Finally, the games against FCS teams, Conference USA teams and the like are gone, it's time for "man's game" and the Big Ten season to get here. In about 48 hours Wisconsin will make a historic trip to Lincoln, Nebraska to take on the Cornhuskers.
As part of the ongoing preview of what's happening I made an appearance on the Husker CornCast over at CornNation.com to discuss the Badgers, what's different from last year, and what scares me going in to this game, so please give it a listen, it's just 18 minutes out of your busy day.
For the 5th straight week we've got something hardly any of us have ever seen and definitely something different as the Badgers travel to the home of the Huskers for the first time in nearly 40 years (1973). Luckily there are coaches on the staff with some experience, namely head coach Bret Bielema, at Memorial Stadium. Oh, and I haven't even mentioned it's the Adidas "Unrivaled" game – where we get to see these beautiful jerseys:
So, now that we got that fiasco out of the way… It's on to what we are going to be actually watching for on Saturday night under the lights at Memorial Stadium.
1) Health: We all know about the issues with Montee Ball and his concussion, but the Badgers are a pretty banged up team, especially on the defensive line. Tyler Dipel, Brendan Kelly, and David Gilbert are all part of the walking wounded and how they respond this week, especially against that edge rushing of the Huskers offense will go a long way to determining the success in Lincoln. If they aren't capable or they go down injured again this could be a long and painful experience for fans.
2) Turnovers: Wisconsin got huge turnovers right before the half from Taylor Martinez last year and it completely swung the momentum of the game for the Badgers. Flash forward a season and the Badgers have yet to get a turnover on the defensive side of things (just 1 special teams fumble recovery). If they are to win against Nebraska finding a way to get to Martinez and make him throw interceptions has to be the key once again. It's a matter of when, not if for a Badgers defense that has been so close and I have a feeling this is the game we get that first defensive turnover, which could open the floodgates for a fast and aggressive defense.
3) Protecting Stave: You could argue this is the most important thing going into the game and you wouldn't have any argument from this writer. Wisconsin has to keep Stave upright and feeling comfortable from the get go or this team will simply be in trouble. They've got to be expecting a huge amount of blitzing form the Huskers as the front four hasn't shown they can be the ones to get pressure alone. (sound familiar Badgers fans?) If Stave is aloud to get comfortable he's got all the confidence and ability to execute the game plan.
4) Gordon's Role: What will Melvin Gordon's role look like against the Huskers? We won't know most likely till game time thanks to the issue of Montee Ball's concussion. My guess is Ball plays, but either way the performance Gordon put on last weekend makes him worthy of a much more increased role in this offense. He's a play maker and you need to find ways to get those kinds of players the ball as often as possible, especially in the case of the Badgers sputtering offense. We'll be watching to see if his role increases or how they use him against Nebraska.
5) Jack Russell: It's his first time being the starter and it was made clear after the UTEP game that Russell was going to be the place kicker. It's hard enough doing it at home in Camp Randall, but the bright lights of Memorial Stadium, against a very victorious Huskers crowd watching how he handles that situation will be huge.
If you are looking for a place to watch the game and are in the Green Bay/Fox Valley area, join us for our Wisconsin SoundOff LIVE! pregame show as well as the best Badger Watch Party outside of Madison at The Vault in downtown De Pere, WI. As an added bonus, we'll be recording a post game show for the enjoyment of the fans in attendance! See you all there and ON WISCONSIN!