Five burning questions heading into Wisconsin week
Needing two wins over the final three regular-season games, Nebraska's bowl hopes are officially on the brink with Big Ten West power Wisconsin coming to town on Saturday.
Here are five of the most pressing questions facing the Huskers entering the week...
1. Will Frost stick with Martinez no matter what?
Adrian Martinez returned to his starting quarterback role at Purdue after a three-week absence, and his performance was up and down, to say the least.
After a decent first quarter, Martinez and the offense sputtered to a complete halt during the second and third periods, allowing the Boilermakers to rally back. To his credit, the sophomore made some plays in the fourth quarter, but it was too little, too late.
That EKG showing left many wondering what it would take for Frost to pull Martinez for even a series to help provide a spark on offense. It wasn’t clear whether sophomore backup Noah Vedral was 100-percent healthy at Purdue, but sources told HuskerOnline he was fine to play.
Frost said after the loss that there was never a thought of sitting Martinez. But if NU goes through more ugly droughts as it did in West Lafayette and several other times this season, will it ever get to the point where Frost would make a change?
2. How much will Nebraska lean on the QB run game?
Regardless of who the quarterback is, Nebraska might have to lean on him as a runner early and often this week and for the rest of the season.
When Martinez has been at his best this year, it’s been when he’s heavily involved in the run game. He shined in that role late in games at Illinois and Purdue, and it was like that lit a fire in Martinez that we hadn’t seen since the end of last season.
Vedral, too, has shown capable of giving a lift as a rusher, as has true freshman Luke McCaffrey.
With Nebraska’s struggles to get any sort of consistency out of its traditional run game, it’s the best chance to move the football and score points might be keeping the ball in Martinez’s (or Vedral’s or McCaffrey’s) hands as much as possible.
3. Will Green finally see significant snaps?
The plan for playing Keem Green this season has been a bit confusing unless the goal all along was to save him for teams that featured the most physical rushing offenses on the schedule.
Wisconsin obviously fits that bill, so this could be the week where the standout defensive lineman takes on a much bigger role for the Huskers.
The 6-foot-5, 315-pound junior college transfer has played in just one game this season and recorded one tackle.
With three games remaining in his redshirt eligibility and three games left on the schedule, one would think Green would be a factor this week and the rest of the year.
4. How will NU slow down Taylor?
Wisconsin boasts one of the most daunting rushing attacks Nebraska will face all year, so there is no question what the Blackshirts have to do to even have a chance on Saturday.
Led by All-American running back Jonathan Taylor, the Badgers rank second in the Big Ten with an average of 225.7 rushing yards per game. Taylor leads the conference with 1,259 yards (6.1 ypc) and a whopping 15 rushing touchdowns.
On the other side of the ball, Nebraska has struggled to stop the run all year. The Huskers currently rank 11thin the league in rushing defense at 173.7 yards allowed per game, and they just led Purdue – one of the worst rushing teams in college football – run for 145 yards on 36 carries (4.0 ypc) and two scores.
If NU can’t at least slow down Taylor and UW’s run game, this game is already over.
5. Can the Huskers play a clean game?
Nebraska has been its own worst enemy far too often than not. Whether it’s turnovers, penalties, blown assignments, or costly mental errors, the Huskers have struggled to stay out of their own way all year.
One thing that has always made Wisconsin so good over the years is how clean and consistent they are in all three phases. The Badgers are rarely going to beat themselves, which keeps them in games even when their offense is sputtering.
Wisconsin ranks in the top-five of the Big Ten in nearly all of the most important “winning” statistics – third-down conversions (2nd), opponent third-down conversions (1st), fourth-down conversions (1st), penalties committed (4th), time of possession (1st), turnover margin (5th), and red-zone defense (2nd).
The Huskers, on the other hand, rank no higher than sixth in any of those categories. Nebraska is going to have to be as close to perfect as it's been this year to win on Saturday.