At his Monday press conference, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini downplayed the hype. A couple hundred miles away during his Monday press conference, Bielema was just the opposite, seeing that the same opportunity is there for his team to imprint itself as an elite program.
"We've worked very hard to get ourselves in the position we are in today," said Bielema, as No.7 Wisconsin prepares for No.8 Nebraska in primetime this Saturday at Camp Randall. "We're here. We don't plan on leaving, so let's take advantage of the opportunities that come in front of us."
Wisconsin (4-0) has won its last 11 regular season games, the second longest streak under Bielema, and has done it with a mixture of offense and defense. The Badgers have scored at least 30 points in six of their last seven regular season games and have allowed only 34 total points this season, its best opening stretch since 2004.
Now, the Badgers get their biggest test to date with the Cornhuskers playing their first conference game as Big Ten members and the first matchup between the schools since the Badgers knocked off No.4 Nebraska, 21-20, in 1974.
Nebraska has been traditionally one of the top scoring defenses in the country, but the Blackshirts have given up an average of 22 points per game. In the last three games, Nebraska has given up at least 300 yards of offense, including 420 yards against Washington and 444 yards against Fresno State.
Flipping on the game tape from the first four weeks and film from last season, Bielema still sees a fast defense that has a history of being productive.
"From a personnel standpoint, they are extremely gifted athletically on defense," Bielema said. "They really have some special players at all three positions … that you have to know where they are at all times."
Even with the defenses struggles, the Cornhuskers are a perfect 4-0 this season behind their offense and sophomore duel-threat quarterback Taylor Martinez. Fourth in the Big Ten in total offense at 267 yards per game, Martinez is averaging 105.3 rushing yards per game and posted a 200-yard passing, 100-yard rushing game against Fresno State.
"As you study and watch him now, he's very, very fast," Bielema said of Martinez, who has the Huskers' offense averaging 42.8 points per game, second in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin (48.5). "He lets guys go up and make plays. The one thing I have really enjoyed over the last 48 hours watching film, I think Nebraska players are a lot like Wisconsin players because they both love to play the game."
In an informal team meeting last Thursday prior to the South Dakota game, Bielema addressed the buzz of the coming weeks by reminded the player to focus first on the task at hand. The challenge now if for Bielema to instruct his players to temper the outside distractions brought forth by the media coverage, family presence and ticket requests, but to embrace the challenge.
"Everybody has a plate and on that plate, you can only put so much," Bielema said. "If you put too much on it, things begin to fall off it. You've got football, you've got academics, it's a busy time for us and our kids have to be great with where their focus is."
On the Ball
One of the biggest coups when Russell Wilson decided to transfer to Wisconsin was that he was quarterback that could make things happen both in the passing game and in the running game. Through four nonconference games, Wilson has primarily stayed in the air, ranking second in the country in pass efficiency (218.4), fifth in completion percentage (75.8) and has thrown 300 yards in back-to-back games.
Wilson has carried the ball just 16 times for 108 yards and a score and other than his 49-yard touchdown run in the opener, has chosen to stay put for the most part. Why? Simply put, Wisconsin has not had a need for the designed run plays based on the success of Montee Ball.
Scoring at least one touchdown in each of his last 10 games, Ball is quickly climbing Wisconsin's career rushing charts. His 1,747 yards place him 16th on UW's all-time list and his career yards per carry (5.39) continues to increase with his wise decision to drop excess weight in the offseason.
"Physically, the burst, the speed, the pure things you see on the football … is because of (his) heart and mind," Bielema said. "Early on in that UNLV game, he came free, and he doesn't have a rear view mirror, but he was able to pick his feet up because there was a guy that was trying to clip his heels. He's doing some things naturally and instinctive that a lot of people don't do."
As a result, Ball has been a big benefactor in short-yardage and third-down situations. Wisconsin is converting 26 of its 46 third-down attempts (60.9 percent), a mark that ranks tied for third in the country, and has converted three of its four fourth-down attempts. Even with the lesser competition, Bielema believes the short-yardage success can continue into conference play because of what Ball has brought to the table.
"I am (confident) just because of the people we have in front of him," Bielema said. "I think we are probably more explosive than we've ever been and you've seen that with the big plays we've gotten. I understand we don't have that real big back like we had with P.J. (Hill), John (Clay) and obviously Ron Dayne before I was here, but I like the running backs we have. I wouldn't trade them in for anything."
From the Infirmary
"He basically got in a little bit last Friday, went through the pregame warm ups and we didn't use him on Saturday," Bielema said.
After getting stepped on early against South Dakota and having some concern with internal bleeding in the area, junior strong safety Shelton Johnson is expected to be back Tuesday or Wednesday. If Johnson isn't prepared, however, Bielema has no problems utilizing redshirt sophomore Dezmen Southward.
"Dez was ahead of Shelton and playing better than him in fall camp and it kind of flipped on him a little bit," said Bielema, referring to Southward's ankle injury that gave Johnson the opportunity. "Shelton was playing at a pretty high level … If Shelton isn't going by Thursday and as long as Dez is doing what he's doing, I don't have any problem starting him."
Defensive ends Pat Muldoon (elbow) and Konrad Zagzebski are also back in the mix after missing time with injuries.
Extra Points: ESPN's College Gameday will be on campus Saturday at a location that will be announced Tuesday, according to UW Athletics … Wisconsin recognized Jared Abbrederis (offensive MVP), Patrick Butrym (defensive MVP), Derek Landisch (special teams MVP), Chukwuma Offor (offensive scout mvp) and Cameron Ontko (defensive scout MVP) with weekly rewards … True freshman walk-on Lance Baertz will simulate Martinez on the scout team this week, ‘If you actually lined up our entire football team, he might be the fastest guy on our football team' … Alec Lerner will handle kickoffs against his home-state team, and Philip Welch will kick with the team on Wednesday.