College Football Game Of The Week: Nebraska-Wisconsin
Nebraska couldn't have asked for a tougher welcome to the Big Ten than a road game at the raucous Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.
The Cornhuskers are coming off a string of wins, but they have struggled with marginal defensive play. That could hurt them against Wisconsin, whose offense is clicking on all cylinders thanks to transfer quarterback Russell Wilson.
Two weeks ago, Washington quarterback Keith Price torched the Blackshirts for 38 points with his four touchdown passes. More importantly, the Huskies rushed for 146 yards and converted 50 percent of their third down tries.
While Nebraska won that game 51-38, neither Price nor his Washington team are near the caliber of Wilson and Wisconsin.
Here are some key bullet points for what to expect come Saturday night at 8pm ET on ABC.
1). Wisconsin's rushing attack.
The Badgers' offense (48.5 points per game) destroys opponents with the run: Montee Ball and James White lead perhaps the most devastating rushing attack in the country. Meanwhile, against both Washington and Fresno St., the Cornhuskers allowed 100-yard rushers and looked very slow off the line. The overall speed and power of Wisconsin's two backs is too much for a slower Nebraska defense to handle. Wisconsin hasn't had a 100-yard rusher yet, but don't look too far into that. This is an extremely balanced offense. The reason TCU beat them in the Rose Bowl was because they didn't have the threat of Russell Wilson, which enabled the uber-talented Horned Frog defense to bring safeties into the box and force the throw.
The Blackshirts will be as healthy as they've been all season come Saturday. All-American candidates Jared Crick, Lavonte David and Alfonzo Dennard will all play together for the first time this season. On the other side, Wisky's senior kicker Phillip Welch -- one of the best in its history -- is still hurt and backup sophomore Kyle French really hasn't been tested.
3). IT WON'T MATTER!
Wilson averages 12 yards per pass attempt, top among Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts. Gone is All-American cornerback Prince Amukamara, who last season completely shut down one side of the field. The Huskers don't possess the talent on the perimeter to defend Nick Toon (5 TDs) and Wisky's aerial attack given that sometimes it will have to load the box with eight to respect the running game. Look for Wilson to single out redshirt freshman cornerback Corey Cooper, who is coming off his first career start. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst is a very creative play-caller who was offered jobs with both Texas and the Dallas Cowboys. By the second half, the Badger play-action game will be in full effect.
4). Taylor Martinez cannot throw the ball.
"T-Magic" is a terrific runner, but he is a one-trick pony. He's not comfortable as a drop-back passer, which is precisely what the Badger defense will force him to become. Wisconsin features one of its fastest and most prolific defenses ever and will constantly apply pressure on Martinez throughout the night. Ranked third in the country, Wisky's defense will limit the Husker option game.
If Nebraska fails to establish runningback Rex Burkhead early, this game will be over in a hurry. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck did use the wildcat with Burkhead as the linchpin last week against Wyoming. The wildcat has a tricky way of confusing defenses and is certainly worth a shot, but without any threat of a vertical attack, it's likely to be more of a gimmick. Forget Nebraska being ranked eighth in the country. The Huskers are not a team built to come from behind. This is a ball-controlled offense that buries you in the fourth quarter after controlling tempo. Contain Martinez's run game and they can't win. Look for the Badgers to set the pace early and often. In this building, under the lights, expect a romp.
The Badgers are 45-4 at home since the start of the 2004 season and 34-3 under head coach Bret Bielema. They've lost just two night games since 1998 and three in the program's history. This won't be the fourth. Can you say Mr. Wilson for Heisman?
PICK: Wisconsin 41, Nebraska 20
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article mistakenly identified Wisconsin's kicker as Phillip Hurst. He is Phillip Welch.
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