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November 30, 2012

All-Out Blitz: Nebraska



Welcome to this week's "All-Out Blitz," where you'll find everything that you need to know about the Badgers' next opponent. The Badgers and the Nebraska Cornhuskers are set to face off for the second time this season, this time for the right to go to the Rose Bowl. There's a lot on the line, so make sure you're read up on the Cornhuskers before the game kicks off at 7:17 p.m. CST this Saturday.

All Out Blitz: Nebraska

What you need to know about Nebraska

Head coach: Bo Pelini (5th season @ Nebraska), 49-18 (12-4 Big Ten)
Nebraska All-Time Record: 856-351-40 (.702)
2012 Record: 10-2 (7-1 Big Ten)
Ranking: 14 (AP), 13 (Coaches Poll), 12 (BCS)
All-Time record against Wisconsin: 4-3

Did you read this?

Know Thy Foe: Nebraska
Huskers too much in second half

Since we last met

The Cornhuskers have played very well since they came from behind and defeated Wisconsin 30-27 in Lincoln Sept. 29. In all, the Cornhuskers have totaled a 6-1 record since that game, with their lone loss coming in a 63-38 blowout against Ohio State in Columbus. Even still, the Cornhuskers didn't waltz away with the Legends division title. Nebraska beat Michigan 23-9 in late October, but the Wolverines hung around for a bit with an 8-4 record.

The Cornhuskers clinched the Legends division with a 13-7 win over Iowa on Black Friday, giving them their first shot at a Big Ten title since they joined the league last season. If they want to overcome the Badgers for the second time this year, they'll need to sustain the momentum they've picked up behind quarterback Taylor Martinez and an improved defense.

For the most part, the Cornhuskers live and die behind Martinez, who's having the best season of his career. His season numbers are definitely impressive: the junior is completing 63.3 percent of his passes this season, has thrown for 2,483 yards and has thrown 21 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. However, the numbers have dipped a little bit since his first game against Wisconsin. Martinez has completed 60.4 percent of his passes since then, averaging 203 yards per game. Martinez has also thrown 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions in the last seven games, including two three-pick games against Ohio State and Northwestern.

Martinez also draws a lot of attention as a dual-threat quarterback, and has burned teams with his legs several times this season. He rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown in Nebraska's earlier game against Wisconsin, and he has five more rushing touchdowns since then. Martinez rushed for 205 yards against Michigan State and 104 yards against Penn State, and averages 13 carries per game.

Apart from Martinez, the Cornhuskers rely on Ameer Abdullah for the most part in the running game. Rex Burkhead was one of the best running backs in the Big Ten last season, but he's had trouble staying healthy this season. Burkhead is expected to be available for the Big Ten title game, but Abdullah was the biggest beneficiary of Burkhead's absence this season.

Abdullah has 1071 yards on 214 carries this season, to go with eight rushing touchdowns. The Cornhuskers get him involved in the passing game once in a while, but he's more of a traditional back than a receiving threat. Abdullah hasn't scored a rushing touchdown since Oct. 27 against Michigan, but he scored a receiving touchdown in the following game against Northwestern.

Wide receiver Kenny Bell is still the receiver to watch in Nebraska's offense. Bell has four touchdowns since the Badgers and Cornhuskers last played, and he's averaging about four catches per game with about 65 yards per game as well. As for the other receivers, Jamal Turner has two touchdowns and 234 yards since the Wisconsin game. Tight end Ben Cotton has 110 yards and 10 catches as well, to go with his only two scores of the year.

On defense, the Cornhuskers have been on a roll when it comes to making big plays. They've pulled down eight interceptions since the Wisconsin game, with five of those coming over the last three weeks. Nebraska also has 31 tackles for loss since the Wisconsin game, which works out to about 4.4 TFLs per game. They have 10 sacks as well in the same time period, with five of those coming in the last three weeks as well.

The Cornhuskers' average margin of victory over the last seven weeks was 28.7 to 24, but that's a little skewed because of their blowout loss to Ohio State. If you just take their margin over the last six weeks, it averages out a little bit to 27.1 to 17.5. Nebraska's best defensive performance since then came against Michigan, when they bottled up the Wolverines and held them to just nine points. Michigan's offense is ranked No. 17 in the country by Football Outsiders, and the Huskers held them to just 188 total yards, and picked off Michigan backup quarterback Russell Bellomy three times.

Matchup to watch: Montee Ball & James White vs. Nebraska's rush defense

Again, I'm getting repetitive with this one, but it's true. The Badgers struggled to get a complete effort out of the running game against Nebraska the first time around, although Montee Ball did rush for 93 yards and three touchdowns against the Huskers. The Badgers need to get him going early and often this time around, and adjust as needed if they start to key on him (which they will).

That's when the Badgers will need to get contributions from James White, and even Melvin Gordon, who combined for three rushes the first time around. Both players have performed well since then when given the opportunity, and the Badgers will probably show off their 'Barge' formation with White taking the direct snap as well. They'll need to take advantage of a relatively soft rushing defense if they want to win, as Nebraska is ranked just eighth in the Big Ten in rush defense. The Badgers probably don't have the weapons to beat the Cornhuskers through the air, so it's imperative that they maintain an efficient ground game.

The pick: Nebraska 27 Wisconsin 24

I've been joking all week that in the Big Ten's nightmare season, it only makes sense that their nightmare team (a 7-5 Wisconsin team) would win the Big Ten Championship and head to the Rose Bowl. And while I'm sure Wisconsin fans would take it, I just can't commit to making that my official prediction. I think this game will be pretty close, and it wouldn't surprise me at all if he Badgers won.

However, I think Wisconsin's offense is too one-dimensional right now. The defense has been playing very well all season, but I don't think they can keep it up all game if the offense isn't giving them any support. Look at what happened in the first Nebraska game, and in Wisconsin's other losses other than Oregon State: the offense roared to a lead, and couldn't get any momentum back once the defense adjusted to them. Bret Bielema and the Badgers will need to learn how to strike back if they want a third-straight trip to Pasadena, but I don't see it happening right now.

The point after:

Nebraska has trailed or been tied with their opponents entering the fourth quarter five times this season. Their record in those games is 4-1, with their lone loss coming to Ohio State. Wisconsin fans will remember the Badgers' 17-point lead evaporating in the second half. The Cornhuskers are used to playing from behind, and it's likely they won't panic if the Badgers take another early lead this Saturday.

For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.


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