Wisconsin Football: X-Factors to Watch in Matchup with Nebraska Cornhuskers
What do you get when you mix Big Red and Big Red? The answer is a whole lot of history, as the Wisconsin Badgers and Nebraska Cornhuskers meet on Saturday for one of the year's most anticipated games.
Nebraska will be bringing its championship pedigree, as well as a small army of faithful fans, to Madison. The Badgers will be waiting at the door, along with ESPN's GameDay crew, hoping the Huskers' inaugural Big Ten game is more harsh reality than warm welcome.
While the game promises to be filled with heart attacks and highlights, more than X's and O's will determine the outcome.
The Home Field
A game at Camp Randall Stadium can be described as equal parts party, concert and sporting event. The school's pride in its marching band may equal its obsession with its sports teams, which makes for a very different atmosphere for opponents to play in.
In that spirit, the "sound guy" is either praised or cursed based on his/her song selections throughout the game as fun-loving students try and add to the eclectic rituals that have made "The Camp" famous.
The stadium's most famous traditions include: the student section race: a 22,000-person version of karaoke, chastising the freshman in section 'O'; every form of 'the wave' the imagination can muster and of course, the earthquake-registering "Jump Around."
Football players are slaves to routine and the experience at Camp Randall is anything but.
Wisconsin, meet Nebraska's J.J. Watt: Defensive Tackle Jared Crick.
His measurements are eerily close to that of the former Badger superstar, weighing in at 285 lbs. and standing 6'6" tall—and his menace is equally renowned. He has most likely been a fixture in film study room, but there was no tape last week because Crick was "dinged up", according to head coach Bo Pelini.
While the tackle did return to practice this week, Crick's willingness to go full-speed will be a huge factor for the Badger offense.
On the Wisconsin side of the ball, strong safety Shelton Johnson should be available to play this week after suffering a calf injury. While Johnson is not a household name, his play has helped anchor a surprisingly proficient Badger secondary. His absence or reduced snaps will be hard for the team to compensate for.
Adjustments will be the name of the game on Saturday night. Expect different personnel changes, new schemes and all-around trickery as each team will not only try to out-muscle the other, but out-think them as well.
Coaching becomes that much more important when each team's rosters have so many similarities.
While the Bo Pelini/Bret Bielema matchup will be watched closely, the fiery Carl Pelini defense against the explosive Paul Chrust offense will be the battle of the night.
Each team should open up a bakery based on the cupcakes they played en route to the matchup in Madison. While the Badgers have been vilified for its schedule which included South Dakota, the Huskers are no less guilty of filling its Saturdays with toothless opponents (which include Chattanooga and Wyoming.)
The Badgers, though, have blown away their competition by outscoring them by 40 points on average.
Nebraska on the other hand has had a decidedly more troublesome time winning its games, outperforming the competition by less than half that score. On the surface it looks like a knock on Nebraska, but facing and dealing with adversity early may pay big dividends mentally and emotionally for the team.
So Saturday will provide a big test to both squads, as the first four games have provided little more than televised practices and tune-up games.
It's very fashionable for the sports media to talk about special teams. Nebraska and Wisconsin will live by sound offense and defense, but they can also die by boot and shank.
Nebraska averages about 49 yards per punt, besting the Wisconsin average by about six yards—no real difference there.
The real disparity is revealed when it comes to field goals and kickoffs.
Out of nine field goal attempts, the Huskers saw eight sail through the uprights for a 88.9% success rate. The Badgers have only have had to attempt four such kicks but only two turned into scores. 50% does not sound nearly as sexy.
Kickoffs could be another sore spot for Wisconsin. Kickoff specialist and Nebraska native Alec Lerner was penalized on two kicks that went out of bounds against South Dakota. If the Badger kicking game ends up consistently handing the Huskers a short field, expect the Wisconsin defense to give up alot more that the 8.5 points per game they have allowed so far.