Red Report: Huskers wary of hard-luck Wisconsin
By Brian Rosenthal / Lincoln Journal Star
Never mind Wisconsin’s rather average record, or the fact the Badgers haven’t been able to win close games, or that they’ve beaten only one team — Utah State — that's won more games than it's lost.
Nebraska is expecting a tussle from the other team in red in Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis.
“I don’t buy into the wins and losses,” Nebraska tackle Jeremiah Sirles said. “I buy into what they put on tape, and what they put on tape is they’re a dang good defense, and they’re a dang good football team.”
There’s also the fact Nebraska had to rally from 17 points behind to beat Wisconsin 30-27 in the first meeting between the teams Sept. 29 in Lincoln.
That’s one of four three-point losses by the Badgers (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten), who’ve lost three games in overtime, including their last two, to Ohio State and Penn State.
“You’ve got to have respect for the game of football,” Sirles said. “Coach Bo (Pelini) says it all the time, because there could just be a bad bounce that goes the wrong way.”
Nebraska, Sirles said, could just have easily been in Wisconsin’s situation. The Huskers have had to come from behind in the second half in five of their conference victories, something Sirles said has made the team stronger each week.
“We play every week like it’s a championship week for us, because we need to,” he said. “We knew we needed to win six straight to get here, and we were going to do whatever it took to do that.
“We have a chip on our shoulder knowing that we need to win one more. Because, if we don’t win this one, everything we’ve done to this point almost feels like it was for nothing. Yeah, it’s great we won our division, but we want to go out and finish with a bang and win the whole thing.”
The great indoors
Taylor Martinez was quick to give a weather forecast for Saturday’s game.
“I think it’s supposed to be, like, 72 degrees. That’s what I heard,” the Nebraska quarterback said. “And no wind, so that’s awesome.”
The game, of course, is being played indoors. That’s a big improvement in the eyes of Martinez, a Californian who said he’d never played in conditions as cold and windy as last Friday’s game in Iowa City.
“Yeah,” Martinez said, “it was miserable.”
Wind gusts of 35 mph and the 12-degree wind chill greatly affected what Nebraska normally does on offense; the Huskers had a season-low 263 yards of offense and attempted only 14 passes.
“Just throughout the whole entire game, we couldn’t really run our offense,” Martinez said. “We couldn’t pass the ball at all because of the wind. That one pass that almost got picked off, I threw it to the opposite hash, and somehow it ended up on the other hash.”
The question, finally, is no longer whether senior running back Rex Burkhead will play.
Now, it’s if he’ll start.
The answer, Pelini said Monday, is yes.
“He’s going to play a lot and Ameer (Abdullah) is going to play a lot,” Pelini said. “You’ll see Braylon (Heard), you’ll see Imani (Cross), you’ll see them all.”
Burkhead, who missed four straight games while recovering from a sprained knee ligament, returned in the second half of last week's game at Iowa and ran 16 times for 69 yards. He said after the game he felt fine, and Monday’s health report was also positive.
“No swelling, no soreness after. I’m feeling good,” Burkhead said. “Positive signs after the game.”
Burkhead said he’s “pretty close” to 100 percent healthy.
“Not all the way there yet,” he said, “but pretty close.”
If there’s anybody who knows what to say to a couple of seniors who are injured and won’t play, it’s Burkhead.
Nebraska has lost center Justin Jackson (ankle) and defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler (knee) to injury, and neither will play against Wisconsin.
“I talked to Justin right after the game and I felt terrible for him,” Burkhead said. “I was looking forward to playing with him and getting back on the field with him, just because he’s such a high-energy guy. I just told him to hang in there and that I wish I could have him out there on the field with us.
“They’ve done a lot for this program. Every single day they bring it to practice, and that respect and everything we have for them is going to be some motivation to go out and play for them.”
Look for a more traditional look from Nebraska and Wisconsin on Saturday. Both teams wore alternative Adidas uniforms in the Sept. 29 game, but Nebraska, as the visiting team, will wear its tradition white jerseys and red pants, with Wisconsin, as the designated home team, in its red jerseys and white pants.