MSF-La Quinta College Football Road Trip Week 2:
Wisconsin at #22 Nebraska Preview and Prediction

Last week, as part of the MSF-La Quinta College Football Road Trip, Jerod went to Norman, Oklahoma and saw the Sooners get upset by Kansas State. That trip resulted in this entertaining recap and photo diary.

This week, Jerod heads to Lincoln, Nebraska for the second leg of the La Quinta-sponsored trip to see the #22 Cornhuskers and Wisconsin kick off their 2012 Big Ten conference seasons.

Last week in this preview, I gave Jerod the opportunity to discuss what he was most excited about as he prepped to head to Norman. This week, I don’t need to. He already previewed his trip to Lincoln earlier this week. Be sure to read his post on why this four-week road trip is coming at the perfect time.

In that post, he introduces his special guest for this week, who is sure to make it a fun, unique experience for everyone following along. She also previewed the trip here, expressing her excitement to spend the weekend as “a Nebraskan.”

Before all that, though, let’s see what we have to look forward to on the field.

Wisconsin at Nebraska

Last year, Wisconsin welcomed Nebraska to the Big Ten with a 48-17 thumping in Madison. This year things are much different, as former Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson is now tossing controversial Hail Marys for the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL.

Both teams enter 3-1, but those records may be somewhat misleading.

Neither team has a signature non-conference win, and it’s not as if the respective losses came against Alabama or USC: Wisconsin has beaten Northern Iowa, Utah State and UTEP by an average margin of 6 points and they lost to Oregon State after only managing 7 points.

Nebraska, meanwhile, has beaten Southern Miss, Arkansas State and Idaho State. Not exactly top-shelf programs, huh? Their only opponent from a major conference has been UCLA, who beat the Huskers 36-30 at the Rose Bowl.

The Badgers hope that Montee Ball, last season’s Heisman Trophy finalist and FBS leading rusher, can play after sustaining a head injury last week against UTEP. This is the second head injury for Ball since August 1, as he was attacked and beaten by five men near Wisconsin’s campus.

The Huskers concerns are that their defense, which fared well enough against their lesser foes but got shredded by UCLA for 653 yards, can stand up to the Badgers.

Nebraska’s offense has been efficient and, for the first time since the arrival of dual-threat quarterback Taylor Martinez, balanced. Martinez, a junior, is completing 70.7% of his passes after failing to complete over 60% in either of his first two seasons.

Photo by GWYNETH ROBERTS/Lincoln Journal Star

As always, let’s look at the keys for each team.

What Wisconsin Must Do To Win

Wisconsin bashed their way through the Big Ten last year behind the strength of Ball and James White running the ball. Notorious for big, bruising offensive linemen and power running, the Badgers will once again try to rely on that formula to pummel the Huskers Saturday night.

Nebraska allowed Johnathan Franklin of UCLA 217 yards in 26 carries, proving that their defensive front is vulnerable against the run, and I’m sure neither team forgets that Ball gained 151 yards and scored four times in last year’s meeting.

Wisconsin will start redshirt freshman Joel Stave against Nebraska after he relieved Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien two weeks ago. Stave is a big body and can run well, but he hasn’t been relied on to put up huge passing numbers yet. If Wisconsin’s game plan against Nebraska goes well, he won’t have to Saturday night either.

Photo by: Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire via espn.com

Look for the Badgers, as always, to try to establish the run, even if Ball can’t play.

They still have James White (713 yards, 6 TD last year, while averaging more YPC than Ball this year) and freshman Melvin Gordon (130 yards on just 10 carries this year) to punish the Huskers up front. Even though Wisconsin has been down this year, they still have been able to run the ball.

Stave has been an almost prototypical “game manager” in his limited action this year, so look for him to try to keep the offense in rhythm and take big shots only when the defense allows it. If Stave can remain mistake-free (he has just one turnover in his roughly 6 quarters of play so far), the Badgers have a chance to pull the upset.

Against Martinez and the Nebraska offense it is important to get pressure but not over-pursue. Martinez has been ultra-efficient this year, and he hopes to shake off the three-interception outing against Wisconsin last year.

If the Badgers can pressure him into bad decisions (think Michigan’s Denard Robinson vs. Notre Dame last week) then they can put up easy points and control the clock with their running game.

What Nebraska Must Do To Win

While I could just say “the opposite of what I put in the last section,” there is a little more to it than that.

First, Nebraska’s defense must step up.

Wisconsin can run on nearly anyone, even without the aerial threat they had last year with Wilson and company to balance things out. If the defense resembles the unit that got stomped by UCLA a few weeks ago instead of the vaunted “Blackshirts” of yore, Wisconsin can hang around and try to steal this game.

Another big key is running back Rex Burkhead.

Burkhead returned to action last week after being injured early in the opener and missing all of the next two games. He ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns on just 8 carries last week. His style adds a physical dimension to balance the offense with the more speed and finesse-based Martinez.

Photo by: Eric Francis/Getty Images via zimbio.com

As always, Martinez must avoid the big mistakes.

Last year’s three interceptions negated any chance the Huskers had to make a comeback in Madison. While Wisonsin is definitely down this year, Nebraska still can’t afford another three turnover performance from Martinez and expect to win.

Lastly, I expect sophomore receiver Kenny Bell to make an impact on this game. He leads the Huskers with 273 yards receiving and 4 touchdowns and averages almost 25 yards per catch. Look for him to get loose once or twice and make big plays.

Wisconsin – Nebraska Prediction

I can’t help but think that Nebraska will come into this one with vengeance on their minds.

I fear Wisconsin won’t be able to do enough on offense to control the clock and the ball, and I think Martinez and the Husker offense is too strong.

While I don’t think it will be a total blowout, I think Nebraska will win handily.

Final Score: Nebraska 31, Wisconsin 17

Who do you have in this one? Weigh in below!

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Wisconsin – Nebraska Game Info

  • Wisconsin – Nebraska Date: Saturday, September 29, 2012
  • Wisconsin – Nebraska Kickoff Time: 8:00 PM ET
  • Wisconsin – Nebraska TV Info: ABC
  • Wisconsin – Nebraska Point Spread: Nebraska -11.5
  • Wisconsin – Nebraska Over/Under: 51

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Follow me on Twitter @keithmullett

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Image Credits: journalstar.com, espn.com, zimbio.com

About the Author

Keith Mullett

Keith is an Ohio-based sports and pop culture junkie who began writing for MSF in June 2011. His ramblings about sports, music, movies and books can be further enjoyed by following him on Twitter @keithmullett. In addition to his work for MSF, Keith operates a blog called Commercial Grade, in which he critiques television commercials from the perspective of the average viewer.