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September 30, 2011MADISON - Since Nebraska joined the Big Ten approximately a 16 months ago, this game has been talked about. From Lincoln to Madison, from Corn to cheese, from Martinez to Wilson, every angle of this game has been discussed.
Now, with gameday upon us, it's time to highlight five things worth watching during Saturday's much-anticipated contest of two top 10 programs.
5.) The big three:
Nebraska gets its three top defensive playmakers back just in time. Jared Crick, an All-American defensive tackle, Lavonte David, an All-American linebacker and Alfonzo Dennard, yet another All-American, will play together for the first time this season.
Look, all three of those players are dynamic. They're probably the best defensive players in the Big Ten. But are they rusty? Will they have a problem adjusting to the power of the Big Ten? That's tough to say.
Wisconsin will be the best team Nebraska has seen this season, just as Nebraska is the best team Wisconsin has played in 2011. The Badgers offense, probably just like the Huskers defense, is confident.
"I think they're a good defense," UW senior wide receiver Nick Toon said. "But at the end of the day it's about us. It's about what we do. I think if we go out, execute and play our game, we'll be very hard to stop."
4.) The Toon factor:
It's obvious that Russell Wilson and Nick Toon have a great chemistry on the field. Toon has been targeted more than anybody else on the UW roster and he's playing like he deserves that type of attention.
When he lines up against Nebraska, though, he'll be facing a whole different type of defender. Dennard is really, really good. He's going to present a very strong challenge for Toon and he's going to make the fifth-year senior earn anything and everything he gets.
Will Toon be able to play at the same level he has established through the non-conference portion of the schedule? Is Jared Abbrederis capable of carrying a larger load and bulk on the offense? Will a player like Manasseh Garner finally step up and become an impact player?
Only time will tell. It's obvious things function much better when Toon is on his game. And considering he's a physical specimen, it should be fun to watch him match up with Dennard.
"He's a very physical player," Toon said. "He does a lot of things well. They have some good players over there on the defensive side of the ball. It should be a challenge and it should be fun."
3.) A four quarter game:
Wisconsin hasn't been tested so far this season .until now. Nebraska is hands down the best team the Badgers will have faced this year so it's almost guaranteed that the Badgers will finally be forced to play a four-quarter game.
Having not had to play in a game down to the wire, will Wisconsin be able to make the big play when necessary. Will the defense be able to get off the field when it needs to most? There are a lot of questions and not many answers, at least at this point.
"There's no concern at all," UW senior safety Aaron Henry said. "If we are faced with it on Saturday we're going to take it for what it's worth and deal with it. I definitely think that with the preparation we've been given and things we've been going through, especially with this atmosphere, at night, it can't hurt at all."
2.) The Wilson factor:
Russell Wilson has been absolutely spectacular through four games to start his Badger career. Now, as he prepares to play in the biggest game of his career, how will he respond?
All indications are encouraging, especially when you consider how well he's performed and handled this entire transition. But then again, one never truly knows what's going to happen until it's actually in front of you.
Wilson has the tools to be great. He has the talent around him and he has the decision-making skills to keep the ball in UW's possession. But will he play out of his element? Will he try to do too much?
That's why they play the game.
1.) Who's going to step up?
In games like this, in games where so much focus is placed and centered around the start players, it's always the role players that step up and guide their team to victory. Who's that going to be?
For Wisconsin, who is going to step up and make the critical play when Montee Ball and James White struggle? Who's going to step up and take over Toon's production if and when Dennard plays well enough to take him out of the game?
Defensively, who's going to replace the injured David Gilbert on the depth chart and will there be a drop off? And if the game goes down to the wire, will UW's kicker, whoever it may be, be able to make the clutch kick?
These are all legitimate questions and questions that are nearly impossible to predict. It's not impossible to predict, however, that one, two or a number of players are going to need to play their best game as a Badger if UW is going to win.
Isn't this what you've been waiting for?
Lea's prediction: I think UW's offensive is too balanced for Nebraska's defense. I also think Nebraska's big three will experience some growing pains as they play in their first game together.
UW's defense has been a welcome surprise throughout the non-conference portion of the schedule, and though Taylor Martinez presents a unique and difficult dimension, I fear the Nebraska offense will be too one-dimensional.
Wisconsin, with all the weapons it has, and with the fact it's playing at home, under the lights and in front of what's surely going to be an electric atmosphere, will pull this one out. And I don't think it will be all that close.
UW wins 38-24.
Lea's record: 4-0
Against the spread: 4-0
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