Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Time will tell if Eichorst is the right hire to replace Osborne as AD

Tom Osborne’s replacement, Shawn Eichorst, was formally introduced to the state of Nebraska at his Tuesday press conference just five days after being named Osborne’s replacement.

It’ll be hard to imagine Nebraska athletics without Osborne. Did Eichorst “win the press conference?” To me, that phrase is somewhat laughable because how do you really quantify “winning a press conference?” He didn’t do anything to lose it and that is a good place to start. For now, I’ll call it a ground-rule double. However, introductory press conferences do not decide someone’s fate. Just like presidential election speeches do not decide the success of a president’s term.

Eichorst described Nebraska as a special place and state. He is set to take over the athletic director post on Jan. 1; Eichorst was full of compliments for Tom Osborne, who still holds the position.

“A thank you to Coach Osborne for his support and willingness to let me learn from a legend,” Eichorst said.
Husker football coach Bo Pelini, taking his usual turn on the Big Ten teleconference during Eichorst's introduction, said he looks forward to working with the new AD.

“I’ve heard nothing but great things from people he’s worked with and his reputation is impeccable,” Pelini said.

Eichorst said now was neither the time nor place to have an assessment of the football program, pointing out that Osborne is in charge right now.

But Eichorst expressed “great admiration” for Pelini when asked about him.

“A lot of folks that I trust and respect have good things to say about Bo Pelini,” Eichorst said. “And he's a winner. He's won everywhere he's been. I look forward to working with him.”

I must confess that I rarely take serious stock from what is said in an introductory press conference because anything and everything he said will be over scrutinized, it doesn’t matter how he said it, it will be spun the opposite way by some folks. The guy had no other path to go, but to be PC about everything. Chancellor Harvey Perlman did him no favors by bringing him in the way he did, but that’s not the fault of Eichorst. He was sought out to be AD, he didn’t apply. This was the kind of position, that did not accept applications, if you had to apply, and then you weren’t being seriously considered in the first place.

We need to give this guy the benefit of the doubt, based on his experience and recommendations, he seems more than qualified. I have read in a few places that he is very, very smart, and yet his humility more than keeps it all in check. For that we should be thankful, as that is the exact opposite of what happened 10 years ago. In his own words, "We don’t have to re-invent the wheel here.”

As much as we talk about welcoming other teams and fans, we need to show that same extended hand to our new AD. He didn’t have to take the position, he was already making a ton of money at Miami, and he wanted to be here. Let’s at least give the guy a chance.

So who exactly is Shawn Eichorst? He has labored in the vines. He was the director of athletics for the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (1999-2003), University of South Carolina senior associate athletic director for administration (2004-2006), University of Wisconsin senior athletic director, executive associate athletic director and later deputy athletic director (2006-2011). He spent the last 18 months as the University of Miami athletic director.

So is Eichorst the right fit for Nebraska? Yes, he is an “outsider” but let’s remember, Steve Pederson was a Nebraska native. Bill Byrne was the dreaded outsider. We all know how that worked.

The biggest favor Eichorst could do is this – well, the opposite of Pederson. OK, that sounds like an oversimplification but let’s face it, Pederson is a jerk on every level. He could run for governor of Nebraska unopposed and still come in second.

I would never suggest for an incoming AD to make no changes at all. I’m all for bringing in new ideas, just don’t change the core of how things are done because it’s not about “you.” Plus, Osborne has done a lot of heavy lifting from establishing a solid culture, establishing goals, improving morale, and improving facilities. Football has improved since the Bill Callahan years and while frustrating to watch is trying to improve. You have a fresh start in basketball with head coach Tim Miles.

More on doing the opposite of Pederson, let your coaches do the coaching but make small talk with lesser known employees whether it’s the custodial attendant or the parking attendant. Those people will remember. 
Much has also been said about how Osborne allegedly did not have as much involvement in picking his successor as he’d like. I honestly would not read much into that because seriously, how much impact should anyone have in picking his successor in any job? I love and respect Dr. Tom as much as the next guy but a) he gave Pederson a strong endorsement, b) strongly discouraged Frank Solich from making any coaching staff changes and c) strongly encouraged Pelini to keep Shawn Watson as offensive coordinator. Let’s not forget how those moves panned out. However, it would behoove Eichorst to lean heavy on Osborne to make the transition.

Going forward after Osborne, however, is to give Paul Myers a significant role. Myers is the Huskers associate athletic director of fundraising who was fired by Pederson but rehired when Osborne replaced Pederson. Yes, Myers has become a sympathetic figure. Myers is believed to be one that would make an outstanding AD one day but could use more experience. In which case, give him more responsibility. Heck, even make him second in command.

Is Eichorst the right guy for Nebraska? Well, Perlman is 1 for 2 in hiring ADs. If Eichorst works out, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Another inexcuseable performance

The Nebraska football team’s 63-38 loss is like watching the same damn Star Trek movie.

The Huskers have a chance to show that they are ready to become an elite program again, only to show that they are even further away from such. Much has been said about how the Big Ten is a junior varsity quality conference. Well, the Buckeyes are unbeaten. Not the most impressive unbeaten club you’ll see but unbeaten nonetheless. However, Ohio State played like they are ready to take the luster off whoever is hoisting the Big Ten Championship trophy. The Buckeyes are not eligible for conference title or any bowl game this year based on NCAA sanctions.

It’s pretty simple to break this game down. The offense generated its share of yardage (437 total yards) but what good is that real estate when you turn the ball over four times and commit nine penalties for 75 yards. The defense had an outstanding first quarter but wilted like four-day old lettuce sitting in a refrigerator. Granted, the offense and special teams did the defense no favors. Martinez threw a Pick Six and had two other interceptions that gave the Buckeyes a short field after two more and the special teams gave up a punt return for a score. That’s 28 points but even if you eliminate that, the defense was still responsible for giving up 35 points off legitimate drives and yielded 481 yards in the final 45 minutes.

And just think, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini puffed his chest out last week after Nebraska beat Wisconsin 30-27 after the Huskers shut down the nation’s 109th-ranked offense in the second half, that he hadn’t forgotten how to coach defense. On Saturday the tale of the tape showed otherwise.

It gets more irritating to watch this melt down and this one came on a night when Nebraska started with a 17-7 lead early in the third quarter. To top it off, Pelini gets irritated and loses his composure. Well, coach, here is a tip. If you can learn to keep your composure on the sideline and in interviews the team might learn to keep theirs. The Huskers inability to be able to adjust to what other teams are doing is unforgiveable. I have been told too many times that this team is special or we are back or whatever catch phrase Pelini wants to drudge up to appease the masses.

Why does this team frequently implode in a big game on national television? Why does this team consistently shoot itself in the foot with undisciplined penalties? Why is our secondary gashed for a big pass play so often, why can’t our front four get any pressure? Pelini refuses to move away from the two gap system. Well, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. If it isn’t working then change your ideology and stop making the players conform to what you want but isn’t working.

Your defense is looking no better than Kevin Cosgrove’s unit before you came to Nebraska. If you are calling the defensive plays then why do you have a defensive coordinator? If your defensive coordinator is calling these plays then why don’t you step in?


Before we label Ohio State's offense a juggernaut, remember that Alabama-Birmingham held the Buckeyes to 29 points. That’s UAB. So the fact Nebraska allowed 63 points is really inexcusable. And, of course, the fashion in which this game unfolded, with the turnovers and penalties, all too much resembled last year’s games at Wisconsin and Michigan. But Nebraska still scored 38 points. You’d think that’d be enough for a team coached by guy who prides himself on defense.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Husker ground attack an edge in Ohio State matchup

The big news out of Lincoln is hiring of former Miami athletic director Shawn Eichort.

Eichort will be replacing the retiring Tom Osborne. However, here at Wine Country Husker headquarters in Napa, CA, we will reserve commentary on the hire until after his scheduled press conference on Tuesday.

For now, Nebraska has matters on the field to take care of when it visits Ohio State Saturday for a primetime telecast. While much of the attention from a Nebraska standpoint is how are the Huskers going to contain Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, the Husker offense generating drives, points and avoiding turnovers are equally vital.

Nebraska is averaging 305 yards rushing per game but is generating yards on the ground differently than last season, which was the Rex Burkhead Show. This year the rushing totals have been divided between Ameer Abdullah, Taylor Martinez, Burkhead, Imani Cross and Braylon Heard. Part of the reason is because Burkhead missed most of the first three games with a knee injury but even without the injury, the Nebraska coaching staff had publically stated its intentions of preserving Burkhead. With so many weapons, Nebraska can afford to ride the hot hand.

Husker offensive coordinator Tim Beck will also play a vital role because Nebraska had a tendency to unravel in the second half of road games. Part of the reason is because Beck sometimes prematurely abandons the running game if the Huskers are even slightly behind. Keep Reading

Equally important, however, is the Nebraska offense avoiding turnovers. True, you can say that about every game but in the Huskers 30-27 win over Wisconsin, half of the Badgers points were as a result of turnovers deep in Nebraska territory. On the flip side, Nebraska needs to generate a few takeaways. If the Huskers lose the takeaway battle, winning in Columbus will become much more difficult.

Nebraska’s task on defense is simple – slow Miller. However, no team has been able to do so thusfar as Miller has passed for 933 yards and eight touchdowns. He has rushed for 577 yards and seven touchdowns.

The Husker defensive ends, specifically Eric Martin and Cameron Meredith, will need to play a key role, not so much what they generate on the stat sheet but containing the outside where Miller is very dangerous. If Nebraska can force Ohio state to run between the tackles or throw the ball, the chances for victory are much better.

Let’s not forget special teams, most notably punter-placekicker Brett Maher. After an outstanding 2011 season, Maher has gotten off to a shaky start in 2012 in converting just 7 of 12 field goal attempts. Maher, however, appeared to be closer to his old self again as he delivered six touchbacks on seven kickoffs and his punting helped the Huskers gain field position. They will need a similar effort Saturday.
Nebraska’s average starting field position has been at its own 27-yard line for the 2012 season, according to FBSDriveStats.com (my new favorite website, with thanks to HailVarsity.com for pointing it out). That’s 101st in the country, and has been a quiet hindrance on NU’s ability on offense.

In Nebraska’s one loss (and only road game), NU’s average starting field position was at its own 22-yard line, as opposed to UCLA’s average field position starting at its own 37-yard line. That 15-yard differential, coupled with the safety that was directly related to poor field position, was enough to tilt an otherwise-close cont

Ohio State’s numbers aren’t dramatically better, with an average starting field position at its own 29-yard line, ranking 77th in the county. And Nebraska is averaging 39.6 yards per drive, which is 20th in the country. So if Nebraska can dig itself out of the holes the offense has found itself in to start drives, ch

Eric Francis/Getty

Nebraska has an unfortunate history of unraveling in the second half of games against strong opponents away from Lincoln (Wisconsin, Michigan and South Carolina from last season; UCLA from this se

A common thread in all of those losses is that Nebraska, offensively, has gotten away from a run-focused offense and put the ball in the air more frequently. The clearest example was against Wisconsin in Madison, WI last year, where Taylor Martinez’s three interceptions put the game out

But against UCLA, once Nebraska fell behind in the fourth quarter, Nebraska ran eight plays. Six were passes (one of which was an interception), two were quarterback scrambles and none went to a running back.

In the comeback against Wisconsin, like against Ohio State last season, Martinez was the key that got Nebraska’s offense moving. But he wasn’t the entire offense. If Nebraska faces adversity in Columbus—which it almost certainly will at some point—it will be important for NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck to not panic and stick with the game plan to right the ship.

If you’d like to contact Patrick to schedule an interview, provide feedback or get advice on which type of chocolate goes best with fresh fruit (spoiler alert:

Nebraska’s rushing offense is one area the Huskers appear to have an edge and while Miller is playing at a high level, the Buckeye offense is still getting its football under new head coach Urban Meyer.

This is likely to be a hard fought game and even though Ohio State is not eligible for conference title or bowl games based on NCAA sanctions, this game will certainly have ramifications for Nebraska. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Husker defense needs to at least contain Miller

This week’s football game in Columbus Ohio, between No. 21 Nebraska and No. 12 Ohio State, features a pretty simple task for the Nebraska defense – slow down Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller.

Trying to so and actually performing the task have been two different matters. Miller has accounted for 1,510 net yards of offense (933 passing, 477 rushing), good for 72.2 percent of the team’s total.

Miller, who is a sophomore, caused Nebraska’s defense a lot of headaches last season in rushing for 91 yards on 10 carries in the Huskers’ 34-27 come-from-behind win in Lincoln. Nebraska rallied from a 27-6 mid third quarter deficit spearheaded by linebacker LaVonte David’s forced and recovered fumble that the Huskers turned into a touchdown. One series later, Miller left the game with an ankle sprain giving way to the statue-esque Joe Bauserman.

What makes Miller even more dangerous is that he now has a head coach (Urban Meyer) that knows how to develop quarterbacks. Look no further than his development of Alex Smith at Utah and Tim Tebow at Florida. Meyer is operating Miller much the same way as he did Smith and Tebow – out of the shotgun, this giving him the freedom to read the defense and pick a hole.

With that running style, Nebraska has to play a “gap sound” defense because Miller will feast on defenses that overpursue. You have to concede that Miller will get his yards. The key is limiting him to 5-10 yard gains as opposed to say 40 or more.

While it could be said of any game, third down success will be vital because if you give Miller too many extra sets of downs it will be a long day.

The biggest dilemma that Husker head coach Bo Pelini faces is do you play more man-to-man defense instead of zone. Pelini prefers the latter but neither is foolproof against running quarterbacks because in man-to-man defense, linebackers and defensive backs will have their backs turned at the line of scrimmage whereas in zone they are facing the line of scrimmage. Since the Buckeyes have not had huge success passing, perhaps you commit an extra safety toward the line of scrimmage.

The No. 1 area where Nebraska must unequivocally executed Saturday is tackling because it was a “lack of” tackling that caused the Huskers to give up 653 yards of total offense, including 344 yards rushing in a 36-30 loss at UCLA. Many of those yards were due to lousy tackling or no poor tackling on the part of Nebraska defenders that were in position to make a play. If the Huskers are to have any defensive success Saturday, secure tackling is mandatory because a football team that does not tackle is like a basketball team that gives up easy transitions baskets.

Of course the Husker offense can indirectly help on this matter as well by protecting the football and controlling the time of possession because Miller can’t hurt you if he is on the sideline. Nebraska’s up-tempo offensive strategy runs somewhat counter to this goal, but has been effective in putting points on the board. If Nebraska is able to get a running game established and can put some long drives together, the Huskers can keep Miller on the sidelines and unable to do damage.


Monday, October 1, 2012

An early look ahead to Nebraska-Ohio State

When Nebraska joined the Big Ten Conference in 2010, there’s no doubt that this was one matchup the powers that be and fans alike were looking forward to – Nebraska and Ohio State. After all, you have two storied programs that play in storied venues. 

If Saturday’s game in Columbus is anything like last year’s contest in Lincoln, we should be in for a treat. Last season, Nebraska rallied from a 27-6 third quarter deficit to win 34-27 thanks in large part to LaVonte David, Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead. Both teams enter the weekend coming off emotional victories. No. 21 Nebraska rallied from a 27-10 deficit to beat Wisconsin 30-27 at home while No. 12 Ohio State defeated Michigan State 17-16 on the road.

Nebraska’s win over a Wisconsin club that had been struggling, and continues to, was crucial for psychological reasons. Ohio State is ineligible for Big Ten Championship and bowl games this year based on NCAA sanctions but under new head coach Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes are using 2012 to lay the groundwork for future success. Ohio State enters Saturday’s game as a 5-point favorite. 

This Husker defense has taken its knocks but has bounced back admirably. The offensive struggles (two turnovers inside the Wisconsin 25) put them in some bad spots against the Badgers, but the defense rose to the challenge and played lights out in the second half. I don’t know what was said at halftime, but that was a different defense in the second half.

Over the past two years, I’ve seen opposing runners get hit at the line of scrimmage and fall forward for four more yards. I’ve seen a lot of Nebraska defenders make tackles in the run game, but not a lot of gang tackling. That was not the case in the second half against Wisconsin. Against arguably one of the best running backs (Montee Ball) in the nation, the Huskers were ferocious against the run (as in 56 yards on 41 carries). For the first time in a long time, I felt confident that they could stop a team in short-yardage situations.

There was a new confidence that I don’t think I’ve seen since 2010. Wisconsin’s offensive line, despite the coaching staff turmoil, still averages around 320 pounds but the Husker line got some penetration, fought off blocks, and they met the back at the point of attack and didn’t give up ground. I know it’s two days after a great win, and emotions are still bubbling over, but hopefully this defense turned the corner.

The offense was sloppy at times, very crisp at other times. If not for giving the Badgers a short field with turnovers, this could have easily been a 17-point win for Nebraska – but it wasn’t. I still think that the Huskers have a potent offense, and running back Ameer Abdullah might be the Husker MVP so far, with apologies to Martinez. I love Rex Burkhead but I think he’s still shaking off some rust from his knee injury in the season-opening game. He still seems hesitant at times when he needed to just hit the hole and go. However, I have no doubt he’ll round into form. Having some competition behind him can be nothing but a good thing. The offense has the potential to be explosive. Martinez still needs to clean up some things but I think he showed more confidence in his running than he has in quite a while.

Nebraska moved the ball well against Ohio State last year, and I see no reason why the Huskers can’t do it again this year because they are much better offensively than a year ago. Ohio State, however, has one common denominator that was a headache for Nebraska last season and is the central figure behind the Buckeyes’ 5-0 start – quarterback Braxton Miller. Before leaving last season’s game in Lincoln in the third quarter with an ankle injury, Miller’s feet frustrated Nebraska for 91 yards on 10 carries. Miller left the game with the Buckeyes leading 27-13 before giving way to the statue-esque Joe Bauserman. Bo Pelini defenses have struggled in the past against mobile quarterbacks like Miller.

Last season, it was only Miller’s third career start when he visited Lincoln, and his first on the road. He’s grown up quite a bit since and now with a coach that knows how to develop quarterbacks, which makes him an even tougher cover.

While Wisconsin is more of a classic Big Ten team than mixes I-formation or “12 personnel” (one running, two tight ends), Ohio State is a spread team that does not throw very well (ranked 98th in the nation). They depend largely on the athletic ability of Miller and he is the Huskers No. 1 priority in limiting as the Buckeyes offense that is ranked 21st in rushing and Miller is their leading rusher by far. The team is built around him. Of course, controlling him is easier said than done.

Ohio State just faced the toughest defense they will see all season in Michigan St., which pushed them into three turnovers. One thing I notice from Miller is that as much as he runs, he rarely secures the ball at contact, which has caused him to fumble quite often. The question is, will Pelini (normally one for a 4-3 alignment) play more 3-4?

While it could be said about any game, Nebraska has to protect the ball on offense and not fall behind early. Meyer coached teams are not going to surrender a 17-21 point lead.

Whatever happens next Saturday in Columbus will likely speak very loudly about the current status of the Huskers. At this point, I’m still not at all sure where they stand. Ohio State is likely the best all-around team Nebraska face in the regular season.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Husker win more of a relief than a thrill

The term “big win” can often be overused and while No. 22 Nebraska’s come-from-behind 30-27 win over Wisconsin does not mean the Huskers are out of the woods, it gets them out of the frying pan at least for the moment.

Let’s face it, in Nebraska’s other “prove you’re for real” game this year, the Huskers whiffed on the road with a 36-30 loss at UCLA. Yes, Nebraska bounced back with wins over lesser foes (42-13 over Arkansas State ad 73-7 over Idaho State). Yes, Wisconsin is not the same outfit that won the Big Ten Conference last season but if the Huskers lost this game – forget the hits they would have taken in the national media. They would have taken a ton of hits from the local mainstream media, which despite head coach Bo Pelini’s uneasiness with constant attention is a pretty forgiving group. We’re not the Philadelphia Inquirer here.  

The game started about as inauspiciously for the Huskers as a game could, which makes the win that much more significant because under Pelini the team has generally responded well to adversity after a tough loss but within games when momentum goes South the Huskers have had a tough time recovering.

Most importantly, while Nebraska has many other hurdles, winning this game against a decent but still shaky Wisconsin club would have dented their path to a Big Ten title pretty severely. In a nutshell, the downside of a loss was greater than the upside of a win.

The first three Husker offensive possessions netted three fumbles and nary a first down. The Nebraska offense, however, stayed the course in gaining 440 yards of total offense (259 rushing, 181 passing). Quarterback Taylor Martinez went 17 of 29 for 181 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He underthrew a few too many passes but unlike last year’s 48-17 loss to the Badgers in Madison, he stayed within himself and did not force unnecessary throws. The Huskers also averaged 6.0 yards per rush against a Wisconsin club that entered the game 14th against the run.

The problem, however, was that the Huskers had two turnovers that gave the Badgers the ball inside the Nebraska 30, setting up easy touchdowns. Without those miscues, Nebraska wins 30-14 but the truth of the matter is the Huskers made those mistakes, which need to be addressed.

Defensively, this game is a prime example of why the statistic “points against” is not always reflective of the defense. When you give an offense the ball after a turnover twice on the opponents’ side of the 30, there’s something wrong if they don’t score. That’s like a pitcher coming out of the bullpen with runners at second and third and less than two outs.

The Husker defense took more than its share of punches to the chin after the aforementioned loss to UCLA in which they gave up 653 yards, second most in school history. However, on Saturday, the Nebraska defense came up large. Granted, this matchup screamed “advantage Nebraska.” The Badgers no longer have Russell Wilson at quarterback, which means they are much easier to defend. Load the line of scrimmage to stop Montee Ball and dare immobile quarterbacks Joel Stave and Danny O’Brien to beat you.

The Huskers were equal to the task in allowing 56 yards rushing on 41 carries. Ball had 90 yards on 32 carries. As a team, Wisconsin gained 295 yards on 69 plays. The only criticism I have of Pelini as a defensive mind, where he is very bright, is that sometimes he tries so hard to outscheme opponents that the Huskers waste time outs and often do not get lined up properly rather than take the approach of “here we come, good luck stopping us.”

Special teams ended up being a key point of the game. Wisconsin’s Jack Russell missed an extra point, which meant the best the Badgers could do with a field goal on their last drive was to tie the game as opposed to take the lead. Stanley Jean-Bapiste’s bonehead roughing the kicker penalty on fourth-and-18 led to a Wisconsin touchdown. What was even more frustrating was that he took a bad angle. The pluses, however, outweighed the minuses with Ameer Abdullah’s 83 yard kickoff return. Brett Maher also had six touchbacks and averaged 46.7 yards per punt.

What does this mean? By the numbers, it just means Nebraska is 4-1 instead of 3-2. The Big Ten remains wide open as a trip to Columbus, Ohio, awaits against a flawed (gee there’s a common denominator in the Big Ten) but much improved Ohio State club. The Buckeyes went into East Lansing, Michigan, and beat a Michigan State club that some were touting the best in the Big Ten before the season.

Nebraska, however, cannot get behind 20-3 in the Horseshoe like it did against Wisconsin. Urban Meyer coached teams are not likely to blow such leads.  


Friday, September 28, 2012

Huskers need to take Step One to win Big Ten

No. 22 Nebraska and Wisconsin enter Saturday’s primetime telecast in Lincoln with 3-1 records but the public vibe around the former is more positive than regarding the latter.

Nebraska had what amounted to controlled scrimmage in a 73-7 win over Idaho State (an FCS school). Running back Rex Burkhead returned to the Husker lineup after not having played since the regular season opener because of a knee injury. 

Wisconsin beat UTEP 37-26 at home but running back Montee Ball, a Heisman Trophy finalist last season, left the game with a head injury. The Badgers trailed 6-2 after the first quarter but put up 21 second quarter points to lead 23-9 at halftime. UTEP did not go quietly, pulling to within four in the fourth quarter before Wisconsin put the game away.

The game is significant because it is the conference opener for both clubs. Last season, the Huskers were greeted rudely in the Big Ten debut in Madison, Wisc., as the Badgers blasted Nebraska 48-17. While both clubs are 3-1, Nebraska’s three wins have been decisive while Wisconsin’s have been by 11 points or less. Both clubs are looking to silence critics for different reasons.

The Nebraska rush offense against the Wisconsin rush defense is a strength vs. strength battle. The Husker offense is sixth in the nation in rushing yards per game while the Badger run defense ranks 14th in rushing yards per game allowed. While teams should never get away from what they do well, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez leads the Big Ten in passer efficiency. Could this be a game where “pass sets up run” more than “run sets up pass?” If Martinez can continue to be on target as he has been for much of the first four games with the exception of the second half of the Huskers 36-30 loss at UCLA, he can force the Badgers defense to respect the pass and open more space for Nebraska’s rushing attack.

While Ball has been cleared to play, with or without the Badgers star running back, Wisconsin has a dangerous running attack and considering Nebraska’s defense has been susceptible to the run in averaging 177 yards per game. Granted, that number is skewed in two ways (31 yards against Idaho State and 344 against UCLA) but when your defense averages 177 yards given up on the ground that is a serious indictment of one’s ability to stop the run.

Last season, Wisconsin’s offense beat Nebraska any which way it wanted with Ball gaining 151 of the team’s 231 yards rushing. On the passing side, Badger quarterback Russell Wilson went 14 of 20 for 255 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. The good news is that Wilson has a job that requires him to work on Sundays as the starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks.

The Badgers have had a tough time replacing Wilson. Danny O’Brien started the season but has since lost his job to Joel Stave, who went 12-17 for 210 yards against UTEP.

Wisconsin has been in turmoil this season, firing its offensive line coach and changing quarterbacks. The Badgers likely need this win, in some ways, more than Nebraska.

Further, the scenario sets up poorly for Nebraska. Wisconsin comes in as a 13-point underdog, which should be a good thing for the Huskers but in the Bo Pelini era, Nebraska’s has struggled when put in this position.

Ultimately, not having Wilson could be Wisconsin’s undoing in this game.