For the Wisconsin football team (3-1 overall), the quest for their third straight conference championship begins this week when they open up Big Ten play.
After holding on to beat UTEP (1-3) 37-26 Saturday, the Badgers will gear up for a tough road test against the No. 22 Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-1) as they try to kickoff their Big Ten campaign with a statement win in a tough setting.
Revenge will undoubtedly be a theme for the Cornhuskers this week, who will be trying to avenge a nationally televised 48-17 beat down at the hands of the Badgers last year in their Big Ten debut.
“We’re a program that is moving forward and they are one that had a setback two weeks ago against UCLA but has responded nicely with two games that they’ve won handily,” head coach Bret Bielema said at his weekly Monday press conference. “They’re a well coached football team with a lot of good football players who have been playing well.”
The biggest x-factor going into this weekend’s matchup will be the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave, who will be making his second start for Wisconsin under the lights in Lincoln, Neb.
The young quarterback played well in his first start against UTEP, completing 12 of 17 passes for an efficient 210 yards and one touchdown pass.
“It’s not what happens, it’s how you react to what happens,” Bielema said. “Playing at Nebraska against their defense puts a lot of challenges against him, but he needs to have faith in himself and faith in his teammates in order to have success.”
Stave will be facing a tough counterpart in Nebraska’s junior quarterback Taylor Martinez.
Through four games the Corona, Calif. native has been putting up Heisman Trophy caliber numbers, accounting for 1,069 yards of offense and 11 total touchdowns through just four games.
Martinez will be looking to come back from a dismal performance in last year’s game against the Badgers in which he threw three interceptions in front of a raucous night crowd at Camp Randall.
After performing poorly on the national stage in a game that likely cost him his Heisman candidacy last year, this Saturday’s game will provide Martinez with an opportunity to show the nation just how far he’s come as a quarterback.
“He brings a unique challenge in what he can do with his feet and his arm,” Bielema said. “That’s the part if you’re grading how is he different this year, how he’s been able to throw the ball down the field vertically has been a big improvement.”
This week’s game gives Nebraska the opportunity to show their fans how far their program has come since last year’s game.
It also gives the Badgers a chance to instill faith in a fan base that has grown disenchanted with close wins against sub-par opponents. A chance that Bielema believes will not be wasted come Saturday night.
“The challenge to our guys is ‘where do you want to be?’” Bielema said. “We’ve done a good job of battling ourselves back, and this game gives us a chance to see where we want to be and how far we’ve come in the last two weeks.”