Wilson's flair complements Badgers' brute force
Wisconsin isn't just the best team in the Big Ten. The Badgers are the most fun to watch, too, judging by their 31-point victory over Nebraska.
''We're sexy,'' coach Bret Bielema said.
The 2011 Badgers aren't the typical bruising Wisconsin team that just runs over opponents. Quarterback Russell Wilson brings a dynamic that complements what Wisconsin has always done best.
''I still believe that we're Wisconsin and what we are,'' Bielema said. ''We're just extremely good right now.''
The nation saw it Saturday night in Wisconsin's 48-17 win.
Montee Ball, running behind his behemoth offensive line, pushed a surprisingly soft Nebraska defense onto its heels with his tough running and finished with 151 yards on 30 carries in a show of old-school Wisconsin football.
Enter Wilson to the mix, and the Badgers can dream of playing for the national title, not just the Rose Bowl.
He sidestepped rushers and threw on the run while completing 14 of 20 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns, and he scrambled for 32 yards and another score.
While Wilson was having his way with the Huskers, his counterpart, Taylor Martinez, melted down after a solid first quarter. His three interceptions in a span of 12 plays - all converted into touchdowns - was the difference in the game.
The win moved the Badgers (5-0, 1-0) up three spots to No. 4 in The Associated Press Top 25. The Huskers (4-1, 0-1) dropped six rungs to No. 14 and are now left to piece up the pieces after another loss on the national stage. They've lost 16 of 18 against opponents ranked in the top 10.
''There have been several tough losses. This is one of the top ones,'' Martinez said.
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini indicated changes are coming.
''I don't want to name names. We've got to coach them better. We've got to play better,'' he said. ''We'll keep working to find the right combination because, right now, we don't have the right combination.''
Wisconsin opened the season with four wins by an average of 40 points. Nebraska, playing its first Big Ten game, was supposed to be the Badgers' first true test.
The nationally televised game was the first at Camp Randall Stadium since 1962 between teams ranked in the top 10.
Bielema said, ''I threw out to our guys on Friday night, I said, `You know this week I've heard about a big game, big stage all these big things.' I said, `All we have is a big opportunity. And what are we going to do with it?'
''And they answered the bell.''
The Badgers had 486 total yards, 231 on the ground. Ball's 151 yards were a season high, and his 30 carries a career high.
''I felt like these past games I had, they weren't good enough, so I had to make a statement,'' Ball said. ''I really feel like I haven't showed what I am capable of doing. And I'm really glad I showed it today against a great opponent.''
Offensive lineman Travis Frederick said Wilson's scrambling and passing ability allows the Badgers to be balanced.
''It's been really good for us, because obviously the running game hasn't been quite where we want it to be,'' Frederick said. ''But teams have really been screwing down trying to get us to not be able to run the ball. So for us to be able to throw the ball, open them up a little bit, it really opens up the running game.''
Wisconsin turned a 14-13 deficit into a 27-14 halftime lead after Martinez threw interceptions on consecutive possessions. He threw another on the first play of the second half, and Wisconsin converted a fourth-and-1 before Wilson ran for a 10-yard touchdown to put the Badgers up by 20 points.
''Everybody was down. We were being beat bad at halftime,'' Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard said. ''Once you figure out you're going to get beat, some people don't fight back.''
That lack of fight chafed Pelini, who said he seen troubling signs in his defense in practices and in previous games. The Huskers were able to overcome lapses against lesser opponents but not against Wisconsin.
''We need some guys to step up and man up and start playing football,'' Pelini said. ''A lot of those things that happened out there today weren't any different. We need to get it fixed. We haven't fixed this. We've got to get it fixed.''
Wisconsin, already established as the team to beat in the Leaders Division, plays Indiana at home Saturday, and No. 19 Illinois is the only remaining opponent that's ranked this week.
''We've got depth - that's the biggest thing, in my opinion,'' Bielema said. ''We're a good football team, we're young and I think things are just starting to roll really well.''
Nebraska faces Ohio State (3-2, 0-1) in Lincoln in a game that matches teams desperate for a first Big Ten win. The Huskers, favored to win the Legends Division, already are a game behind Michigan and Michigan State.
''How we came out and played, that's not Nebraska football,'' Dennard said. ''We need to have more people step up and be a leader. More people need to compete and not take plays off.''