Published Monday, September 26, 2011 AT 12:27 AM / Updated at 10:10 AM
Dirk’s Brunch Bites, Sept. 26
Dirk Chatelain Omaha World-Herald

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.

* * *

>> 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?

About Dirk Chatelain

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments. You can follow Dirk on Twitter (@dirkchatelain) or email him at dchatelain@owh.com

Comments

  1. NUCORNDEVIL says:

    Wisconsin is just as overrated as we are……………

    1. Marv says:

      NUcorndevel-
      Overrated? I think untested is the better label.

    2. Brian says:

      you have to be kidding, have you watched them? Russell Wilson is legit

    3. SoDakHusker says:

      I agreed with you, look at who Wisconsin has played this year, not exactly great teams, they beat probably one of the worst BCS Conference teams in the nation in Oregon St. I would take any of our non-conference teams against any of Wisconsin’s.

      1. Brad says:

        Wisconsin is legit they haven’t played anybody but they blew out who they played. Although on the outside it doesn’t appear like it but Nebraska has played a much tougher schedule but have not been as impressive. Dirk Nebraska’s every bit as good as Wisky and shouldn’t settle for being close at the half. Nebraska needs to punch Wisky in the mouth and show them there is a new big red!

  2. Andy says:

    That Bears punt return was a thing of beauty. The real question is why did the Bears hold in the first place? Completely pointless hold.

  3. Marv says:

    Trick play: It was actually poorly officiated. I don’t have a reference and haven’t seen the play, but I’m fairly certain that if you have 2 returners and 1 signals fair catch, the play will be stopped after the ball is possessed by non-signaling returner. The only difference is the receiving team doesn’t get the benefits of a fair catch if the non-signaling receiver catches the punt.
    Griffin: Agree Dirk. If Griffin isn’t playing at a Heisman level, nobody in the country is either.
    Tulsa/Mckewon’s Top 25: After reading Mckewon’s reasoning for having a very underwhelming Notre Dame team in the top 25, I expect him to also include Tulsa. Apparently W’s & L’s don’t carry much weight in his poll, while SOS and playing tough road games is a key factor.

    1. DK says:

      Hester didn’t call for a fair catch. He simply pretended the ball was coming to him.

      1. Marv says:

        Like I said, I haven’t seen the play. I’m only going on what Dirk said in his blog, in which he said “Devin Hester darts to the left sideline and waves his arm for a fair catch.” Thanks for clarifying though. That makes more sense now.

        1. pistol pete says:

          DK is right. If Hester had made a fair catch signal, which he did not, the play would have been whistled dead.

    2. Skytown J says:

      I watched the Bear replay. I don’t think he called for a fair catch. You can’t call for a fair catch, and then have another guy suddenly take off and run with the ball. Think about it. And for what its worth, The combined records of the 4 teams Wisconsin has wins over is 5-10, including South Dakota at 2-2. They may be as advertised, but that conclusion cannot be arrived at based on anything they’ve done so far. I think the Huskers give them what for Saturday night.

  4. GabrielNATL says:

    I think he was so “dry” on the Bears punt return call because he saw the flag which came right at the beginning of the play and knew it wasn’t going to stand. No need to get excited about a play that won’t count.

    1. Mada says:

      @GabrielNATL …that and he passed away 5 years ago.

  5. Scott says:

    100% agree with you on Carnes. No idea why we’ve hit this run of coaches who doesn’t understand the value in getting the backup some quality playing time. I don’t think always waiting until we’re up 4 or 5 touchdowns late in the game when he can’t run the actual offense helps anybody. And, hate to say it, but there was at least one play Saturday night where I saw Taylor limp just a bit after he was tackled on a run.

    Then again, supposedly Zac Lee was healthy enough to play last year but couldn’t get in the game when Martinez was hurt the last half of the season, and nobody knew the offense better than Zac. Who do we blame, though? Is it on Beck this time? We all wanted to blame Wats for decisions last year, and some coaches (and Bo is probably like this) like to give free rein to their coordinators to make those moves. I understand it, but we’ve really missed a chance here to get Brion some game experience of any value that we may very well need. Taylor still runs straight up and has no wiggle, so he’s going to take some hits.

  6. TommyG says:

    Taylor better keep sliding in front of some of the LBs still on the schedule or we will see Brion for sure…

  7. ron frost says:

    I dont really think we have seen the huskers and what they can do. If Carnes has to play I think he will be ok he is alot better than Cody ever was and as for the D. U have seen Bo and Carl experimenting

    1. Pete says:

      100% agree!

  8. WilliamG says:

    I have to believe that Bo has gone vanilla on both sides of the ball to this point in the season. i was a bit surprised to see the wildcat formation as i think that could have been a wrinkle saved for Wisconsin. Ron, i agree with you that there has been much retooling on the D. In terms of Carnes, i have been thinking this every game this season…why not plug him in? The option play he ran was a thing of beauty and you could tell he was in his element. As far as Martinez getting injured, if they continue down the Wyoming path, his odds of injury should subside dramatically…but we know when the chips are down, he is going to tuck and run.

  9. Mr Football says:

    The NFL blows.

  10. ron frost says:

    Agree William Carnes can run the option that pitch to Jones was a thing of beauty and I saw him throw the ball in the spring game he has alot better technique the Martinez and better patients

    1. rrr says:

      He’s a doctor?

  11. Josh the Skeptic says:

    I don’t necessarily believe all of the Wisconsin hype, I am guessing that they are a high grade team, but remember that Joe Freakin Bauserman looked legit against Akron and they are of greater quality then some of the teams that Wiscy is playing. The truth of the matter is that Nebraska has had 4 quality opponents (Tenn Chat is FCS but they are a talented FCS team).

    Granted Nebraska hasn’t been super impressive, but we’re forgetting that we’ve convincingly beat all of the teams we’ve played, granted things could’ve bounced against us and things could’ve been worse, but again these are quality opponents and we beat them all solidly.

    I actually still think we’re going to lose to Wiscy, but I don’t think it’s going to be near as bad as people think. These kids have the intensity going for them.