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NEBRASKA FOOTBALL: Top Five Things to Watch For Against Wisconsin

By Huskerlocker @huskerlocker

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By Erin Sorensen
It’s finally here – Big Ten play. Nebraska faces Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium tonight on ABC during primetime and both teams are ready to prove they deserve to be ranked as they are. Who will prevail? With both teams equally matched, the game’s outcome will come down to more than just pure talent. Fans have a lot to look for tonight, but there are five key factors that will ultimately determine Nebraska’s fate:
1.) A Dominant Defense
It became very clear at the beginning of the season just how much of an impact was made by last year’s defensive seniors. Whether it was leadership or talent, holes left by those who graduated are clearer than ever. That does not mean Nebraska did not return an exceptional group of talented players, but more so that it was a group of men who have yet to gel.
It has been a rough start to the season defensively, which has shown that without Alfonzo Dennard, the secondary is weak. Filling the shoes of Prince Amukamara has been a challenge and one only made more difficult by an injury that kept Dennard from playing in Nebraska’s first three games. Now that he is back and has a week’s live experience under his belt, will the defense begin to find their swagger once again?
Jared Crick looks to lead the line after a week on the sidelines due to a head injury, with Cameron Meredith at his side. Leadership is going to be vital tonight. Both Crick and Meredith are primed to step up in this sense. The defense can no longer be passive now that Big Ten conference games have officially begun. Without it, Nebraska will lack its dominance and struggle to stop an explosive Wisconsin offense.
2.) Effective Decision-Making by Taylor Martinez
The 2011 season has been good to quarterback Taylor Martinez so far. While his throwing mechanics are often called unconventional, Martinez has proved that he is much more than just a running threat. Against Wyoming, he only had 37 rushing yards, while the rest of his team carried the rest of the load. For Martinez, the biggest growth from last season is his ability to make decisions quicker and not feel rushed to make things happen on his own.
It is key to Nebraska’s success that Martinez continues this trend against Wisconsin. Madison hosts an intense environment that is known to rattle visiting teams. This could affect Martinez’s ability to make decisions, especially when unable to communicate accordingly due to noise. How he handles these situations will be a true test of his talents as a quarterback.
Will Nebraska fans see the Martinez of the past or one that takes a dramatic step forward in improvement? If Nebraska has anything to say about it, Wisconsin will have no idea what hit them thanks in no small part to their signal-caller.
3.) Team Composure
Head coach Bo Pelini has done an excellent job in the weeks leading up to Wisconsin to hammer home the mentality that the season is a “process.” For Pelini, Wisconsin is just another game. In fact, tonight’s contest is not even a benchmark win for his team, who all echoed the same, “Who cares?” during Monday’s press conference.
While the team does understand the significance of the game, being both primetime on ABC and the focus of ESPN’s College GameDay, it is ultimately about being both Big Ten and National Champions, not the winner at Camp Randall tonight.
If Nebraska can hold onto this mentality during the game, the Cornhuskers will be able to make much smarter decisions. With composure comes focus and better playmaking, not to mention the overall confidence to win. Wisconsin has been hyping this game non-stop for the last week, while Nebraska has been taking the higher road. Will it pay off? Nebraska fans will find out tonight.
4.) A “Blackout”
When Athletic Director Tom Osborne called for Nebraska fans to “Pack Your Black” for the Wisconsin game, some fans were up in arms. The Cornhuskers’ signature color is red and Memorial Stadium is known for its “Sea of Red.” How could wearing black be a good idea for Nebraska during their first conference road game?
Cornhusker and Badger officials are both predicting nearly 30,000 Cornhusker fans arriving in Madison. Even more impressive, 67 individuals with Nebraska addresses purchased Wisconsin season tickets just to make it to this game. It’s no secret that Husker fans travel in droves and when they do, they want to be noticed.
The biggest issue for Nebraska fans in regards to being part of the crowd at Wisconsin is that both teams look very similar. If Cornhusker fans wore red, it would be difficult to determine exactly who is cheering for which team. The “Blackout” solves that problem.
5.) A Big Win
The last time Nebraska was featured on ESPN’s College GameDay and had the primetime spot on ABC, the Cornhuskers played USC in 2007. That game produced shirts that said, “Beat the Booty out of SC” and “Restore the Order.” Nebraska players were not quiet about their intentions to win big.
By the end of the game, the Cornhuskers ended up on the flip side of where they had intended. People called Nebraska “irrelevant” and “not what they used to be.” Since then, Bo Pelini’s Cornhuskers have seen many big games have fall just short of victory. It’s time to change that.
Wins have all felt lackluster this season. With the defensive struggles, teams that should not have scored easily did and far more than fans had hoped. Tonight is a chance for Nebraska to not only secure a victory, but to bring a win home that feels like a true accomplishment.
It’s been along time coming for Nebraska, and fans are ready to let go of that automatic feeling of a letdown when a big game rolls around. A win is always a win, but a triumph in Madison would be one worth calling “big.”
Wisconsin is a 9.5-point favorite going into tonight’s game, a position Nebraska fans do not prefer. However, the underdog is exactly what Pelini and his crew like to be. Being the favorite is easy. Being the underdog provides the stuff of legends. This Cornhusker team is ready to cement their place in Nebraska history under the bright lights of Camp Randall Stadium.
Follow Erin on Twitter: @helloerinmarie
Follow Husker Locker on Twitter: @huskerlocker
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