Many people have shrugged off this weekend's game, recognizing Nebraska's inconsistent play and Wisconsin's dominance this season. Certainly Wisconsin should be favored this weekend, and some people think the line should be even higher. But is it hopeless this weekend? Should Husker fans simply hope that things don't get out of hand on the scoreboard, and hopefully be satisfied to be part of a special weekend in Mad-town?
I'd hope that's a worst-case scenario. Because deep-down, Nebraska has a chance to win this game. A very good chance. I was reminded that under Bo Pelini, Nebraska is 11-4 in road games. One of those losses was a bloodbath: 2008 against #1 Oklahoma. The other three losses were games that Nebraska could have won: a 2008 overtime loss at Texas Tech, a 2009 last second loss to Virginia Tech, and last season's screw-job at Texas A&M. Nebraska just seems to play better on the road under Pelini, and I expect the same thing this weekend.
Will that be enough? Probably not. But when we're looking at strategy, I truly believe that Nebraska has a huge advantage with Bo Pelini in charge. And that will be the key to defeating Wisconsin. Sound scheme and playing well.We've all seen defensive breakdowns in previous games, and that has to be alarming to fans. But let's not forget that we'll see Nebraska's three NFL first round prospects on the field together for the first time in Madison. Alfonzo Dennard missed the first three games, and Jared Crick missed the Wyoming game. And frankly, I'm not sure that Lavonte David has played quite as well this season than he did last year. That has to change this week. Maintaining assignments is going to be the first task at hand for David and Will Compton this week. Montee Ball and James White will kill Nebraska, if given the chance. So that is the first key: making sure the defensive line and the linebackers can handle the running game with six defenders. That doesn't mean exclusively there; Pelini will mix thing up, but the key is to not need to sell out consistently to stop the run.
The key on defense is the return of the "peso"...with Daimion Stafford in that role. Stafford brings a physical style to the defense, and certainly gives the defense a better chance to handle both rushing and passing situations as the nickel back. Pass defense is going to be key on Alfonzo Dennard locking down on Nick Toon; frankly, that might be the position battle to watch during the game. If so, then it'll come down to the rest of the secondary stopping Jared Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen. Corey Cooper's move to corner last week should help in run support, but the Huskers will need to make sure that the coverage is solid downfield...especially in play action situations.
Offensively, I think the biggest issue isn't so much game plan as it is executing the game plan. No doubt in my mind that mistakes have been Nebraska's biggest issue offensively this season. Fumbles and interceptions have still been a bugaboo at times this season. And that can't happen against a team like Wisconsin. In my opinion, this is the week Nebraska needs to unleash ALL of their weapons. That puts the pressure on Taylor Martinez to make good reads and find Kyler Reed, Jamal Turner, and Kenny Bell. Yes, that means Martinez is going to need to throw the ball a little this week. That loosens up the defense for Rex Burkhead to pound away. Then, the final dagger: a little zone read where Martinez takes off on a long run.
Does Nebraska have to play a perfect game? Maybe not perfect...but it has to be their best performance of the year. We've seen a Bo Pelini team step up and compete in games where people didn't think they had much of a chance. The problem is that sometimes Nebraska hasn't finished. Will that change this weekend? That might be the biggest question of all.