Fifth Quarter Consensus: Nebraska Returns The Favor

John Gress - Getty Images

After last year's 48-17 beatdown, B5Q says the Huskers will get their revenge against Wisconsin on Saturday.

The Predictions:
  • Nathan Palm (+83): Nebraska 30, Wisconsin 13
  • Sahil Shah (+86): Nebraska 28, Wisconsin 24
  • Andy Johnson (+97): Nebraska 24, Wisconsin 17
  • Jake Harris (+106): Nebraska 20, Wisconsin 16
  • Adam Tupitza (+107):
  • Phil Mitten (+113): Nebraska 27, Wisconsin 21
  • Mike Fiammetta (+115): Nebraska 41, Wisconsin 34
  • Andrew Rosin (+148): Nebraska 38, Wisconsin 31
  • Louis Bien: Nebraska 34, Wisconsin 20
  • John Daly: Nebraska 41, Wisconsin 17
The Reasoning:

This can't be considered Wisconsin's first big road test of the year, not after the Badgers lost 10-7 to a surprising 2-0 Oregon State team in Corvallis. Still, Wisconsin's game at Nebraska this weekend brings plenty of extracurricular pomp and circumstance. It is the first of adidas' "Unrivaled Series," with both the Badgers and Cornhuskers wearing specially designed part-throwback, part-futuristic uniforms. It is the Big Ten Conference opener for both teams. It is Wisconsin's first trip to Lincoln since 1973. Nebraska athletic director and longtime football coach Tom Osborne announced his retirement this week. And it is the Huskers' chance to avenge the humiliating 48-17 loss they suffered in their first game as members of the Big Ten last October in Madison.

The fact that each of these teams stubbed its respective toe in tough defeats by Pac-12 schools earlier this month should only increase the sense of urgency on both sidelines. Still, this is an inter-divisional Big Ten game, which means neither team's hopes of making it to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game will be erased with a loss.

Nebraska's offense has been clicking throughout this young season. The Huskers rank fifth in the nation in rushing for 317.5 yards per game and eighth in the nation in scoring 48.5 points per game. Frankly, they look like the Badgers of 2010 and 2011. While the statistics are somewhat skewed by a 73-point outburst last week against Idaho State, Nebraska has scored at least 30 points in each of its first four games and ran for an impressive 260 yards at UCLA.

The improvement of quarterback Taylor Martinez has been key for the Huskers. The junior has completed 70.7 percent of his passes with a 9-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He ran for 112 yards and an 8.6 yards-per-carry average in the team's loss at UCLA.

He is backed by a stable of talented running backs led by senior Rex Burkhead, who has scored three touchdowns in the two games he has played this season. The receiving corps features Kenny Bell, a sophomore who averages 24.8 yards-per-catch and has snagged four touchdown passes, and junior Quincy Enunwa. Nebraska boasts a veteran offensive line with three juniors and two seniors in starting roles.

Wisconsin's defense has arguably been the bright spot of a challenging 2012 season to date. Still, no offense has challenged the unit like Nebraska's will. The Badgers' defense still has not forced a turnover this year, and that will almost certainly need to change for UW to have a chance to pull off the upset.

Defensive lineman David Gilbert indicated with some disparaging comments about Martinez that he believes the Badgers will slow the Huskers' attack. As a result of Gilbert's decision to spout off, head coach Bret Bielema announced the junior will not officially start Saturday's game. The Badgers desperately need Gilbert on the field, however, as defensive end Brendan Kelly won't make the trip and Pat Muldoon is likely out as well. It will be up to Gilbert, Tyler Dippel and Konrad Zagzebski to seal the edges and make sure Martinez has nowhere to run.

Wisconsin does have two of the most disciplined, experienced and fundamentally sound linebackers in college football in Chris Borland and Mike Taylor. As long as the secondary doesn't give up too many big plays, the Badgers' defense should at least make this a game.

Nebraska, however, has been sieve-like defensively at times this season. After losing defensive lineman Jared Crick, linebacker Lavonte David and defensive back Alfonzo Dennard from last year's unit, the Huskers have taken a step back. Nebraska gave up an astounding 653 yards of offense to UCLA, including 344 rushing yards. It allowed the Bruins to convert 9-of-20 third-down chances.

The front seven may struggle with Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, who has vowed to play Saturday, and complementary backs James White and Melvin Gordon. The real question, though, is whether redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave, making just his second career start, and an unimpressive group of receivers will do enough in the passing game to open up holes for Ball and the others.

Playing in this game would be a monumental task for any college quarterback and, while Stave appears to have a promising future, it would take a nearly error-free performance to come away with a win in Lincoln.

Neither team will like its chances if the game comes down to a kick. Senior Brett Maher has made just 4-of-8 field goal attempts this season, while Wisconsin is finally settling on freshman Jack Russell as the guy. Russell has only attempted one field goal all year, but his kickoffs have been solid.

Who has the edge?
  • Offense: Nebraska
  • Defense: Wisconsin
  • Special Teams: Push
  • Coaching: Nebraska
  • Intangibles: Nebraska
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