Badgers know Nebraska is highly motivated

BY foxsports • September 28, 2012

It was billed as perhaps the biggest regular-season college football game in Wisconsin history, an opportunity to not-so-kindly welcome powerhouse Nebraska to the Big Ten in front of a nationally televised primetime audience.

The stage belonged to Wisconsin that first night in October last season, and the Badgers responded with a 48-17 drubbing that embarrassed Nebraska and left the team licking its wounds all the way back to Lincoln.

Imagine how much Nebraska wants to return the favor.

"They may be angry," Badgers linebacker Chris Borland said. "I think any competitor would be upset after last season's game. They're a very talented team, so we're expecting their best shot."

No. 22 Nebraska (3-1) gets its long-awaited shot to exact revenge against Wisconsin (3-1) at 7:12 p.m. CT Saturday in Lincoln. The game from last season has remained on the minds of Cornhuskers players for an entire year.

"Just what happened last time, I keep thinking about that," Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez told reporters last week.

Added Cornhuskers right tackle Jeremiah Sirles: "We owe these guys one. We all know it."

Martinez, the focal point of Nebraska's offense, has plenty of reason to feel a need to redeem himself. He completed only 11 of 22 passes for 176 yards and three interceptions against the Badgers.

This season, he appears to have improved his passing ability tremendously. He has completed 65 of 92 passes (70.7 percent) for 878 yards with nine touchdowns and just one interception. He also has rushed for 191 yards and two scores.

"You can definitely see his improvement he's made as a player, the growth he's had since he's been there," Badgers linebacker Ethan Armstrong said. "He's really a dangerous quarterback. I think the biggest thing is he can beat you both ways. You've got to really play sound, fundamental football and try to contain him."

Borland said the defense wanted to be physical with Martinez, which could go a long way toward getting in his head as the game progresses.

Martinez certainly will have help on offense, particularly in the backfield.

Running back Rex Burkhead returned from a knee injury against Idaho State last week and ran for 119 yards and two touchdowns. Ameer Abdullah, who filled in for two weeks during Burkhead's absence, is averaging 104.0 yards rushing per game and has scored five touchdowns.

"You've got to play sound, be in the right place," Borland said. "You can see on film, even when teams fit things right, those guys make plays."

Although this year's matchup once again pits both teams against each other to start Big Ten play, it does not quite match the buzz of last season. Both teams were 4-0 then, with Wisconsin ranked No. 7 and Nebraska No. 8. 

Still, players are aware that a good start this season is equally important.

"It's obviously a big game," Armstrong said. "A lot is riding on it. It's turning into quite the rivalry. From here on out, there's a lot riding on every game. It's an eight-game playoff in the Big Ten."

Wisconsin likely will have the services of running back Montee Ball, who was sidelined in the second quarter last week with a head injury. A year ago against Nebraska, Ball produced one of his first breakout games by rushing for 151 yards on 30 carries with four touchdowns.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave will start on the road for the first time in his college career. He performed admirably last week in his first start at home against UTEP, completing 12 of 17 passes for 210 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

"Running out there for the first time, my heart was going pretty good," Stave said. "I felt confident, felt good. I anticipate the same feeling this week."

Stave said he also anticipates a hostile environment in Lincoln.

"From watching, you've just got to be loud in the huddle," he said. "Loud in making your calls at the line. Loud in making your cadence so everyone on the offensive line can hear it."

Nebraska has sold out an NCAA-record 321 consecutive games, and No. 322 will come Saturday night against Wisconsin.

"They've won a lot of football games over there," Badgers coach Bret Bielema said. "So I know they're expecting to see a great game. I'm not oblivious to the fact that last year, when they came here, it was a game that had a lot of hype, a lot of buildup."

Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini, who said after last year's game he was embarrassed by how his team played defensively, wasn't in a similarly reflective mood this week.

"I don't take much out of it," Pelini said of the 31-point loss. "We got beat up there last year. We didn't play well, and the better team won. Different time, different place, different football teams."

And, Pelini hopes this time around, different result.

Follow Jesse Temple on Twitter.


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