Nebraska Football: What 'Huskers Must Do to Beat Wisconsin, Claim Big Ten Title
With a 13-7 win over Iowa on Friday, Nebraska clinched a spot in the Big Ten title game to face Wisconsin on Dec. 1 in Indianapolis.
Having beaten the Badgers 30-27 late last September, the Huskers have the mental advantage going into the matchup, but let's remember that Nebraska had to come back from a 17-point deficit to win that game.
In no way is this a lock for the Huskers as they attempt to finish out the regular season on a high note.
Nebraska will need to do five things to beat Wisconsin and claim the Big Ten title.
Find a Balanced Rushing Attack
With senior RB Rex Burkhead back from injury after aggravating a knee injury, which he suffered Oct. 20 against Northwestern, the Huskers finally have the firepower they've been missing in the ground game.
Finding a nice balance between Burkhead, sophomore RB Ameer Abdullah and junior QB Taylor Martinez will be key in moving the chains against Wisconsin.
The combined efforts of Burkhead, Abdullah and Martinez accounted for 263 yards rushing against the Badgers on Sep. 29 at Memorial Stadium.
While Martinez did manage two passing TDs in the win over Wisconsin, he only threw for 181 yards and completed just 17 of his 29 passing attempts. An efficient run game will take the pressure off Martinez to come up with yet another rally from behind.
Contain Montee Ball
Wisconsin RB Montee Ball has had his share of hot and cold performances this season, but the senior is coming off back-to-back monster games on the ground leading up to the Nebraska matchup.
Ball rushed for 198 yards and three TDs in a win over Indiana on Nov. 10 before finishing with 191 yards and one TD the week after in a loss to Ohio State.
While the Huskers did slow Ball down in their last meeting, holding him to just three yards a carry, the Wisconsin RB still picked up 93 yards and three TDs against Nebraska.
His contributions early in the game had a hand in burying the Huskers with a 17-point deficit, but Nebraska's defense shut out Ball for much of the third quarter and fourth quarter, which led to its comeback victory.
Containing Ball for more than just the second half this time around will prevent another early lead by Wisconsin.
Limit the Penalties
The Huskers picked up six penalties in the game against Wisconsin, which amounted to 70 yards in total.
Limiting the amount of penalties is crucial in every game, but the Huskers will want to make certain they don't allow themselves to repeat the same mistakes they made against Wisconsin.
Emotions will be running high in such a pivotal game for both teams, but Bo Pelini's squad has to be aware of the consequences for giving Wisconsin too many freebies.
Force Curt Phillips to Make Mistakes
Curt Phillips, a fifth-year senior, will make his first career start at QB for the Badgers, and while he has not proven himself to be a potential threat to this point, the Huskers can't afford to take Phillips lightly.
Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema was forced to name Phillips the starter after freshman Joel Stave suffered a collarbone injury and junior Danny O'Brien had ball security issues. Nevertheless, Bielema believes Phillips is the guy to lead his team to victory because of his story, as reported by ESPN:
"The perseverance and the battle he's been through to get to where he is today, kids rally around him extremely well," Bielema said. "He did a lot to get to where he is, and sometimes when you have that in somebody, it's very hard to deny them the opportunity to have success.
Phillips threw for 154 yards and a TD in the loss to Ohio State on Nov. 17 in his third appearance of the season. The Huskers have to force Phillips to make mistakes and take advantage of his lack of playing time this season.
Let Taylor Martinez Run Free
Taylor Martinez makes all the difference for the Huskers in this big game. He's the one guy who can take this game over and lead Nebraska to a Big Ten title.
A bad performance by Martinez almost guarantees a loss for the Huskers. Martinez was the whole reason Nebraska managed to get back in the game against Wisconsin in the first place.
He led the late rally to win the game, and he'll be the guy in control when the Huskers meet the Badgers again in Indianapolis.
The main thing for him is to just play his game—run the football, make good decisions in the passing game and move those chains.