LINCOLN, Neb. — The guy’s won 21 consecutive Big Ten Conference football games, so you listen when he says how it’s done.
Win the line of scrimmage and take care of the ball, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer told the ABC-TV sideline reporter when asked about the keys to the game before the surging Buckeyes’ colossal triumph Saturday night at Michigan State.
Meyer beamed afterward, saying his linemen brought their “sledgehammers” — words of wisdom for 11th-ranked Nebraska as it prepares to play Saturday at the 22th-ranked University of Wisconsin.
Bring the sledgehammers.
Win the line of scrimmage. Repeatedly.
We’re not in the Big 12 anymore, Toto.
Action in the trenches is the part of Saturday’s game that intrigues me most, particularly A key to Saturday
The runt is redshirt sophomore center Dan Voltz. He’s only 6-foot-3 and 313 pounds.
The bell cow is senior right tackle Rob Havenstein, a three-year starter. He’s 6-8, 338.
“He’s as big of a human as I’ve ever seen,” Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said.
Havenstein has a slight edge on senior left guard Dallas Lewallen (6-6, 322).
You get the idea.
UW running backs Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement run around with some big fellows.
“The challenge to our guys this week — and really in the games going forward this season — is it’s going to be one of those old-fashioned slugfests,” Papuchis said. “It’s going to be the more physical team, it’s going to be the tougher team, it’s going to be the better-tackling team, that’s going to have the opportunity to win.
“Our guys have a lot of pride. Just from that perspective, I think they want to go out and put their best foot forward.”
UW’s offensive line could be the ultimate test this season for Nebraska’s defensive line. After all, the Badgers (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten) lead the conference in rushing offense (325.7 yards per game) and rank fourth in total offense (478.3).
But let’s not crown the Badgers just yet. Of the eight FBS defenses they’ve faced, only one (LSU) ranks in the top 60 nationally in rush defense. The Tigers are 60th.
The others: Bowling Green (102nd), South Florida (97th), Northwestern (71st), Illinois (124th), Maryland (96th), Rutgers (94th) and Purdue (89th).
Nebraska (8-1, 4-1 Big Ten) ranks 20th nationally against the run, allowing 123.8 yards per game. It would require a Herculean effort to hold Gordon and Clement under 125.
Papuchis wasn’t exactly sounding panic alarms. Nebraska’s front four is the strength of the defense, an area that’s come a long way since that 2012 debacle in Indianapolis. Does 70-31 ring a bell?
Do the Huskers have to make any adjustments to deal with the Badgers’ size up front?
“We have to be fundamentally sound, we have to be aggressive, we have to have an attacking mentality — we can’t ‘catch’ blocks,” Papuchis said. “But we won’t change that much from the technique we use every day.”
Nebraska’s defensive linemen will battle a prideful group of UW linemen. That pride springs from an O-line tradition at UW that during the past 15 years has been better than NU’s “Pipeline.”
UW’s behemoths do more than run-block. The Badgers have allowed only seven sacks, partly the result an extensive play-action game that requires maximum protection of the quarterback.
However, “When you get them into third down and it’s a true drop-back pass, we’re going to have some opportunities to rush the passer,” Papuchis said.
“The key is getting them into third-and-long situations where we can get into a mentality where we’re attacking, in terms of pass pressure and/or getting our four down linemen in rush mode.”
Another key against UW, Papuchis said, is playing with a lead on the scoreboard, which works against the Badgers’ preference to run the ball and grind the clock.
“We have to hold up inside,” the coach said. “If they can run between the tackles on us, it could be a long day for us. I think our guys understand that.”
So, bring the sledgehammers.
That should be easy enough to understand.