It’s the biggest game of the year for the Badgers. So these must be the five biggest questions of the year…
1. Do the Badgers have a chance in hell against Nebraska in Lincoln?
Let’s cut right to the chase. Is there any hope of the Badgers traveling to Lincoln and pulling off the upset? And yes this would be an upset. Not a monumental upset but an upset nonetheless. You look at where Nebraska is right now offensively and in the rankings and in terms of expectations for the season, and then you look at where Wisconsin is with their struggling offensive unit and their squeaker victories and the scaled back expectations for the team…it’s an upset. So do they have a chance? Yes, I think they have a chance. Maybe not a great chance, but they do have one. It’s all about match-ups. Nebraska has an incredible running game with Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah, and Taylor Martinez being able to run it from the QB position. They’re averaging over 300 yards per game right now which is a sick number. But the Badgers, if they can do anything, they can slow down the run. They have very good linebackers as we know. They’re also solid in the interior of the line. It’s on the edges where things get sketchy. David Gilbert will play after receiving his discipline for spouting off, and he’s a solid player. Tyler Dippel on the other side of the line is okay. Those guys must play disciplined and keep contain. They can’t get hurt either cause there’s no depth behind them at all. Also, the corners and safeties have to be heavily involved in run support. They have to be sound tacklers. There can’t be any bouncing off ball carriers. Nebraska is going to get their yards, there’s nothing you can do to stop it, but you have to prevent them from getting big plays. You can’t give up the home runs. If you can hold up at the other positions, Mike Taylor and Chris Borland will make a few big plays and put Nebraska in some bad down-and-distance situations, forcing them to pass. And as we saw last year, you can pick off Taylor Martinez. That will be key. The Badgers haven’t been forcing turnovers this year, and that has to end in this game. If they have any hope of winning, they have to pick off Martinez at least twice. Secondary, time for you to step up.
2. What will the offense be able to do against Nebraska’s defense?
This isn’t a dominating Nebraska defense. At all. Just look at what UCLA did to them. 653 yards, the second-highest yardage total ever gained against a Nebraska defense. Obviously the Badgers aren’t on that level offensively, but they have been getting better week-to-week. The running game came together against UTEP with Melvin Gordon in the mix and better blocking across the board. And Joel Stave hung in and played a solid, largely mistake-free game. It helped immensely having Jared Abbrederis on the field. Now the deep pass is once again in the mix. The play action game will be a big part of this deal. Where you start to worry is in the pass protection. Nebraska doesn’t have a great defense but they can get after the quarterback. Eric Martin is a monster pass rusher. You’ve got a redshirt freshman QB playing under the lights in Lincoln, making just his second career start, with guys wanting to drink his blood. Stave needs to show poise. Personally I’m glad he’s out there instead of Danny O’Brien because I think O’Brien would’ve crumbled under these circumstances. I just think O’Brien is mentally a little shaky. Stave doesn’t seem shaky to me but he is raw and you worry about the big mistake under pressure. This will be a great test for Stave, to see if he can handle pressure and not turn the ball over. The thing is, he’s so green, I don’t think he has any pocket presence at all yet. He got hit a couple times against UTEP and I don’t think he ever saw the man coming. He needs to be aware because Nebraska is going to come at him with fury. If the Badgers can run the ball like they did against UTEP, they should be able to take a lot of that pressure off Stave. But if the run game flops again like it has in a couple games this year, and Stave has to make plays, there could be a big problem. I hope Matt Canada is smart enough to know what he has with Melvin Gordon and will keep a mix going even with Montee Ball coming back. This team isn’t going to win with Montee Ball running it 25 times. They’re just not great between the tackles.
3. Can the special teams hold it together?
You always have to worry about the special teams breakdowns, especially in these big pressure games. It’s gotten to the point now where you almost are surprised if they get through the whole game without something going wrong. Blocked punt. Blocked kick. Long kickoff return that kills you. Kickoffs going out of bounds. Lately it’s been the roughing the punter stuff. The coaches have to put a special emphasis on this. Don’t jump while trying to block the kick. Jumping will just cause you to go into the punter and knock him down. And what about the kicking game? Kyle French is out and Jack Russell is in. Russell had a field goal chance last week and missed it badly, but French hasn’t been spectacular either and he’s currently in Bielema’s doghouse for booting a couple kickoffs out-of-bounds. In my scariest visualizations, I see this game being lost on a kickoff TD or a missed field goal or a guy going full-boar into the punter and being hit with a penalty. Maybe all three will happen.
4. What is Bret Bielema’s problem?
Is Bielema becoming drunk on his own power? I’m asking this question seriously. Cause right now he’s acting a little like Dr. Evil. I see him sitting in a big leather chair stroking a white cat, his mouth curled into a little devious grin. Pulling the kicker in the middle of the game to teach him a lesson about sending kickoffs out of bounds? Really Bret? In a tight game with you maybe needing a field goal? He got away with that one, but what if that missed field goal by Russell had mattered to the outcome? What if they had lost on that play? People would be crushing Bielema right now. I just think at some point a coach has to put that Mr. Tough Guy thing away and play to the situation. Teaching is great but teaching is done in practice and the meeting room. If a guy does something incredibly terrible then sure, yank him. It’s annoying when a kickoff goes out of bounds but is it some huge transgression against humanity? Is it like throwing a couple picks or fumbling or getting in a fight with an opponent? Bret needs to coach the game during the game, not try to be some big disciplinarian Captain Hook macho man.
5. How hideous will the alternate uniforms look on the field?
We know they look terrible in pictures, but now we get to see them on the field. This whole game is just going to look funky and awful with those things. I hate alternate uniforms. It just throws you off. Sometimes I even forget which team is which. Just wear the right uniforms. Stop listening to the marketing wizards. And get the hell off my lawn.
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