Know the Foe: Nebraska

It could be labeled as the Big Ten game of the year when No.8 Nebraska makes its conference debut when it heads north to take on No.7 Wisconsin at Camp Randall. To learn more about the new kids on the block, Badger Nation talks to Big Red Report publisher Josh Harvey to break down the Cornhuskers.

1) Jared Crick did not play against Wyoming on Saturday. Why was he out and how did the defensive line look without him? Do you expect him to be at 100 percent on Saturday?

Harvey: Coach Bo Pelini says he got "dinged," but it seems like most in the media have assumed he was suffered a minor concussion in week three against Washington. Without him, the defensive line didn't really do a bad job against Wyoming, but you also have to take the level of competition in consideration. This defense cannot be without possibly the best DT in the country and expect to not miss a beat. He's expected to play Saturday and did practice on Monday. It sounds like Crick might not be talking to the media this week, so we won't know if he's 100 percent, but a Jared Crick at 85 percent is still something teams need to worry about.

2) The Blackshirts are known more for their defense than their offense but are averaging 42.8 points through four nonconference games. What do you attribute the sudden burst of offense to and can it continue?

Harvey: The biggest reason for the scoring burst is new offensive coordinator Tim Beck. Beck has installed a hurry-up, no-huddle offense for defenses to scheme against. Especially in the second half, Nebraska has been able to just wear teams down. It will be interesting to see how effective it is in the Big Ten, where defenses will have more depth. I expect them to put up points this year, but not on that pace for very much longer.

3) Taylor Martinez is putting up a lot of yards rushing and looks to be more dangerous on the ground than through the air. What is it about him that makes him such a running threat and how has he improved as a passer since last year?

Harvey: Taylor Martinez is one of the fastest quarterbacks I have ever seen. I would say he is the fastest in the country right now, but I know there would be a slew of fans in Ann Arbor who would disagree. He was recruited by Nebraska as an athlete, they realized during his true freshman year they needed him at quarterback. As far as his passing, I don't know if it's really gotten any better compared to last year. He's still just completing 50 percent of his passes, a concern considering the level of competition the Huskers faced so far. At times he has people in the media just scratching our heads, "where in the world was he throwing that ball?"

4) It sounds like the Pelinis haven't been very happy with how their defense has performed, especially giving up over 440 yards twice this nonconference season. What has been the big problem with the defense and how are the brothers trying to correct it?

Harvey: I think there have been many reasons why this defense has underperformed – no one being greater than the other. The first is the secondary has been a mess without preseason All-American Alfonzo Dennard. Many think he is the best cornerback in the country and he literally locks down one side of the field. He came back from a slight muscle tear in his leg this last week against Wyoming, but is still probably not 100 percent.

Another would be the offensive struggles. They might be averaging over 40 points a game, but this is still definitely a work in progress. We have seen them put up numbers and think to ourselves the offense really underperformed. For instance, against Washington in the first half, Nebraska had nine total drives with only one of them lasting over two minutes. Most of them were under a minute. When you do a hurry-up offense and go three-and-out, it puts a lot of pressure on your defense. This defense has really looked gassed at times.

Last but not least, I think this defensive unit bought into the hype. Many felt that this would be Pelini's best defensive squad yet at Nebraska (it still can be). With three preseason All-Americans, the defense looked stack. Maybe just maybe, this squad thought teams would lie down when facing them. It's not been the case.

5) What part of Wisconsin's team do you think is going to give the Cornhuskers the most problems on Saturday?

Harvey: This was a tough question and one I really had to think about, but I think it will be the wide receivers. Dennard might have one side locked down, but the rest of the secondary does not have much experience and has been exposed at times – especially the younger corners.

6) Who is one player on Nebraska that has had a quiet season that is on the verge of breaking out and why?

Harvey: Two come to mind, but I'm going to have to say junior tight end Kyler Reed. Reed has had a few big plays here and there when needed, but I think Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck has really held back from calling his number. He's very athletic and fast for a tight end – being recruited by many schools a receiver out of high school. He's a matchup headache for most defensive coordinators. I think Nebraska finds a way to get him going this week.

7) Wisconsin is embracing the challenge and the environment on Saturday while Bo Pelini is choosing to downplay the game to the media. What's the vibe you get from the players on how excited they are for the challenge?

Harvey: I get a sense they are excited, more than they are letting on. But, unlike any other coach I have seen, Pelini really keeps this team focused on the task at hand. He will be stressing to them all week it's just another game on the schedule and doesn't mean any more than next week against Ohio State or in two weeks against Minnesota.

8) What's a key to the game for Nebraska to win?

Harvey: Nebraska has struggled with mobile quarterbacks so far this season. Too many times quarterbacks have escaped a Husker in the backfield and been able to make a big play. I think Nebraska needs to keep pressuring Russell Wilson and eventually bring him down. They can't let him escape the pocket and pressure, because the Badgers wide receivers are too good for this young secondary to keep in check for more than a few seconds.

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