Since we’re still several hours away from Nebraska’s showdown against Wisconsin, I assume you have some time to kill.
And because you can never have too many breakdowns of a rematch, here’s my compilation of five (mostly random) things to watch in Saturday night’s Big Ten title game…
1. Will Taylor Martinez find room on the ground? Wisconsin managed to keep him somewhat contained in the first meeting — with the exception of two quarterback draw plays, which totaled 56 yards. The Badgers likely won’t blitz much at all (maybe they’ll disguise some pressures by crowding the line on third down). Their safeties will storm down at times, and they do that well. Plus, linebacker Chris Borland will make some plays. But Martinez has been a better improvisor on the ground of late, and he has speed like few others.
2. Watch out for Wisconsin’s play-action game! OK, that’s obvious. The Badgers run fake and throw downfield better than most. But a couple guys not named Jared Abbrederis or Jacob Pedersen to watch: Montee Ball — he usually cuts off his post-fake route near the line of scrimmage or he stays into block, BUT there was that one play against Nebraska when he ran right by Sean Fisher and was wide open down the sideline (he dropped the pass). Also, fullback Derek Watt (him especially in the red zone) and running back Melvin Gordon will both look to find openings in the flat, then get extra yards from there.
3. What is Jamal Turner’s role? He would seem to match-up well against a team that’s in love with linebackers. Granted, Wisconsin’s ‘backers are good. But Turner’s quick and elusive and explosive. Why not get the ball to Turner quickly and let him go to work? In the first game, Kenny Bell got three chances (a fourth was incomplete) on quick-screens and short-outs, averaging 8 yards after the catch. Seems like another way Nebraska could stretch out the Badgers’ defense, opening up the middle of the field for Rex Burkhead and friends.
4. The Huskers will miss Baker Steinkuhler. Taking nothing away from Cameron Meredith, Chase Rome, Thad Randle or whoever else Nebraska calls on to try to hold his own in the middle — no Steinkuhler is a big concern for NU. In the second half of that 30-27 win over the Badgers, Steinkuhler disrupted everything (two tackles for loss, one for no gain, one bone-jarring QB hit). With him or without him in the lineup, Wisconsin’s plan is to attack the interior of the Huskers’ D-line. Someone is going to have to step up.
5. How often will Nebraska blitz? Probably just on third down, but maybe NU tries to mix it up. The Huskers haven’t been bringing extra pressure too often, really since that Penn State game when the Nittany Lions’ tempo caused some confusion with play calling. Blitzing a run-first team can leave you vulnerable, yes. But still, consider the results of the final eight plays that Nebraska blitzed Wisconsin in the first meeting: -5-yard run, 11-yard sack, 1-yard run, incompletion (plus, a QB knockdown), 16-yard sack, incompletion (nullifying by a silly defensive pass interference flag), 4-yard draw and a fumbled snap.
>> By the way, Rich Kaipust has a more organized preview of Nebraska-Wisconsin, which includes a score prediction (Spoiler: He picked NU).