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The Nebraska-Wisconsin Preview: A Fight for Freedom

Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

In what is the most important game in the race for the Big Ten West - so far - Nebraska and Wisconsin face off on national television in what will be a bitter cold game in Camp Randall. With the stakes so high, and really because it felt like something fun to do, Me and MC ClapYoHandz discussed how we see things going down tomorrow. From mediocre passing games to neutralizing the run games, we chat about what it will take for each team to win. It's a fight for Freedom and only one red team can emerge. 
Jesse: So MC, let's get right down to it. This is the red circle game for both teams, and with a new shiny - or, uh, polished bronze-ish - trophy on the line, it's time we discuss this blossoming rivalry. When Nebraska joined the Big Ten, many Husker fans were really hoping this would become the game that everyone got excited for. Wisconsin could be Nebraska's new Oklahoma. I mostly blame Barry Alvarez for these sentiments, but that's probably an entire post in and of itself.

That in mind, it really is a very important matchup. The team that leaves Madison with a win this weekend has the inside track at Indianapolis. With the rest of the QoH schedule still left, there are absolutely no guarantees, but having a game up on the other 'favorite' is definitely a good thing. But we have a little time to get into what we think happens. Let's talk a little bit about how we got here. Wisconsin has been sort of a roller coaster team, but seems to be peaking at the right time. Is this an issue of competition or is there something that just sort of clicked?

MC: I'd say some of both. It probably isn't a coincidence that the defense has flipped a switch of sorts since Warren Herring came back for the Maryland game. Everything else seems to fall into place when he takes up the middle of that defensive line. On top of that, the passing game has gradually upgraded from 'horrendous' to 'inconsistently serviceable' in recent weeks, so we're starting to see a team that is capable of dominating both sides of the ball when it can complete a few passes to keep everyone honest. Competition likely mitigates some of the dominance as well though. Maryland and Rutgers simply didn't match up well with Wisconsin, and while Purdue looks like it's starting to put it all together, they're a year or two away from making any serious noise yet. Wisconsin has yet to see an offense as good as Nebraska's, so we should learn a lot about the legitimacy of what is currently a statistically elite Badger defense on Saturday.

Let's focus on the other side of the ball for that battle. A healthy Ameer Abdullah will be key to giving Wisconsin's defense problems. What's the word on the Husker streets about his condition? Are there promising backs in the stable that can diminish the loss of Abdullah's production if he's not his old self? And if the game rests on the arm (and feet, of course) of Tommy Armstrong Jr., will he be ready to dissect a complicated 3-4 blitzing scheme?

Jesse: Well, honestly... with Ameer, your guess is about as good as mine. From all the noise - or lack thereof - I have heard out of Lincoln this week, it sounds like Ameer has looked pretty good in practice. Now, take that with about a pound of salt because this is information from Bo (very guarded), media (knows only what they see), and the blogosphere that may or may not be the worst. Do I think Ameer starts on Saturday? Absolutely. Do I think there is any way he is 100%? Sure, a little chance. Will he be the x-factor? He better not be.

Nebraska is going to have to rely on its stable of backs to make Saturday competitive. The nice thing is that we actually have some depth back there. The Big Ten is familiar with Imani Cross who is a 6' 1" 230 lb bowling ball. He does not obviously have the shake that an Ameer has, nor does he have the lateral movement. However, he is sneaky quick and just a pain in the ass to drag down. In the zone read game, he offers a little less, but I would imagine Wisconsin doesn't want to ignore him either. On the other side of Imani will be Terrell Newby. He's the true Sophomore who most believe is the heir apparent to the starting gig when Ameer graduates. He sort of looks the part as well. Newby has speed, excellent field vision, and agility. He doesn't run as low to the ground as Abdullah, but few runners actually do. If Ameer can't play, Nebraska will rely on those two to do the dirty work and try and open up some passing lanes for Armstrong.

That brings up that part of this conversation. Tommy Armstrong has been somewhat of a mixed bag this year. As a Sophomore getting his first full year of starting - noting, of course, that he started eight games last year - he has shown bursts of brilliance. He runs the zone read quite effectively, his stride is sneaky, and he arguably has the best deep ball a Nebraska starting QB has had in years. The downside is that he still locks onto receivers, can put the ball on the ground at really inopportune times, and yeah... he can't really do touch passes... or passes less then like 20 yards. This offense is predicated on setting up the pass with the run. Lucky for Nebraska, I do believe they can do that. This will be about attacking the Wisconsin line, forcing the LBs inside if at all possible and then hitting the edge. Cethan Carter - we do have TEs at Nebraska despite forgetting you can throw to them - is back and he is a great blocking presence. Our WRs also block - as you know. I think Nebraska scores more on Wisconsin than they have given up this year. Most likely using some of the same things Illinois and Purdue did. It's weird saying that.

Now that we've covered Nebraska with the ball, let's talk about the Badgers. We've given Wisconsin a lot of hell for their *ahem* 'passing' game. I use passing somewhat lightly because at times it seemed non-existent. That said, Stave looks less yippy as of late, and you still have a Melvin Gordon. What will Wisconsin need to do to attack what is actually a decent Nebraska defense?

MC: Armstrong can only handle passes over 20 yards, eh? MUST BE NICE. But really though, after this game let's talk about merging quarterbacks.

I think the key for Wisconsin will be to establish a short/medium range passing game early, essentially proving that it at least does exist and can pick up some yards before Nebraska can overload the box and contain Gordon/Clement. Any semblance of balance will do wonders for the offense's success as well as the defense's, both Nebraska and Wisconsin seem like teams you do not want to have to climb out of an early hole against. I don't expect Stave to be an X-factor by any means, but now that he's getting into a groove I think he'll make good decisions and won't throw Wisconsin out of contention a la Northwestern. On defense, the key to success will be a combination of confusing Armstrong with pressure, assignment discipline (Wisconsin can't afford to give Nebraska room to run), and keeping Warren Herring healthy. I have no concerns with the coaching on the defensive side of the ball, so as long there's enough pressure to keep Armstrong from chucking bullets left and right I'm okay with this matchup. The Badger defense vs. Nebraska's running game will be the most fun battle to watch here, with honorable mention going to the inevitable Gordon vs. Abdullah rushing extravaganza.

So Jesse, what do you say we get down to it. How do you see this marquee Quadrangle war playing out, and what's your final score?

Jesse: Well, it depends on what you mean by Quadrangle war. If you're saying, this game specifically? I think this game plays very similarly to the Michigan State game Nebraska played earlier this season. Offensively, it will be tough sledding. Wisconsin brings the LBs closer to the line with a man more or less always assigned to Abdullah. Nebraska's defense will play tough, but give up some big plays. Oh, and the Huskers will play from behind, which will be really fun in snow and cold. I'm hoping that we can follow the Northwestern script closely against Wisconsin, but I just don't know if this will happen. That being said, I'm sadly picking the Badgers to win the game. 24-17 sounds about right to me. I'm guessing Nebraska will close the game out with the ball and a chance to tie as well.

Now, if you meant how do I see the entire Quadrangle playing out... I think that we're going to have a two loss champion in the Big Ten West. I have no idea who that will be, but the winner of this game won't win out. That's just how I see things right now, though. How about you? How do both of these pan out?

MC: The more I think about it, the more I think whoever can rush best despite pressure is going to come out on top for this one. It's going to be freezing in Madison on Saturday and that should affect the passing game the most. Since Nebraska has a more effective passing game, I think weather affects them a little more and it shifts both teams' focuses toward the run (as if they weren't looking there already). I can't decide if this one will be really low scoring or a shootout, but I think it's close either way. In the end I think Wisconsin executes a little better with the run and squeaks out a 31-27 win.

For the #Quadrangle war, I like the winner of this game to win out, if it's Nebraska I'm fine with the prediction as long as Abdullah looks fine going forward. They're both playing better ball right now, and when it all comes down to it, Iowa and Minnesota smell.

Nebraska and Wisconsin face off in Camp Randall on ABC tomorrow, Saturday November 15th at 2:30.