Saturday, December 1, 2012
B1G title game pregame ponderables
By Brian Bennett
INDIANAPOLIS -- Hello from Lucas Oil Stadium, where the second-ever Big Ten championship game will kick off shortly.
There were reports of slow ticket sales earlier this week, and the game likely will fall far short of a sellout. But we saw lots of red in the streets of Indy the past 36 hours, and however many fans are in here, we know they will be enthusiastic.
Nebraska fans might have a tinge of nervousness, too. This has been a tremendous year for Big Red, but there's some pressure on the Cornhuskers to finish this off with their first conference title since 1999 and avenge some previous league title game failures. I wouldn't be surprised to see Nebraska get off to one of its slow starts as it feels the magnitude of this moment. The good news is that this team knows how to play from behind and rally in the second half. Wouldn't it be fitting if the Huskers won this game by that same script?
People say 7-5 Wisconsin has little to lose -- though Bret Bielema points out that a third straight Rose Bowl appearance is definitely something to lose. The Badgers have a chance to go to either Pasadena or Jacksonville, Fla. -- site of the Gator Bowl. If that's not something to lose, I'm not sure what its.
There's no real secret to what Wisconsin needs to do: pound the rock with Montee Ball. Not only is that their strength, by far, but doing so helps keep the explosive Nebraska offense off the field. Running successfully also forced the Huskers to decide whether they need to bring a safety into the box for run support. If so, that will open up play-action pass opportunities down the field for Curt Phillips, who must have a good game for the Badgers to have any realistic chance.
Nebraska's pass defense has been one of the very best in the nation, but the play-action creates unique problems. The Badgers completed 15-of-28 passes against the Huskers for 239 yards in the first meeting, although that was with Joel Stave at quarterback. Only one other team on the Huskers' schedule, UCLA, completed more than 50 percent of its passes against the Blackshirts.
This also seems like a potential crowning moment for Taylor Martinez, who has won over Huskers fans with a terrific season full of clutch performances. The wind and cold kept Martinez in check last week at Iowa as he wore gloves on both hands. But he should love the turf and perfect conditions indoors tonight. Wisconsin's defense has done a great job containing big plays and took away Braxton Miller's effectiveness on the ground versus Ohio State. But with Rex Burkhead healthy and Ameer Abdullah in the same backfield, the Badgers have an awful lot to contain tonight. Martinez has shown the ability to sustain drives in the passing game as well if the Badgers gum things up like they normally do.
I was a little surprised that Nebraska is only a slight favorite in this game, but both teams have played so many nail-biters that it's understandable. Last year's first Big Ten title game was a classic. Tonight, we could have the same thing.