Nebraska's 13-7 victory over Iowa came with a huge price: the loss of defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler to a knee injury. Bo Pelini hasn't said exactly what the injury is, but has said it's probably season ending. With Wisconsin's powerful offensive line up next on the schedule, this injury could be a major problem for Nebraska to overcome.
By every account, Steinkuhler had taken his game up to the next level in the second half of the season. Pelini rarely took Steinkuhler off the field as he was playing his best football of his career. But against Iowa, Pelini had no choice. Against the Hawkeyes, Cameron Meredith slid inside to tackle, and the line held it's own. That worked against Iowa.
It might not work against Wisconsin. The Badgers go 317, 318, 338, 313 and 342 pounds up front. Now, Nebraska likely goes with Eric Martin (6'2" 250 lbs), Chase Rome (6'3" 285 lbs), Meredith (6'4" 260 lbs), and Joe Carter (6'5 265 lbs.) up front. Jason Ankrah (6'4" 265 lbs) will also play at defensive end. Ideally, Thad Randle (6'1" 295 lbs.) will be able to play, though his chronic leg injuries are sure to limit the amount of time he's available.
You get the sense that Wisconsin is hoping to bulldoze Nebraska on the ground in Indianapolis, and that's a very real possibility with that undersized line. So where is help going to come from? Start with redshirt freshman defensive tackle Kevin Williams, though he's undersized as well at 6'2" 265 lbs. Is it baptism by fire for true freshman Aaron Curry (6'1" 280 lbs), who hasn't played since the Idaho State game?
Do you get desperate enough to rip the redshirt off of highly regarded defensive tackle Vincent Valentine (6'3" 320 lbs)? He certainly fills the hole for you up front, but is a potential Big Ten championship worth more than having him for the 2016 season? I'd hate to see that happen, though I certainly understand how it must be tempting to do it.
More likely, you muddle through as best you can, and hope that the linebackers can fill in the gap. Fortunately, it doesn't appear that Wisconsin's Curt Phillips poses as much of a threat running the ball. Sure, he rushed for 68 yards against Indiana, but 52 came on one play. In the other three games he's played this year, Phillips has lost yardage, including -33 yards against Ohio State.
So Nebraska can focus on stopping Montee Ball and James White, and try to force Phillips to throw. He's only completing 52% of his passes this season, so you like Nebraska's chances if the Huskers can stop the Badgers o the ground.
It's just that Baker Steinkuhler's injury makes that so much more difficult now.