A lot has been made about the defensive struggles Nebraska has had over the first four games, but one thing to remember is Bo Pelini has yet to have his full complement of players.
Saturday's game in Madison will mark the first time in 2011 Pelini will have luxury to work with defensive tackle Jared Crick, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard on the field at one time.
Crick, David and Dennard were labeled as the No. 1 overall defensive trio by Rivals.com to start the season and NFL Draft experts have regarded them as the top three defensive players in the Big Ten Conference.
Dennard missed the first three games of the season with a partially torn quadriceps muscle in his leg, but played three quarters in the Huskers 38-14 win at Wyoming.
Crick did not play on Saturday though and sat out all of last week recovering from a head injury he suffered in NU's win over Washington on Sept. 18.
During Monday's press conference head coach Bo Pelini said he's excited to get his "big three" back on the field together.
"It will be nice (to have them back) if we play well," Pelini joked. "I think we have to keep working to get better. Obviously having those three guys up there together along with everybody else is a good thing. We have to get on the same page and up our level of play regardless of who is on the field."
The one advantage for Nebraska over the last four weeks is it's allowed them to face some early season adversity on defense and they've overcome their shortcomings without Dennard in the secondary.
Pelini has been able to evaluate players like Andrew Green, Ciante Evans, Daimion Stafford, Josh Mitchell and Corey Cooper to see what he has to work with for the rest of the season.
With Dennard back Pelini now has his field general he's been missing in the secondary and you started to see him regain his swagger back as Saturday's game in Laramie wore on.
"I think it was good that (Dennard) came out of (the Wyoming game) healthy and I think he's really confident in where he is and what he can accomplish," Pelini said. "I thought technique wise he needs to get cleaned up in some areas and get back into who he is. Obviously he's a good football player, so I think going out there and playing three quarters of football helps him."
Junior safety P.J. Smith said having Dennard back in the mix in the secondary will help improve some of the communication problems they have had.
"I expect to see everybody on the same page," Smith said. "(I expect to see) a lot more energy, a lot more excitement and just doing the things we know we can do."
"It's going to make us a better defense because we are starting to practice it a lot more."
Secondary moves geared for Big Ten
When I look at the moves Pelini made with the secondary this past week at Wyoming, I think it's clear he wanted to increase the physical profile of his defense.
Starting Cassidy and Smith at safety gives NU their best run stopping combination back there, while Dennard, Cooper and Stafford are all physical threats at cornerback.
In my opinion Pelini knew the physicality of his secondary had to get better as they enter conference play and last week's game at Wyoming gave him the luxury to experiment with a completely different look.
"We are still mixing and matching looking for the right combination back there," Pelini said on Monday. "Like I said we put a lot of stock in practice and who performs in practice and that's what we are trying to do. We have a number of guys where the competition is on daily to see who's going to get playing time on Saturday."
And as Cassidy knows, Pelini is not afraid to pull the trigger on big personnel moves with his defense. It was after last year's 51-41 win at Oklahoma State when Pelini inserted Cassidy and Courtney Osborne in the starting line-up for NU's game against Missouri.
"I think we are just trying to find the right combination and the right group of people who can communicate together and the right level of physicality," Cassidy said. "There's lots of different things that go into it, but as you know these coaches aren't scared to switch it up and if something is not working as well as they want it to they are going to be willing to switch it up at any time."
Taking the big stage
Nebraska has an opportunity to take a major step forward as a football program over the next two weeks.
The Huskers will play on ABC's primetime 7 pm slot both on Saturday at Wisconsin and next week against Ohio State in Lincoln.
ABC's top team of Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit and Erin Andrews will call Saturday's game in Madison and it will not be a regional split broadcast. Saturday's game will be shown to 100 percent of the country.
Opportunities don't come like this very often. NU needs to take advantage of the next two weeks and use the exposure to build for future success.
For the stat geeks
***Nebraska's offense now leads the Big Ten in rushing at 272.5 yards per game.
***Not only does Wisconsin lead the Big Ten in passing at 286.8 yards per game, but they also have completed 72.4 percent of their passes for an amazing 11.7 yards per attempt.
***The Badger offense has been particularly good on third down this season leading the Big Ten with a 60.9 conversion percentage.
***The Badgers only have two turnovers on the season, both of which were interceptions. However, they also have only forced three turnovers as a defense in four games.
***Nebraska's Taylor Martinez (421 yards) and Rex Burkhead (420 yards) currently rank second and third in the Big Ten in rushing yards behind Michigan's Denard Robinson (552 yards).
Around the state
***It's good to see Omaha Central back on the map this season. Jay Ball's squad has been led by the play of two talented running backs from his junior class. Both Jackie Davis and Quentin Williams rushed for over 100 yards in their win over Millard South. Davis is listed at 5-foot-7, 170 pounds, while Williams is 5-foot-6, 160 pounds.
***Blair linebacker Jake Schany continues to put up big numbers. In a 15-12 win over Elkhorn South Schany rushed for 212 yards on 30 carries.
***Elkhorn running back Graham Nabity could be the next great walk-on target for Nebraska from Mark Wortman's program. Nabity is currently one of the leading rushers in the state. Last week he rushed for 175 yards on 32 carries in a 13-10 win over Omaha Gross.
***Crete quarterback Derek McGinnis completed 9 of 10 passes for 249 yards and four touchdowns in a 54-7 win over Norris. McGinnis currently holds an offer from North Dakota State.
***Wahoo Neumann running back Cole Chvatal rushed for 209 yards and five touchdowns in a 40-33 win over Ashland-Greenwood. Neumann head coach Tim Turman told during my in-state tour visit with him back in February that Chvatal is one of the better looking players he's coached in a while.
Sean Callahan can be reached at email@example.com and he can be heard each day at 6:50 am and 4:50 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 TV in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap Tuesday's at 7 pm.