NOTE: This piece will be primarily focused on the Wisconsin Badgers. If anyone is interested in coming up with a counterpoint for Nebraska, please come up with one.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers will enter the confines of Camp Randall Stadium to take on the Wisconsin Badgers for their first ever Big Ten game this Saturday Night. The Big Ten slate as we know it will see one team leave that stadium undefeated.
But what are the matchups this weekend? Will Wisconsin's offense prove capable of taking on Nebraska's defense?
With Montee Ball, probably...
The starting matchups for Wisconsin offensively, and their stat lines after the jump.
QB: Russell Wilson - Wilson has completed 71 passes on 98 attempts for 1,147 yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging an extremely impressive 11.7 yards per pass attempt. Wilson has only one interception; the other INT was a garbage-time throw by backup QB Joe Brennan.
RB: Montee Ball/James White - Montee Ball has run 63 times for 360 yards and 9 touchdowns while recording an impressive 5.7 YPC. Ball has also scored multiple touchdowns in every single game this year. James White adds to the ground game threat with 45 carries for 303 yards and 3 touchdowns, on an even more impressive 6.7 YPC.
FB: BHGP's beloved Bradie Ewing has not recorded 1 rushing attempt, but has been an alarmingly efficient weapon in the passing offense with 6 receptions for 106 yards. Don't fall asleep on him; he can kill you.
WR: Nick Toon - last year was a colossal disappointment for the talented wideout, and Toon has played with a vengeance in 2011, recording a team-best 21 receptions for 353 yards and a conference-leading 5 receiving touchdowns.
WR: Jared Abbrederis - made some noise as a freshman last year, has recorded 15 receptions and 233 yards in 4 games this year. He won't set the world on fire, but he'll be a capable #2 WR taking some of the pressure off of Toon.
TE: Jacob Pedersen / Jake Byrne - Pedersen has struggled sometimes with Wilson as far as chemistry, but he's one of Russell's favorite targets in the redzone and has 4 receiving TDs on just 11 receptions. Byrne has only one catch this year, but he's probably the best blocking TE on the team.
LG: Travis Frederick - the first-ever true freshman to start at OL in a season opener for Wisconsin (in 2009), Frederick was redshirted in 2010 and is a fantastic run blocker.
C: Peter Konz - provides fantastic play at the center position, one of the best UW has had at that area and has seemingly gotten better with every week.
RG: Kevin Zeitler - plays with one heck of a mean streak. He makes mistakes from time to time, but is a fearsome run blocker and a very solid pass protector.
RT: Josh Oglesby / Rob Havenstein - Oglesby has struggled mightily with injuries and has had multiple knee reconstructions, but he's still shown glimpses of the talent that made him a 5-star recruit when healthy. Havenstein has stepped in very capably for Oglesby when the senior OT has been injured, but Oglesby has been able to stave off the freshman.
The Wisconsin OL has allowed just three sacks of Russell Wilson this season, while allowing the Badgers' feature backs to run for 663 yards on 108 carries (6.1 YPC) and 12 touchdowns. For Nebraska, which has admittedly struggled with the losses of Jared Crick and Alfonzo Dennard to injury, this does not look like a favorable matchup. The Cornhuskers, even with a stellar effort by the run defense against 1-AA opponent Chattanooga, are currently averaging 133.3 yards allowed via ground. Against 1-A opponents (taking out the Chattanooga game, in other words), the Huskers D averages 157.7 rushing yards allowed.
On the other hand, though, Nebraska's own rushing offense is fearsome; the Huskers ran wild on Washington for 309 yards, then pounded Wyoming for 333 more. Nebraska has scored 4 rushing touchdowns in every single game. Nice numbers, right?
Rex Burkhead certainly thinks so...
Not when placed into context with the passing offense. Taylor Martinez, unlike Russell Wilson, is not an efficient passer. Martinez has struggled to complete 50% of his passes through 4 games this year, and has averaged 161.8 yards per game through the air. With that being said, Martinez is Nebraska's leading rusher and hasn't truly needed to pass to be successful...yet.
Nebraska's run offense, averaging 272 yards per game, is going up against a Wisconsin run defense that allows 88.8 yards per game. This is where the game will be decided. If the front 7 of Wisconsin can stop Nebraska's fearsome running attack and force Nebraska to pass (not an area of strength this year for the Cornhuskers), the Badgers will be in excellent position to dictate the pace of the game with their own explosive offense and ground game. One final note: Since 2003, Wisconsin is undefeated through September in Camp Randall Stadium.