The real season begins. It's been a long wait since the mayhem in Madison. Nebraska can use this game as a springboard for the rest of the season. Wisconsin is a good, solid team, but if the goal is to win the B1G Championship, this is a must-win. Black helmets can't win this game, but Blackshirts can. Wisconsin's offense has been pedestrian, and that may be an understatement, while their defense has looked stout, especially their run defense. Their passing defense has some holes for Tim Beck, Taylor Martinez and crew to exploit. From what I have witnessed so far this year, the Cornhuskers are the superior team. And if they can accomplish the following keys, they should start 1-0 in conference play.
- Handle the big game environment: This should be a lot easier to do in the comfy confines of Memorial Stadium. Play loose and fast and feed off the energy of the crowd. If Nebraska comes out tight and hesitant, it will lead to turnovers, penalties, sacks, and fundamental breakdowns as we saw last year in big games. Do not kill yourself with penalties! The coaches and players need to embrace the sure-to-be electric atmosphere. I'll be screaming my Cornhead off in North Stadium, about 50 rows up. I implore everyone to do the same, blue hairs, young bucks, and juiced college students alike.
- Make Wisconsin one-dimensional: Trust the strength of the defense, the secondary, and dare Joel Stave, a redshirt freshman quarterback making his first road start, to beat you with the pass. Load up on the run. I'm not convinced Nebraska can stop their run game with the front seven. Move the big-hitting safeties up in the box and hit Montee Ball early and often. If they start gaining four, five, six yards a-pop in the run game which translates into long, demoralizing drives, Nebraska will be in trouble. Will they maybe beat the single coverage from time to time and make a big play? Perhaps, but I'd make them prove it. In summary, stop their run game.
- Have a smart offensive game plan: I'm looking at you Coach Tim Beck. Do not, I repeat, do not put Taylor Martinez and this offense in bad or uncomfortable positions. Do not panic if you fall behind early or the run game isn't producing at the rate you want it to. Stick with it. Get Martinez in a rhythm with some early, easy passes. Keep Wisconsin's defense off balance. Beck has an abundance of weapons to play with. Utilize them! Is there a cornerback in college football that could tackle Quincy Enunma one-on-one? Get him some quick slants, curls, and screens. If Wisconsin starts pinning their ears back and getting after Martinez, throw some runningback screens, draws, shuffle passes, and reverses. Let Kyler Reed stretch the field down the seam. Take some shots with Kenny Bell in space. And can we see some play-action passes from now and then? It's amazing how a successful run game and a well planned play-action pass can suck the linebackers and safeties up. If that happens, they're not catching Kenny Bell and friends.
- Control the game with the offensive line: In my opinion, Nebraska has a good offensive line, not great. But I think this group has the potential to continue to improve and become great by the end of the year. The guards, Spencer Long and Seung Hoon Choi, are excellent pullers. The tackles, Brent Qvale, Andrew Rodriguez, and Jeremiah Sirles, are effective run-blockers, but still have plenty of work to do in pass protection. Nebraska's offensive line has to beat Wisconsin's defensive line and still get to the second level and block their linebackers. Wisconsin's strength on defense appears to be their linebackers, but Nebraska has the talent and speed to beat them to the edge. Establish yourselves off-tackle and on the edge, and then hammer them inside. If the big uglies don't do their job, it doesn't matter how great Rex Burkhead and company are.
- Win the turnover battle: We've seen it and heard it a gazillion times: Perhaps the #1 indicator of who wins a football game is the turnover margin. We saw it last year in Madison, Ann Arbor, and vs. the Gamecocks. Do not gift the Wisconsin offense field position or momentum. I think Nebraska can withstand a -1 turnover margin on Saturday, but anything worse than that and there will be plenty of groans from the stands. The defense has to contribute to this as well, especially early. When the Blackshirts force an early turnover, it always seems to build their confidence. Get one early against Wisconsin and let's see the Blackshirts' swagger grow.