Nebraska plays its biggest game of the year on Saturday: at Wisconsin. The Vegas wiseguys say it won’t even be close, putting the Badgers at a 10-point favorite. The thing is, even after four wins, we still don’t know what to expect from the Huskers.
We’ve seen flashes of brilliance followed by moments of mayhem. Although he says “it’s just the next game on the schedule,” Huskers Coach Bo Pelini understands this will be his toughest test in 2011. And he knows he needs to do 5 things to win.
1. Master the Atmosphere. The Huskers cannot wilt under the insane pressure. The problem with playing three non-conference game at home and one semi-away game (a high school facility against nearby Wyoming doesn’t qualify as a tough road test) is that it hasn’t prepared the Huskers for what they’ll face on Saturday. Camp Randall will be one part Rage Against the Machine concert and one part Tea Party. It will be loud, angry and hostile -- and those are just the women. It will be far beyond anything the Huskers have experienced in quite some time. Remember, the Huskers are the new kid on the block, the Belle of the new Big Ten Ball and Wisconsin is the old, graying date in the corner. Nobody likes somebody getting all the attention and Badger fans will be there to remind everyone of that fact. So if the Huskers hesitate or get rattled in the chaotic atmosphere, this thing could get ugly very fast.
2. Find the Good Martinez. We all know the bad Taylor Martinez. The one who throws ugly balls five yards behind receivers, the one who runs the second he senses pressure in the pocket – instead of standing in and delivering to a second or third option. That Taylor Martinez must remain in Lincoln. The good Martinez must show up in Madison. I’m talking about the one who is a nasty dual threat with his arm and legs. The good Martinez doesn’t fumble. He keeps a level head, throws good balls on time and carves up defenses with the option.
3. No Swiss Cheese Defense. Simply put, the defense must have its best game of the season. By like four miles. We haven’t seen the defense play a complete game yet. The defense looked better against Wyoming, but the beer league team from Carl’s Auto Shop would look better against Wyoming. So that really told us nothing. If Nebraska wins this game, we’ll look back and say: The Huskers defense finally put together a very good game. Now, this doesn’t mean it has to be perfect. That’s unrealistic and unfair. Wisconsin is far too good to expect perfection. But it has to limit the Badgers big plays. It can’t let them go on long, devastating, clock-devouring drives. It can’t give up huge, aorta-crushing third down plays.
4. Jared Crick, Jared Crick, Jared Crick. This guy needs to play. See No. 3. If Crick plays, the Huskers have a chance at making No. 3 happening. If not, it could be a loooong day. The guy is a beast and Nebraska needs its beast in hostile territory. As of mid week, Crick was listed as “likely to play.” Husker fans must hope that keeping him out of the Wyoming game was just a precautionary measure -- so he’d be rested and ready for Wisconsin.
5. The Mighty T-Rex. He’s small and shifty, but Rex Burkhead better be a monster on Saturday. If the Huskers think they can get away with Burkhead having a quiet day, they’re sadly mistaken. The offensive line and Burkhead better produce meaningful yards because if they don’t, expect the Badgers to sit back and let Martinez try and beat them through the air. And we all know Nebraska needs offensive balance to truly prosper.