MADISON, WIS. (AP) - One of the biggest home games in Wisconsin history happens to also be the Big Ten debut for Nebraska, and Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez can’t wait to make a big splash.
“Everybody on the team has something to prove,” Martinez said. “We’re ready to shock the world.”
When No. 7 Wisconsin hosts No. 8 Nebraska on Saturday night it will be the first time in 49 years that two teams ranked in the top 10 will meet at Camp Randall Stadium. Some 30,000 Nebraska fans are expected to be in Madison, with or without tickets, and there will be no shortage of red and white.
There will similarities on the field, too.
Both teams will use the run to set up play-action passes from their mobile quarterbacks, while the defenses each have lingering questions to answer when the Cornhuskers (4-0) showcase their option-style run game against the Badgers’ (4-0) pro-set, power-running scheme.
“You watch Nebraska’s offense, you watch our offense; it’s two different animals,” Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. “That’s why I do think, for us, an advantage we will have is it’s very tough for a Nebraska roster to simulate our roster as far as putting scout teamwork together. I don’t even know if they have fullback or a tight end that kind of does the same things that we do.”
Of course, Wisconsin doesn’t necessarily have anyone who can simulate the speed and arm of Martinez.
“He can quickly take off,” Bielema said. `We just hope to get in front of him and make him fall down.”
Who can establish the run first will be key. Nebraska has I-back Rex Burkhead and Martinez, and Wisconsin uses running backs Montee Ball and James White. The two programs are the only ones in the FBS to return a pair of players who each ran for 900 yards or more last season.
“You’re going to have to stop the run, otherwise we’re going to keep doing it,” Wisconsin center Peter Konz said. “A lot of emphasis is put on the run, because if you stop the run successfully and all of a sudden you know there’s a pass coming, the play-action’s not going to work because the running game’s not going to work.”
The running game has worked well so far for both programs. The Badgers and Huskers have 16 rushing touchdowns each, second to Georgia Tech’s 21 for the most in the nation so far this year.
“It comes down to little details,” Burkhead said when asked how the Huskers can beat Wisconsin. “You really got to concentrate on that, whether it’s your footwork, your head placement if you’re a lineman. Just those little details make the difference between a few yards and big plays.”
All the little things are being scrutinized this week in one of the most hyped openers ever on the Big Ten schedule even though the game’s long-term significance could fade quickly. With the new division format in the Big Ten, Wisconsin (Leaders) and Nebraska (Legends) could meet again in the conference title game on Dec. 3 in Indianapolis.
“We just want to start strong, especially against good opponents,” Konz said. “Nebraska is going to come in here and obviously have something to prove, so we’ve got to be mentally focused.”
The Badgers are 27-3 in their last 30 night games, including a win over then-No. 1 Ohio State last year to launch their Rose Bowl run. They started that game by returning the opening kick for a touchdown and never looked back.