Every great heavy weight throw down has an undercard. Here at OTE Hilary and Ricardo entertain a handful of questions and set some gambling lines as a way of previewing Wisconsin’s weekly matchup. Let's see the over-under on the number of times head coaches will embarrass themselves, what T-Mart’s selling, and the weekly Nick Toon haiku.
1) Jared Crick, Nebraska's All-American defensive tackle (who was hearing whispers from the NFL around draft time), returns from an injury suffered against Washington to start against the Badgers. What kind of impact will he have? Will he be the disruptive force he was a season ago, or is he (and the rest of the Huskers, for that matter) in for some of the culture shock (B1G manball as opposed to Big XII spreads and passing) to which pundits have alluded? When it's all said and done, how many big plays (total TFLs, sacks, forced and/or recovered fumbles, interceptions) will #94 record?
Hilary: I'll go with three. It's a conservative estimate, but I'm skeptical that he's totally back. Still, I don't think it's entirely unrealistic to think of three TFLs or two TFLs and a sack to his name in a game. I don't think he gets any turnovers, but hell, maybe he'll hit that three with three fumble recoveries. (I hope not.)
Ricardo: One. If that. My reasons are several. I’ve been a proponent of one of the clichés that I’m sure Nebraska fans are sick to death of: the Huskers, used to playing against pass-heavy Big XII offenses, will deal with culture shock when they play downhill B1G teams. From what I have seen of Crick (both last season and against Washington this year), he’s exactly what I have in mind. He has a good motor, does not give up on a play, shows an ability to slip past pass protections, and is relentless in pursuit, be it crashing the line back side to play side, or towards the sideline. But he plays high, leaving himself susceptible to good run-blocking interior linemen (Enter Wisconsin). Think I’m a homer trying to find an edge for the Badgers by talking down one of Nebraska’s best players? That’s fine. But someone actually paid for his opinions agrees with me, so I’ll take solace having company in being wrong. I’ve been hard on Wisconsin center Peter Konz for his struggles at the point of attack, particularly against Oregon State’s mammoth Castro Masaniai. Masaniai, however, is a run-stuffing specialist and clocks in at fifty pounds heavier than Crick. Moreover, Oregon State sold out against the run, cheating both their safeties and showing at least nine in the box on almost every single play. With Crick’s tendency to play high this is a match-up Peter Konz and Kevin Zeitler should win with some regularity, with one of the two scraping to the next level.
The guy I’m worried about? Lavonte David. While he’s undersized (220 lbs), he has a solid base and jumps off the screen when you watch him.
Money line: 2.0
2) Taylor Martinez. The guy who went to Nebraska after his dad secured a licensing deal with that no so august institution (relax, Husker fans, just giving you a hard time; feel free to make a Shoe Box joke at our expense). He's as fast as his throwing motion is ugly. Watching him sprint up the field when running the option read (and getting the defensive end to break contain and pursue backside) is probably what should concern Badger fans most this game. His throwing... not so much. So, here's a fun one: at the end of the game, what will be the total sum of T-Mart's rushing yards AND completion percentage?
Hilary: Wow. Way to make the law student do math Ricardo. I feel like this is somehow unfair. I know it's just addition, but come on. So my look at the stats tells me that Martinez has thrown between 47.6% and 57.1% of his passes for completions in his first four starts of the season. Meanwhile, he's run for between 92 and 213 yards. At the same time, Wisconsin, though giving up yardage, hasn't gotten gashed too much by one single rusher this year. I think that maybe Martinez has a slightly above average rushing performance and a slightly below average completion percentage... Therefore, I go with 163.
Ricardo: Rating of 107.6 (13/25, 150 yards passing, 1 touchdown, 1 interception; is my math right?) plus 110 yards rushing comes to 217.6. I echo Hilary’s observation that T-Mart hits on around 50% of his tosses. But Nebraska runs the damned football, and I think they’ll try and stick with it even if they get behind by a couple scores. From what I have seen of Nebraska, they have managed to hit a couple deep passes. Even though the overly conservative Dave Doeren is gone, defensive play caller Chris Ash has still kept the safeties back, meaning Martinez will be forced to hit the underneath passes. With T-Mart’s propensity to lock onto receivers and take forever to throw the football, combined with the solid tackling of Wisconsin’s defensive backs leads me to believe the yards per attempt will be low.
With respect to running the football, let’s just say that Martinez is fast. Really, really fast, and quite honestly this is the one facet of the game that causes me a great deal of worry. Firstly, Shelton Johnson is out, meaning Dez Southward will make his first start at safety. How well will he hold up when Martinez sprints up field? The second point is middle linebacker Chris Borland. Not only is he knocking off the rust of a lost year (shoulder injury in 2010), he’s also making the transition to middle linebacker. While looking good and flashing some of the playmaking ability that landed him the 2009 B1G Freshman of the Year award, he’s had a bad habit of overrunning the play. This led to a missed tackle in the backfield against Oregon State and two big runs against South Dakota. Miss Martinez and it’s 25 yards the other way. T-Mart will make some hay on the ground.
3) Nick Mangold rules the photo bomb, particularly when Mark Sanchez is involved. Bret Bielema owns the sideline bomb, as the camera almost always finds its way to find the former Hawkeye defensive tackle sprinting into the picture, be it to call a timeout or scream at the referee for one reason or another. While ruling the sideline bomb, some might consider Bo Pelini a ticking bomb. What will be the combined total of Bielema sideline bombs/sprints/screams-at-the-officials-caught-by-the-camera and Pelini blow ups/red faces/threatening-of-Taylor's-unborn-children episodes?
Hilary: 2. Given that ESPN has this game, you can be sure they'll be itching for footage of either Bielema or Pelini going all nutso in one way or the other. I wouldn't be surprised to see a shot of each.
Ricardo: 3. Pelini’s good for two blowups, one at his defense and one at T-Mart. Bielema will get at least one, possibly two: calling a timeout to thwart a defensive breakdown due to poor alignment, and screaming at a referee because of a garbage pass interference/illegal contact penalty (like in the Rose Bowl). I’ll keep it at three for the sake of our competition.
4) Russell Wilson. So far he's Russelled every Saturday (and that one Thursday night), albeit against sub-par competition. Gone are the MACrifices. Here comes a Pelini(s)-coached defense with legit NFL prospects and All-Americans. When the clock hits zeroes, how many yards passing will the darkhorse Heisman candidate have thrown for?
Hilary: Nebraska's games appear to break down in one of two ways as far as opposing passing statistics go. They'll either allow the opposing QB somewhere in the high 100s in yardage or somewhere in the mid to high 200s. Meanwhile, Russell Wilson has thrown for between 189 and 347 yards, with two performances in the 300s. I don't think this game will be quite the romp the last two have been, but I do think Wilson performs well, since I'm not yet quaking in fear at the sight of the Husker defense. I'll go with... 240.
Ricardo: When I was a kid watching television way back when, few things pissed me off more than when the third person on the Price is Right carefully weighed prices, considered carefully the markup a company looked for with a manufacturers’ suggested retail price, and offered a solid guess—only to be screwed over by the fourth person who would outbid them by $1. So… Russell Wilson will throw for 241 yards. With Alfonzo Dennard coming off injury and the position opposite him being unsettled, I don’t know that Nick Toon or Jared Abbrederis will be roped in. Combined with Wilson’s willingness to hit tight ends and backs, exploit the flat, and move the pocket, he’ll get his yards. Part of his success this year has come from teams selling out against the run. Nebraska won’t do that; at least not at first. But there will be at least two drives where Wilson does almost all the damage—that’s where he’ll get the bulk of his yards.
5) Nick Toon has a tendency, not just to drop the ball, but commit drops so egregious it causes Ricardo to launch into profanity-laced haikus (Son of Al Toon should—have hands of gold, not James Jones'—shit box shitty shit). How many episodes will Ricardo suffer this Saturday?
Hilary: I'm going with one drop this week. Just because of the potentially increased quality of defensive coverage. Hopefully Toon is his lately awesome self and completely burns me on this pick.
Ricardo: 0. I’m a Toon convert this year. He’s locked in. He’s competing for every ball. He’s blocking downfield. Most importantly, he’s healthy. And with Wilson moving and Jacob Pedersen doing damage safeties haven’t had the chance to get on him and break a play up.
*Hilary’s bonus question
Hilary: Those of you who were with us for the 2010 season remember that I took a very special trip one fall weekend. I went to Indiana with a few friends, where I enjoyed relaying the score of the Ohio State - Wisconsin game over a camp fire and beers (oh for the miracle of smart phones). The morning after, as a cure for our hangovers, we hit up the Round the Clock diner and were introduced to one of the greatest foods known to man: the baffle. Coincidentally, I'm going back to Indiana on the weekend that ESPN once again heads to Madison for an epic nighttime showdown. Now, last time, I was the only one brave enough to try the baffle, but my positive experience seems to have convinced some of my friends to jump into the deep end with me this time around. So... how many baffles will my group of nine consume the morning after the Wisconsin game? I'm going to go with 4.
Ricardo: Full disclosure. In 2003, my junior year at Wisconsin, I was off on the East Coast meeting prospective graduate school advisers and missed the Ohio State/Lee Evans game. Then last year for the Ohio State game my flight out of Milwaukee was delayed, causing me to miss the game. I had hoped to avoid all mention of the game while sprinting through airports, but to my chagrin the couple in front of me on my first leg was an Ohio State husband and a Wisconsin wife. Once the plane touched down he flipped open his phone and said to his wife, "Honey, It’s early But it’s 14-0. You guys." Two seconds later he looked at his phone and said, "Fucking shit! 21-0?! How in the fuck…?!" So, Hilary, you’re not the only one displaced during big games. That being said, what the hell is a "baffle?" What the hell, your group will eat five.
Betting line: 4.5
Hilary leads 2-1 through three weeks (the UNLV game was not covered), but is tied 6.5-6.5 for all 13 questions entertained.