect is there, and the ranking is fine, but beating up on UNLV, Oregon State, Northern Illinois, and South Dakota hasn't moved the needle much. To have any shot of breaking into the penthouse currently reserved by Oklahoma, LSU, and Alabama, the Badgers have to come up with a beating against a team with a big brand name, and the chances will be there over the next month with road trips to Michigan State and Ohio State to follow the light scrimmage against Indiana in two weeks.
The Badgers have been flawless over the first four games. The passing game is among the most efficient in America, the defense has been a brick wall before garbage time, and the Wisconsin running game is the Wisconsin running game. There hasn't been any drama so far on the field, there haven't been any tests, and there hasn't been a slip up in any way.
On the flip side, Nebraska has been shaky. The normally stout defense can't seem to find any consistency, the offense is putting up points, but it's one-dimensional, and it took way too much of an effort to get by mediocre teams like Wyoming, Washington, and Fresno State. None of that will matter if the Huskers can get out of Madison with a win, but the hits won't stop coming even if they do come up with the upset.
If this game wasn't big enough, next week's Big Ten home opener against Ohio State – who gets all the players back off suspension – will take on a life of its own. There are still dates at Penn State and Michigan to deal with, and home games against Michigan State and Iowa won't be easy, but for now, everything is focused on Wisconsin.
After months of talk and after all the building excitement, it's finally here. If the game can come close to matching the hype, it'll be worth it.
Why Nebraska Might Win: Wisconsin hasn't faced anyone with a defensive line.
Glossed over a bit in all the big numbers and the ease of wins against an awful schedule is that the offensive line has been just okay, not elite. The Badger runners are getting their big dashes when they get to the second level, and the overall numbers are fine, but it took a little while to get the engine moving against South Dakota and Oregon State. The Wisconsin formula is simple: beat up smaller, sadder defensive lines, and the yards will come. The difference this week is that the Nebraska defensive front, with a relatively healthy Jared Crick anchoring the inside, won't wear down.
If this is close, the Huskers should have a huge advantage on special teams. Thanks to Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska leads the nation in kickoff returns and is solid in the punt return game. Brett Maher is second in the nation in punting and is 8-of-9 on field goal attempts, with the only miss coming last week from 50 yards out at the end of the first half. Wisconsin's punting game has been great and the punt return game has been terrific, but redshirt freshman Kyle French has to show he can come through in the clutch in place of injured starter Philip Welch. French is 2-of-4 so far, but both his misses were from 50 yards out.
Why Wisconsin Might Win: Nebraska can't exploit Wisconsin's Achilles' heel. The Badger secondary is banged up, hurt mostly by the loss of Devin Smith to a foot injury. Northern Illinois had a little success through the air early on, and South Dakota tried to push the ball deep, but neither one had much success. Nebraska's maddeningly inefficient passing game is only coming up with 167 yards per game, and Wisconsin is going to take its chances deep and tee off against the run.
The Badger defensive front is fine, but it's nothing special. The linebacking corps, though, is playing at a high level, and if Chris Borland and company can spend the entire game teeing off on Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead, the Husker ground game will sputter and struggle. Since getting ripped apart by Andy Dalton in the Rose Bowl, the Wisconsin coaching staff appears to have figured out how to keep running quarterbacks in check, stopping NIU's Chandler Harnish and South Dakota's Dante Warren cold. Martinez and Burkhead have to be brilliant for Nebraska to win, but they won't be if there's no passing game.
Nebraska's bigger problem is a lack of pass rush. The Husker defensive front has been awful so far at making things happen behind the line and have just six sacks in the first four games. The only way to slow down the Wisconsin offense is to stop the backs before they get time to wait for the hole to develop, and force the passing game to speed up. However …
What To Watch Out For: Russell Wilson is playing at a Heisman-caliber level. It's been quickly forgotten how accurate Scott Tolzien was last year for the Badgers, leading the nation in passing efficiency, but he couldn't move. Wilson is deadly accurate when he gets time, and he's tremendous at being able to buy space and an extra second with his feet. While the plan is for him to stay in the pocket as much as possible, he's proving to be even more dangerous when he gives the option of running, scrambles around, and then finds his man deep.
It's not that Taylor Martinez can't throw he bombed away on Oklahoma State for 323 yards and five touchdowns last year, it's that he can't do it consistently. He'll connect on deep plays now and then to take advantage of cheating safeties, but he's barely completing half his passes on the year with two straight 10-of-21 games against Fresno State and Washington. However, he's running like he did before hurting his ankle last year with 431 yards and seven touchdowns despite being held under wraps by Wyoming last week. Nebraska hasn't lost when Martinez has run for 25 yards or more.
What Will Happen: Nebraska might be the story coming into the game, but it'll be Russell Wilson by the time it's over. The Badger free agent pickup has been nearly flawless so far, and this week he'll show off his stuff on a national stage. The Huskers will run well, but not well enough to overcome the Wisconsin's balance in what will be a statement-making moment for Bret Bielema's program.
CFN Prediction: Wisconsin 38 ... Nebraska 24
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Wisconsin -9.5 O/U: 59
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