Bo Pelini's Cornhuskers will get their first taste of Big Ten action, as the newest members of the league. Nebraska navigated its way through its non- conference schedule unscathed, moving to 4-0 on the season with last weekend's 38-14 win at Wyoming.
Bret Bielema's Badgers have their sights set on the conference crown and perhaps much more. Wisconsin, behind a Heisman candidate under center, has made light work of the competition thus far, outscoring foes, 194-34. Last week the team finished up its non-league slate with a 59-10 rout of South Dakota.
This is just the sixth meeting between these two teams and the first since 1974. Nebraska holds a 3-2 series advantage and the two teams have split a pair of matchups in Madison.
Nebraska presents a problem for opposing defenses with a prolific ground attack that is averaging 272.5 yards per game. Quarterback Taylor Martinez and tailback Rex Burkhead have been quite the duo. Both have 63 carries on the year and are separated by a single yard (Martinez at 421 yards and Burkhead at 420 yards). The pair have seven touchdowns apiece on the ground.
A one-dimensional offense, Martinez is a much better runner than passer. This season, he has completed just over 50 percent of his throws (.506) for 647 yards and four TDs. Jamal Turner and Quincy Enunwa are tied for the team-lead in receptions with only eight.
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck knows his squad will need to be at its best in Madison against the Badgers.
"They're a good football team all the way around. Their front seven is good, their secondary is good," Beck said. "They can run. They're physical guys. It's a big challenge for us. We have to have guys step up and make plays for us."
The Cornhuskers' defense has played to mixed reviews this season, but Wisconsin will represent the toughest challenge to date. Nebraska is yielding 22.0 ppg and almost 350 yards (349.8).
There are playmakers at each level of the defense, headlined by All-American candidate Lavonte David at linebacker. David is a tackling machine, leading NU with 38 stops in the first four games. The frontline features All-American candidate Jared Crick (14 tackles, one sack) at tackle and Cameron Meredith (17 tackles, three sacks) at end. Safety Daimon Stafford (29 tackles, one forced fumble) has stabilized the play in the secondary and will be aided with the return of All-American candidate Alfonzo Dennard, who played at Wyoming but missed the first three games of the season.
The Badgers were already one of the favorites in the Big Ten prior to Russell Wilson making the decision to play his last year of eligibility in Madison. Wilson has been everything the Wisconsin faithful hoped he would be, leading the Big Ten's top offense at 532.2 yards per game. It is a pick-your-poison when it comes to stopping the Badgers. The team is averaging 245.5 yards rushing and another 286.8 yards passing per game.
Wilson has played lights out, completing 75.8 percent of his passes, for 1,136 yards, with 11 TDs and just one INT. He has the luxury of a stable of reliable receivers, led by WR Nick Toon (21 receptions, for 353 yards, five TDs) and TE Jacob Pedersen (11 catches, 175 yards, four TDs).
Wilson isn't satisfied with his play just yet.
"I think I've done a good job. I always believe there's room for improvement though, and so my job is to facilitate the ball to the right guy at the right time, and that's my goal throughout the season and every single practice and every single game."
The team has the luxury of a potent one-two punch in the backfield in tailbacks Montee Ball (360 yards, 5.7 ypc, nine TDs) and James White (303 yards, 6.7 ypc, three TDs).
The Badgers are also the top defensive team in the Big Ten heading into October. Teams are averaging a mere 8.5 ppg and haven't had much luck moving the chains on the ground (89.2 ypg) or through the air (157.2 ypg).
Sophomore middle linebacker Chris Borland leads the team in tackles (35) and TFLs (5.0). Defensive ends David Gilbert (10 tackles, three sacks) and Louis Nzegwu (nine tackles, two sacks) have been effective off the edges.