Battling Wisconsin’s Big Boys

Can the Husker Defensive Front Hold Up?

Wisconsin has an excellent offense. They lead the Big Ten in total offense and scoring offense. Watching them, it is easy to notice that they have two great running backs - Montee Ball and James White. Their highly-regarded transfer quarterback, Russell Wilson, has been every bit as good as advertised. Wide receiver Nick Toon will play on Sunday. But, those players are not the engine of the Badger offense. The Wisconsin offensive line is really paving the way. This collection of linemen and tight ends is impressive enough to make the truest of Husker fans envious. So, how can the Blackshirt defense combat the Wisconsin big boys? It will require a combination of speed, depth, effort and scheme.

On Monday, Carl Pelini said that the Wisconsin offensive line is the best he's faced during his time at Nebraska. That's saying something. It's a clear indicator of the task in front of Pelini and his charges and lets you know that it will take a truly special effort for them to carry the day for NU.
 
Size Matters, So Play Fast
What makes the Wisconsin line so great? For starters, they are enormous. Senior right tackle Josh Oglesby is 6'7'', 330 pounds. Right guard Kevin Zeitler is 6'4'', 315 pounds. On the left side, the Badgers go 330 and 320 at those spots. When you consider that the Husker defensive line only has one contributor - Thad Randle - tipping the scales at 300 pounds you come to the harsh realization that the Husker defensive line is giving up about 30 pounds per man to the Wisconsin front. If Saturday's game becomes a matter of brute force, the Huskers will be hard pressed to win.

Nebraska's advantage is in speed. Jared Crick weighs 285 pounds. When you hear that number, the word "fast" doesn't exactly spring to mind. But, that is the case for the Husker senior - he's incredibly quick. In the pre-season, Pelini said that Crick's speed out of his stance - his ability to get his hands on defenders before they could engage him - was his greatest advantage. The same is true for the Husker defensive ends. The speed with which they come off the ball, engaged the lineman in front of them and dictate the course of the play will be essential.

The Husker linebackers must also rely on speed. Wisconsin's guards are great at pulling to lead their sweep plays. The NU linebackers must recognize when the guard in front of them is pulling and run right with him. From there, they have to knife in and make that play with quickness. If Will Compton or Lavonte David takes on one of those guards head on, they will be swallowed up.

This is not to say that Nebraska is somehow going to back down from a fight and play with pillow-soft fineness. It means they must play a very fast and physical style of ball. If they are explosive, they can create negative plays.
 
Fresh Bodies Create Great Effort
Nebraska has also been quietly developing good depth where it matters most - along the line of scrimmage. This season, backup defensive tackles Terrance Moore, Chase Rome and Thad Randle have all seen meaningful minutes while subbing for Crick and Baker Steinkuhler. Backup ends Eric Martin and Joseph Carter have also played some behind starters Cameron Meredith and Jason Ankrah. This is a very big deal.

Nebraska must use their ability to keep their big people fresh. That way, whomever is on the field can be giving maximum effort at all times. Don't expect that the repetitions will be handed out equally. There is a drop off from starters to backups. But if players like Moore and Martin can give front line players like Crick and Meredith some much-needed rest, it will allow for the Huskers to play with great energy and effort later in the game.

Slow Them Down By Making Them Think
Scheme will also play a part in trying to stymie the powerful Badger line. Expect the Husker defense to try and slow the Wisconsin hogs down by making them think. If Nebraska stays in their base 4-man front the entire game, the Badger linemen will be familiar and prepared. Knowing who to hit will allow them to come off the ball aggressively. So, the Huskers may need to change things up.

The can play their standard 4-man front. They can also switch to a 5-man front, with a nose guard over the center, two tackles lined up in the gaps between the guards an tackles and two stand-up ends. Both Meredith and Martin have shown the ability to play this stand up end/linebacker role.

You may also very well see Carl Pelini sell out with his blitzes, and trust Dennard and company to play the Wisconsin receivers on their own. Linebackers standing in the gaps can give any offensive line pause.

By varying the formations, Nebraska can make the Badger linemen hesitate on their assignments. You have to know who to block before you can go do it. Even a moment of indecision can lead to either a blown assignment or a moment for a fast Husker defender to press their advantage.

Make no mistake, the Wisconsin offensive line is great. The Husker defensive front will need to sell out to combat the Badger's big people. This requires fresh, fast bodies running a variety of schemes to keep Wisconsin guessing and not allowing them to come off the ball as aggressively as they have through the first four games of the year.

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Comments 28 comments so far

The offense could help a lot by putting together sustained drives. While no one would say no to quick-strike scores, consecutive 3-and-outs will lead to a gassed D.

Yes Wisconsin has an amazing O-line, but the Husker were supposed to have the best D-line in college football! Question is can and will they finally play up to expectations. Mr. SI cover boy Crick really needs to step up and justify all the hype he had coming into the season.

Ben, “Hype” is a media thing. Jared needs to play to his ability, not hype.

watch the tcu game:
tcu is like the only other team that plays a similar defense style to neb. they ran a 4-2-5 and stuck wisky in the face.

their oline is good big and is a pipeline but if we rotate and come with speed we can control the trenches.

I think our D line will hold it’s own but not dominate. I’m worried about Jared Abbrederis gashing the CB opposite Dennard (whoever that might be). Then when the safeties cheat to help the Wisconsin TE is wide open going down the field. Pelini specifically praised #4 at his press conference when asked about Toon. Gulp.

natty natty Boi - good point. What are the odds of Carl having watched that Rose Bowl film a few hundred times this off season?

My two cents!  I think that Wiskey does have a great O-line, and part that is the mobility of the QB.  Speed on defense is there, no one can deny that Neb has great speed on the defense, which has burned us many times, especially against mobile QBs.  Many times over the offensive line out-weights a defense, that is part of being a defensive lineman, it is more about keeping discipline while playing and take care of your share of the field.  I think Crick has done descent this year against many double/triple teams and teams that like to hold, plus, I think some of it is play calling from the coach.  In this game he should be free to do more.
The bigger piece is will our DBs hold their receivers up to the point that David can get to the QB while he is scrambling?  David doesn’t get burnt to often while that is going on, and Crick can get the push up the middle to make Wilson decide one direction or another, then David will have his shots.  But it starts with the DBs locking down on the receivers!  That is our weak spot this year, and we should have expected it to be our weak spot last year.  You can’t lose 3 DBs of that caliber and expect that everything is going to be ok.
Our offense only has to do what it has been doing, put points on the board.  Of course, if they can keep some 6 or 8 plays on the field each time will help.
We need a huge game from special teams.  If all is according to the ranks, this area of the game can win and lose it for either team.
GBR!

I remember back several decades the Husker coaches discovered smaller faster defensive linemen could win out over slower bigger offensive linemen.  We learned this lesson from Miami and other teams that depended on defensive speed. Now it is our turn to provide that lesson to Wisconsin.

We are going to get ripped apart, and I’ll have to sit through the announcers and soon after the rest of the country go on and on about how over rated Nebraska was (and we currently are). We aren’t a top 10 team, I wonder if we’re even at top 25 team.

I’ve been dreading this game since Chatt. found running lanes against us. I just hope the score isn’t too out of hand. I envision myself rooting for the clock in this game.

Long term I think best case we’re 9-3 at the end of the season, worst case 6-6.

WeAreSoScrewed,

When we win, I’ll come back here and DEMAND that you stop being a moron.

WeAreSoScrewed,

Are you even a fan? What is the point of watching a team if you are complaining that they are undefeated? They have a good offense, great special teams, and a defense that is catching up.

4-0

@WeAreSo—What are you going to do, cheer for some other team?

It is time to Husker Up, man - http://bigrednetwork.com/huskerup

Look,
Everyone believed the defense would come in and simply shut down every offense we played. That has not happened due to some new players that need to understand the system. Also, the defensive coaches decided to change the system to adapt to the Big 10 style of play. I think many people thought we were going to get killed by Texas and OU in the Big 12 playoff games. That did not happen. You have to have confidence in the coaching staff. They have a great record for producing defensive teams. Not just at Nebraska but also at LSU and OU and Nebraska in 2003 with that great turn around. If we lose, we lose. Then we hope to see them in the playoff game and beat them. The only thing better would be beating them twice. After watching OSU play Texas A&M it was clear the Big 12 was a lot more competitive than the Big 10 so suck it up and believe.

What I hope…is we win the toss, and Ameer takes the kickoff to the bank.  That would be a great way to start the game.

What I hope is that we start off on defense and intercept the ball. Take it and drive the field for a score.  Then start sacking the quarterback and jamming the receivers on the line. This throws off his timing and has to hold on to the ball longer giving Crick and crew time to chase him ragged.  The offense works as a team and drives the field again and again.  But then, I am a glass half full kind of guy.

Thoughtful commentary, Carlson.  Creative D game plan, correct substitutions, and absolute concentration are required by both players and coaches.  Can succeed!

The key to a good defense? The running game we have seen in the 3rd/4th quarter of the last 2 games….power toss sweep anyone? Keep the defense off the field, and put them in better field position when they do go out.

WeAreSoScrewed:  Please calm down.  You’re buying into the sports media circus’s idea that our Huskers will get blasted this weekend.  As far back as I can remember the sports media has never really liked the Huskers, that is still the case in 2011.  Maybe we’re not a top 10 team yet,  but we are very close to being a top 5 team so it’s just a matter of time before the Huskers will not only win the B1G championship but also a NC.  It’l be a close game this Saturday and am excited about watching a good ole’ fashioned smash mouth football game.

Watching the Wyoming game I concluded that NU could have blown the Cowboys out of the game at any time they wanted to.  The 4th qtr was just a preview of the Offense we are capable of putting on the field with our Legion of talented, fast, and clock controlling running backs, the other qtrs were just scrimmages designed to gain valuable experience for our O-line in practicing the sped up offensive schemes which we will unveil in Madison.  Shock & Awe will prevail, the stadium will grow quiet as a tomb, Nu will run plays at them so fast they won’t even know what down it is.  GBR

First I’ll watch Carroll College, (6 time National Champions in 8 years), dismantle and cream whoever they’re playing this week, just to acquire the Winning attitude prior to the NU kick-off. Then I’ll probably watch U of Montana Grizzlies in their weekly struggles to become dominant.  At NU/WU game time, I’ll have a very large bowl of fresh popcorn popped & ready, some summer sausage, probably a few potato chips & dip on the coffee table, Big Red sweatshirt & cap on….yup, I’ll be good to go.  Bring it ON!

DennisR,  Thanks for refreshing my memory about the new Husker no-huddle offense.  Forgot all about it because of how slowly they would call in plays BUT your right.  They’ll probably crank it up and run it like Beck wants…..FAST.  If it works as planned it will be interesting to see how fresh their D will be in the 4th quarter.

Mark, Don’t forget TM’s stats are as good or better than any QB we’ve ever had in Nebraska, bar none, including Frazier or Crouch who took NU to National Titles.
TM & Company are capable of running through Defenses like water through a seive and Burkhead can too, leaving Defenses hugging AIR and eating turf wondering where the ball is and what the noise & cheering from the NU sideline was all about.  Of couse I’ve been watching and listening to NU football since I attended Lincoln HS in 1955/1959 and BELIEVE until the fat lady sings.

DennisR, this years offensive linemen remind me of the kind of O linemen we had back when TO was still coaching.  Now, that was smash-mouth football and believe that this years O linemen were made/cut from that same mold that TO used.  Their youth is somewhat concerning in such, “how will they react when they face a large Wisconsin D linemen that are just as big and talented as they are.  We’ll see….. 

Bo’s decision to really work on getting the highest quality O Linemen is paying off this season.  Not only are they really good but they are also really fast.

TO always lost the National Championship games to smaller and faster teams.  It wasn’t until he recruited more speed that he began to win anything beyond the big 8 championships.  TO always believed he needed the big linemen to win the big 8 because the pasing teams couldn’t perform well later in the season when the weather turned bad, but the running teams could.  Wisconsin may be huge, but NU isn’t exactly small by any standard and….NU is FAST.  We also have some speedy Linebackers reminiscent of Trev Alberts that can put a hurt on a scrambling QB.  NU is showing great improvment game to game, both O & D, and while they’re not a finished product, neither is WU.

Don’t get psyched out by the hype…..Just taking a quick look at the teams that Wisconsin has beaten up on and it appears that most everyone else they’ve played has beaten up on them as well, something like 3 W’s out of 13 games.  Sure ain’t nothing to write home and tell mother about.
NU opponents on the other hand have 10 W’s out of 14 games.

In another article two Anthem writers described Wisconsin’s schedule as shown below.
I do not know how they came up with the terms fairly soft and relatively easy schedule so far but the teams Wisconsin have played so far have a combined record of 3 and 5. I cannot imagine what would qualify as simply saying Wisconsin has played a flat out easy schedule. Now the teams that Nebraska has played are not LSU or Alabama or Oklahoma but they do have a combined record of 8 and 1. Washington is a decent team with decent wins. It is not a stretch to say Wisconsin has not been tested because they have not played a single team of any quality what so ever. (No disrespect intended to those teams, but it is what it is). What is also true is Nebraska has not dominated any of those teams but they have won by handily margins though it took some amazing efforts to be honest. It is really not possible to calculate how the game will go at this point. Nebraska’s defense does not look anything like they fielded the last two years even though many of the players are the same. Yes, Wilson has performed extremely well and has all the throws. They already had a great rushing offense so they should be great. The offense of Nebraska has started to hit the field much stronger but it is unknown if it will be enough. In the end, this is why you play the game.

In Washington and Wyoming, the Huskers played coaches that are offensive minded.

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