It’s a pretty simple diagnosis when it comes to prediciting the outcome of the 2012 Big Ten Championship game.
It’s going to be close.
If there’s anything Wisconsin and Nebraska have both shown consistently this season is the ability to make games painstakingly close. Both fan bases can attest to that fact. Wisconsin has lost its five games by an average of around four points. Nebraska has a knack for getting down early in games, but with just two losses on the season, this Huskers team has found a way to will itself to this point.
Last time these two teams met Joel Stave was making just his second start and the Badgers found a way to capitalize on several turnovers early on at Memorial Stadium. But the Huskers’ star quarterback Taylor Martinez and the spread offense was too much for the Badgers to handle, as big plays on the ground gashed the Badgers solid rush defense.
The challenges the spread offense presents is always a big concern for defenses, especially for a Wisconsin team who was demolished in the trenches by the Penn State offensive line and running back Zach Zwinak. But, Wisconsin has been without its best defensive player, linebacker Chris Borland, for the past two games. Perhaps what makes it even more impressive is the level of defense the Badgers managed to play against the best offense in the Big Ten when they welcomed Ohio State to Camp Randall.
With that summary said, here are a few things to watch for in the game that will affect the outcome of the Big Ten Championship.
What to watch for #1: Three and out for Wisconsin offense
Last week the Badger offense went colder than the chilly weather at Happy Valley in the second half against the Nittany Lions. Consecutive three-and-outs didn’t give the Wisconsin defense much time to rest, as they seemingly played the entire game on the field.
The trend for this Badger team, especially on the road away from Madison, is aggressive play calling in the first half of the game, then conservative play calling that seems like Matt Canada is playing not to lose rather than to win. Talking to Badger fans this year it’s no surprise that Canada is about as favorable as George W. Bush was towards the end of his presidency, and that ire is well deserved. Run, run, pass was the format of almost every Wisconsin drive in the second half in the loss to Penn State.
If Wisconsin can’t find a way to control the game through long-drawn out offensive drives, the speed and talent of Nebraska’s offensive attack will be the difference in a Husker victory.
What to watch for #2: The return of Borland
Wisconsin will be bolstered by the return of their defensive leader and star linebacker Chris Borland tonight.
Playing without the redshirt junior in their last two games, the Badgers have lost two consecutive games in overtime in his absence. Is Borland good enough to have made a difference to change the outcome of those games?
You be the judge, but the coaches of the Big Ten voted the middle linebacker to the All-Big Ten first team.
Facing a spread read-option offensive attack against Nebraska, Borland is well-disciplined and extremely gifted in his instincts, perfect for reading the offensive attack orchestrated by Taylor Martinez.
What to watch for #3: The legs of Taylor Martinez
Last time, Martinez proved to be the kryptonite of the Badgers defense, as the speedy quarterback ran for 107 yards on the ground including a 38-yard touchdown.
In the air, Martinez was less effective but still deadly, throwing for 181 yards and two touchdowns.
Wisconsin will need to have a linebacker or safety constantly playing quarterback spy coverage on Martinez, because anytime a play breaks down is when he’s the most dangerous.