The more I study this game, the more I think it's going to be decided by the quarterbacks.
I know, genius, right?
But seriously, for both defenses, it comes down to stopping the opposing quarterback.
For Wisconsin, they have to figure out an option offense that really doesn't have an idenity. It's not really a spread, but it's not really a pro-style either. Nebraska is going to show a lot of different looks, trying to confuse the linebackers and safeties and make it hard on Chris Ash to call blitzes.
Let's take a look at a couple of Taylor Martinez's runs against Fresno State. You'll see why he's so dangerous:
This is Martinez's game-winning touchdown run against Fresno State. Nebraska leaves the weak side of the field empty to slide the defense over. This isolates the weak side linebacker and forces him to make a decision between Martinez and Burkhead. This basically guarantees Nebraska a first down on 3rd-and-3.
But this play also shows why it's so dangerous to blitz on an option. Not only is the defense overloaded to the strong side, but the middle and strong side linebackers also blitz, which leaves the isolated weak side linebacker to not only prevent the first down on his own, but also prevent the touchdown. Once he commits to the running back, Martinez is gone.
I know a lot of fans are looking forward to Wisconsin's defense being more aggressive this season, but it would be wise for Ash to hold back against Nebraska. Gambling on this offense can lead to big plays. I think the Badgers will back off and give up yards in moderation. When the game is over, I think Nebraska will have racked up plenty of rushing yards as a result, but not many touchdowns.
Still, not blitzing doesn't guarantee success, as this next play shows.
This is just great blocking by the Cornhuskers. And it shows how important it will be for Wisconsin's linebackers and safeties to play well Saturday. The linebackers will have to shed blocks quickly and if they don't, they better be filling a gap near the line of scrimmage. On these speed options, however, it's not so much about filling a gap as it is getting to the right place at the right time to make a play. Nebraska doesn't always run the speed option. They'll also run the read option up the middle and you'll even see some Wildcat with Rex Burkhead. The Badgers have to read and react quickly and that's where I worry about the competition the Wisconsin has seen so far this season. They haven't faced an offense this talented yet so a slow start would not surprise me.
On the flip side, Nebraska is poised with a task that might even be more difficult. The Badger defense has the benefit of knowing Martinez isn't very efficient in the passing game -- although they do have to be weary of deep passes (which is another reason not to gamble). Nebraska has to deal with a quarterback that is just as mobile as Martinez, but also has an NFL arm.
This game has the makings of one Wilson can go out and win on his own. I fully expect Nebraska to load the box and stop UW's running game early. That will give Wilson 1-on-1 opportunities with his wide receivers. With Alfonzo Dennard covering Nick Toon, Jared Abbrederis and Jacob Pedersen will have opportunities to shine. I'd also expect to see the Badgers utilize Montee Ball and James White in the passing game. Bradie Ewing too. Play-action will be huge.
Look, I don't think we have even begin to see how much Wilson can flourish in this offense. The numbers he put up at North Carolina State were ridiculous and he didn't have these running backs or this offensive line. The Badgers didn't show much in their first four games and Paul Chryst will have some tricks up his sleeves.
As long as Wilson doesn't try to do too much, he will do a lot. Does that make sense?
Don't force passes. Dump the ball off, throw it away or tuck and run. There are so many weapons on this offense that there really isn't an excuse to ever force a pass. So far, we haven't really seen Wilson do that and as long as he lets the game come to him Saturday, he's going to have a huge night.
You want a Heisman moment? I think it comes Saturday night.