Don’t let the Wisconsin Badgers’ pummeling of the Indiana Hoosiers fool you. This is a team that could fall twice to the Nebraska Cornhuskers in one season. Nebraska didn’t have the best luck with such a prospect in 2010 when they defeated the Washington Huskies before later losing to them in the Holiday Bowl, but Wisconsin doesn’t have a Jake Locker to complement their two Chris Polks. This will ultimately lead to their downfall.
The Cornhuskers have shown a knack for making sure their audience gets every penny’s worth of its price of admission. Frequent turnovers, penalties caused by mental errors and comeback victories are the norm, but in the first meeting between these two teams, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball was held to a scant 90 yards on 32 carries (2.8 yards per carry). Seems pretty absurd, no?
This was one of the few games in which Bo Pelini’s defense defended the run incredibly well. To put the performance in perspective, the Cornhuskers usually give up about 180 yards per contest (No. 86 nationally).
Whether Wisconsin trots out Joel Stave, Danny O’Brien or Curt Phillips at quarterback, the Badgers’ passing game isn’t going to be confused with an Air Raid attack any time soon. They tally only about 167 yards per game (No. 112). The nation will get a better idea of just what Wisconsin can do as they face the Ohio State Buckeyes and Penn State Nittany Lions to end their regular season slate.
Regardless of how well they perform, Nebraska’s secondary has truly come into its own. The Blackshirt defensive backs have been making life miserable for Big Ten wide receivers on their way to a No. 2 national ranking in pass defense and a No. 4 ranking in limiting long pass plays.
Containing Montee Ball and James White are obvious musts in a second meeting, but such a feat is obviously easier said than done. Whatever black magic Pelini dished out to stop Ball will likely be tweaked to use again, but therein lies the trap of playing the same team twice in one season.
If this strategy fails, what does Pelini fall back on? A strange reality, Nebraska has the ability to win shootouts and negate deficits if necessary, but a Badger victory appears to rest on the shoulders of Ball and White, especially the former.
Should the Cornhuskers arrive in Indianapolis, expect them to sell out when it comes to clogging Wisconsin’s running game and taking their chances with the Badgers’ aerial assault. If Nebraska can match or better its turnover margin from September’s match-up (-1), they will have an excellent chance to win this game.
It’ll likely be a pretty friendly contest, too. Count how many times the Blackshirts try to give Ball a big ol’ hug.
Brandon Cavanaugh is a college football columnist for Rant Sports and member of the Football Writers Association of America. Feel free to follow him on Twitter and join in on the conversation.