Get to halftime within a touchdown.
If I were Bo Pelini, that would be my unspoken goal for Saturday night at Wisconsin.
I look at this showdown — the environment, the experience level on each side, the teams’ tendencies — and I focus on the first quarter. Nebraska must survive the first quarter.
The Huskers thus far have treated first halves like the first round of a prize fight. They’ve been content to trade jabs. Bo Pelini’s defense is especially guilty. It waits ‘til halftime to make adjustments.
That won’t work against Wisconsin, which starts fast, especially at home.
The Badgers haven’t hosted a matchup of top 10 teams at Camp Randall since 1962. They’ll be energized early. Nebraska needs to be focused. Early three-and-outs or turnovers could lead to an early Badger lead.
That’s the nightmare scenario for Nebraska — falling behind 14-0. Taylor Martinez can be an effective passer. But not when the defense knows he has to pass.
Vegas set the opening line at Wisconsin (-7). In my opinion, that’s the spread for the first half. Nebraska needs to weather the initial storm. Let Wisconsin’s emotion wear off a little bit.
If the Huskers get to the second half within striking distance, they have a chance.
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>> A lot of things concern me about Nebraska’s 4-0 start. But here’s one nobody is talking about: Brion Carnes had zero game experience entering the season. He still has almost zero game experience.
He took six snaps against Chattanooga and six against Wyoming (two were kneel downs). He has thrown one pass. That’s it.
Pelini should’ve elected to give Carnes more snaps in September. If Martinez goes down with an injury again, Carnes needs to feel as comfortable as possible.
With 8:13 left in the game Saturday night, for example, Nebraska led 31-14. Was the game out of reach? Not quite. But Pelini should’ve went to Carnes. Let the kid find a rhythm. Show him his playing time matters. Depth matters, even at quarterback.
>> Rex Burkhead has a long way to go before his career is done.
But if Nebraska wins a Big Ten championship with Burkhead as lead back (and maybe even if they don’t), he’ll go down as one of the program’s all-time most popular players. It’s incredible how highly fans (and NU coaches) regard Burkhead.
However, even Burkhead admirers wondered coming into the year if he had reached his potential. Could he be an elite feature back? Was he big enough? Fast enough?
Well, these last two weeks suggest he is. Burkhead is a prototypical Big Ten running back. He’s excellent between the tackles. And he’s shown good enough speed outside. If Rex can stay healthy, he’ll be a star in this league. Maybe even squeeze onto the All-Big Ten first or second team before he’s done.
>> You’ve seen the problems in Nebraska’s secondary. Now imagine if that secondary was still in the Big 12 facing high-powered passing games like Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. It might have been a year like 2008 for NU’s defense.
For the record, had the Big 12 stuck together, Nebraska would’ve had interdivisional games with Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas A&M.
>> Did you see the Bears’ punt return for a touchdown against Green Bay Sunday? Of all the trick plays I’ve seen, this is one of the best. Devin Hester darts to the left sideline and waves his arm for a fair catch.
The trick? The punt is actually headed to the other sideline. Johnny Knox, a second Bears returner, fields it and runs it back for a touchdown. (It got called back because of a holding penalty).
Of course, Joe Buck calls the play like it’s a 3-yard run between the tackles. Uhhh, Joe, you just saw one of the coolest tricks in recent football history. Show a little enthusiasm!
>> Robert Griffin has thrown 13 touchdown passes and 12 incompletions this year.
Heisman voters refuse to give the trophy to someone outside the national title picture — Ricky Williams in 1998 was the last player to win from a team outside the top five. (I’d like to write about this disturbing trend later in the season).
Anyway, I beg voters to open their minds this year. Consider Griffin. Baylor won’t win more than eight or nine games. But Griffin may be every bit the college quarterback that Andrew Luck is.
>> How ‘bout Tulsa’s nonconference schedule this year: At Oklahoma, at Tulane, Oklahoma State, at Boise State. No wonder last year’s coach, Todd Graham, left for Pittsburgh.
>> The Arizona Republic today kicked off a seven-part investigation of the BCS. Dive in. I’ll have some thoughts later in the week.
>> The Detroit Lions and Buffalo Bills both rallied from three-touchdown deficits Sunday. Both are undefeated heading into October. What’s not to love about the NFL?