Sports

Can Nebraska’s Defense Stop Wisconsin’s Offense?

| by Alex Groberman

This has been a strange year for the Nebraska Cornhuskers any way you look at it. Aside from the anticipated weirdness, as it relates to changing conferences and offensive strategies during the offseason, there’s also been a certain shift in what the program is resting its hat on these days.

The once-infamous Bo Pelini Defense has been taken down a peg in recent weeks, mostly as a byproduct of injuries and ineffective game-planning versus opposition that, really, should’ve never even stood a chance. Fortunately, as a result of the offense and special teams stepping up and filling the hole, Nebraska’s defensive woes haven’t impacted the team’s wins and losses totals.

Yet.

This week, however, everything changes as Nebraska packs up its gear and heads into the belly of the beast, preparing to square off on the road against new conference rivals, the Wisconsin Badgers. The country’s No. 7 and 8 ranked teams, respectively, have a lot to play for this Saturday and, as such, clearly need all hands on deck.

Coming into this game, Wisconsin is averaging 286 passing and 245 rushing yards per game. In terms of overall yardage, the Badgers are ranked eighth in the country with 532 yards per outing. Much of that success comes from the effectiveness of quarterback Russell Wilson -- who is completing nearly 76 percent of his passes -- and running backs Montee Bell and James White. The glue that holds the offense together, however, is the squad’s  massive size -- literally, the offensive line features five players who come in at 300+ pounds.

The Huskers, who finally getting cornerback Aflonzo Dennard back last week, lost their other preseason All-American Jared Crick against the Washington Huskies two weeks ago. Luckily for the them, all signs point to him being available to play against Wisconsin.

“It will ease my pain,” Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said of finally putting out a healthy defense.

“It’s just nice to have those guys back and healthy. They all looked good out there today. It’s good to see…The last three years we’ve had some early-season injuries that kind of forced us to reshuffle,” he said. “But in the end, if you weather the storm you survive. Survive and advance as we say. It will make you a better team if you have a lot of guys with experience.”

When pressed on what exactly kept Crick out of this past weekend’s game, head coach Bo Pelini was reluctant to expand on his initial “he got dinged up” prognosis.

“I don’t know about the concussion thing. It has changed over the years, especially recently…He looks good. He looks like Jared. You’re cautious with those injuries, but he was chomping at the bit on Saturday night.”

The other Pelini was also far less optimistic regarding what having all three of his preseason All-Americans on the field would mean for the coming game.

“It will be nice if we play well,” he said. “I think we have to keep working to get better. Having those guys out there together, along with everybody else, we have to get on the same page. We have to keep upping our level of play, regardless of who is on the schedule.”

This is make it or break it time for the Huskers. With everyone back and ready to play on defense, the squad literally has no excuses to flub things up. The expectations are high, Nebraska knows what it needs to do, and Wisconsin’s major weakness is ripe for the picking.

Will a new Big Ten powerhouse emerge after this outing?

We’ll find out on Saturday.