Revenge-Minded Nebraska Favored Over Wisconsin

By: Michael Robinson | Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Nebraska Cornhuskers are looking to exact some revenge when they host the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday night.

The Don Best Pro Odds screen opened Nebraska as a solid 11½-point favorite, but that has moved up to -13. The total has gone in the other direction from 53½ to 50½. ABC will have the coverage at 8:00 p.m. (ET) Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.

This is the Big Ten opener for both schools. Nebraska struggled in conference play last year (5-3 straight up and 3-4-1 against the spread) after moving from the Big 12. The opener was a 48-17 loss at Wisconsin as 9½-point ‘dogs, an embarrassing 41-3 margin to end the game.

The Cornhuskers are 3-1 SU and ATS this season and ranked No. 22 in the AP and No. 20 in the Coaches. The loss was 36-30 as 3½-point favorites at UCLA on September 8, while the three home wins (3-0 ATS) over Southern Mississippi, Arkansas State and Idaho State were by an average score of 55-13.

Coach Bo Pelini had a scare against Arkansas State when he had to leave the game via ambulance at halftime. He’s fine now and it definitely makes him feel better to see quarterback Taylor Martinez much improved at 70.7 percent completions, nine TDs versus one pick, plus a 180.9 rating.

The junior Martinez had major accuracy problems his first two seasons and had three picks in the Wisconsin game last year. Nebraska scored just 24.4 PPG in conference play with the ‘under’ 5-1 in the final six of those contests.

Nebraska is fifth in the country this year in rushing (317.5 YPG). Senior Rex Burkhead has missed two games (including UCLA) with a knee injury, but returned last week with 119 yards and two TDs against Idaho State. Backup Ameer Abdullah (416 yards) is another dangerous weapon in addition to the fleet-footed Martinez (191 yards).

The Badgers (3-1 SU, 0-4 ATS) were ranked No. 12 in the preseason AP Poll, but have had a tumultuous season including firing offensive line coach Mike Markuson. They are currently unranked in the AP and 23rd in the Coaches. Like Nebraska, the loss came to a Pac-12 opponent, 10-7 as 6-point favorites at Oregon State on September 8.

What has been more surprising for the Badgers has been the home play in ‘Madtown.’ They needed a missed field goal to beat Utah State (16-14) as 14-point favorites and didn’t cover in the other two wins over Northern Iowa (26-21) and UTEP (37-26).

The UTEP game was last Saturday and marked the first career start for quarterback Joel Stave. The redshirt freshman replaced the struggling Danny O’Brien, who transferred from Maryland after Russell Wilson graduated.

Stave will start again after going 12-of-17 for 210 yards last week. The running game backed him up with 213 yards despite Montee Ball (head) getting injured. He’s listed as questionable, but the duo of James White and Melvin Gordon could still exploit a Nebraska run defense allowing 177 yards per game (86th nationally).

Wisconsin’s defense ranks 13th against the run nationally (80.8 YPG), but just 83rd versus the pass (245.3 YPG). Nebraska could have success in both areas on Saturday as long as Martinez stays within himself and makes smart decisions.

Note Wisconsin is 0-6 ATS in its last six road and neutral site games, 0-4 ATS in Big Ten road tilts last year.

The Don Best Linemakers Poll has Nebraska ranked 13th (115.2), about five points higher than 30th ranked Wisconsin (110.4).

 
 
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