Wisconsin and Nebraska have a short history – but it’s already a turbulent one.In 2011, the Badgers (7-5, 4-4 Big Ten) welcomed the Huskers (10-2, 7-1) to the conference in a rather insulting manner with a 48-17 victory. One year later, Nebraska evened the score with a 30-27 decision as Wisconsin made its first trip to Lincoln since 1973.With the regular season behind them, Wisconsin and Nebraska will face each other once again in Indianapolis Saturday night, but this time the victor claims a coveted Big Ten Title.It was a matchup that was highly anticipated a year ago when Nebraska first joined the Big Ten, but with three conference losses, the Huskers watched the inaugural Big Ten championship game from Lincoln. But this year, with only one conference loss, Nebraska finally earned its spot to vie for the conference title.It’s difficult to say the same for Wisconsin. The Badgers benefitted from Ohio State and Penn State’s 2012 postseason ineligibility as they dropped four conference contests – Nebraska, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State, the last three of which were overtime decisions – and as a result placed third in the Leaders Division.After clinching a trip to Indy with a dominating 62-14 win over Indiana, Wisconsin went on a two-game overtime losing streak to end its regular season. For UW, Saturday night isn’t just about winning its third-straight Big Ten Title. It’s also about proving it belongs there in the first place.“We know what our record is right now,” senior defensive end Brendan Kelly said. “We’re not repping it hard, we’re not real proud of it, but we’re going to go in there with everything we’ve got and try to earn some respect. We’ve been in a lot of tough games this season, we’ve been through a lot. … Being in the position we are to still have the opportunity to do what we came here to do this year is unbelieveable.”Throughout the 2012 season, the Badgers didn’t have an easy ride. Initially, the offensive line crumbled at seemingly the slightest push like a wall of toothpicks. In addition, the Badgers could not find consistency under center and eventually UW head coach Bret Bielema benched the opening day starting quarterback, Danny O’Brien, in favor of redshirt freshman Joel Stave.With a 3-1 record through the nonconference season and a new offensive line coach, UW felt the start of conference play would mark an important turnaround in its season. But it travelled to Lincoln and left with another loss.In the Adidas-labeled “unrivaled” matchup (the first of two), UW jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, after which the offense stalled and momentum slowly leaked over to Nebraska’s bench. Eventually, the Huskers could not be slowed down as quarterback Taylor Martinez used both his feet and his arm to lead Nebraska to 440 total offensive yards compared to UW’s 295. Martinez himself ran for 107 yards and a touchdown and completed 17 of his 29 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns.Wisconsin kept things close, but a missed field goal and missed extra point by freshman kicker Jack Russell made the difference. On Sept. 29, Nebraska completed the comeback for a 30-27 win.Since then, UW lost Stave for the season to a broken collarbone and opted to start its third quarterback of the season, embattled fifth-year senior Curt Phillips. But, as has been a constant in an otherwise turbulent season, the Wisconsin defense has also transformed into one of the best in the Big Ten. During the regular season, Wisconsin allowed only 18.1 points per game (second only to Michigan State in the Big Ten) and currently boasts the No. 2 rushing defense in the conference, allowing an average of just 111.3 yards a game. The Badger team making the trip to Indianapolis is a much different unit than the one that ventured to Lincoln at the end of September.“I think we’ve certainly grown a lot,” junior center Travis Frederick said. “Here at Wisconsin, we talk about getting better every week, and I think with the exception of [Penn State], we really have grown as a team. We’ve certainly learned from our mistakes last week in the film sessions we’ve had this week. I think we’ve grown as a team and have gotten better at certain things – our run game is working better. We’re just fitting into our roles a little better than we were at that point.”While UW went through its own tumultuous season to earn its way into the title game, Nebraska also went on to finish as one of the best teams in the Big Ten. With Ohio State ineligible, the Huskers boast the best conference record at 7-1 and one of the best offenses.Through the regular season, Nebraska averaged 35.4 points per game – second-best in the Big Ten behind Ohio State. That offense has also amassed an average of 460.9 yards per game (best in the Big Ten), largely due to an average of 252.5 rushing yards per game (also tops in the conference and No. 8 in the nation).With a gift-wrapped trip to the Big Ten Championship game Saturday, the Badgers know what to expect of the atmosphere and everything leading up to game time. They have been there before and say they won’t let themselves get wrapped up in the emotions of returning to Lucas Oil Stadium. “Us being familiar with the area and the stadium and how everything is going to work out – its definitely an advantage for us,” senior safety Shelton Johnson said. “It kind of removes all the distraction and the luster of it being the Big Ten Championship game. Us having seen it already, it remove that distraciton and kind of eases you out.”Follow Kelly on Twitter
Nike is pulling shoes with an early American flag design after former NFL player Colin Kaepernick complained.The Wall Street Journal reports the former 49ers quarterback told Nike he and others consider the Betsy Ross flag offensive because it was flown at a time when slavery was common in a number of states. The flag with 13 stars in a circle on a blue field, and 13 red and white stripes, was flown during the Revolutionary War and early days of the U.S.Nike had planned to release the shoes in celebration of the Fourth of July.
Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker L.J. Fort (54) recovers a fumble by Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) Yet the veteran Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback understands he didn’t exactly shut down Atlanta’s Julio Jones during a dominant 41-17 win on Sunday all by himself.The Steelers sometimes had two — and on occasion three — bodies around Jones. And a resurgent pass rush forced Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to spend a significant portion of the afternoon under heavy duress.“They weren’t running,” Haden said. “The D-line controlled things. They controlled the front and then they got the sacks. That’s helping me out too big time. I just love when the D-line is able to get that type of pressure.”So do the rest of the Steelers (2-2-1), who for the first time this season looked like the group that led the NFL and set a franchise record with 57 sacks in 2017. T.J. Watt took down Ryan three times.Defensive tackle Cam Heyward picked up a sack and split another with linebacker Jon Bostic. Even reserve linebacker L.J. Fort got in on things, collecting the third sack of his six-year career and later falling on Ryan’s fumble in the end zone to put the finishing touches on Pittsburgh’s most complete performance of the year.Though Heyward downplayed the idea his team was desperate, he admitted there was a sense of urgency after the Steelers spent the first month of the season getting pushed around.The Steelers walked onto the steamy Heinz Field turf ranked 30th in total defense. Facing the high-powered Falcons, Pittsburgh responded by restoring a bit of normalcy by getting back to basics. They blitzed from all over. They disguised their coverages and then turned to Haden to put the clamps on Jones.The idea to have Haden shadow Jones came from coach Mike Tomlin, who broached the subject of having Haden follow Jones all over the field during the week. Haden welcomed the assignment, galvanized by the opportunity to take on one of the best in the business.“He can do everything,” Haden said. “He’s big. Physical. Strong. He can catch. Vertical. Everything.”At least until the first three quarters on Sunday, when Jones did nothing. Four times Ryan looked Jones’ way over the first 45 minutes.Each time the play ended the same way: with the pass falling incomplete.By the time Jones finally did break through early in the fourth quarter, the Steelers were already up 17 and the game was effectively over.“They had a good game plan for me today,” Jones said.One Pittsburgh might want to repeat going forward. The Steelers travel to AFC North-leading Cincinnati (4-1) next week.Much like the Falcons, the Bengals and star wideout A.J. Green present their own unique challenge.The Steelers have dominated the rivalry in recent years, winning 9 of 10, including an ugly victory in Cincinnati last December that included several vicious shots on both sides and the possible end of Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier’s career because of a spinal injury.Pittsburgh’s defense hasn’t been the same since, though the way the Steelers put it together against Atlanta offered a glimpse that perhaps things are starting to turn around.The communication issues in the secondary that plagued them in September largely vanished, at least for four quarters.And while Watt’s three sacks boosted his season total to six — tying him with older brother J.J. of the Houston Texans and Bengals defensive lineman Geno Atkins for the most in the NFL — Watt was quick to praise Fort and Tyler Matakevich, who stepped in admirably with Vince Williams sidelined by a hamstring injury.“I think we have so much confidence in them that we don’t have any wavering opinion whether they are in the game or not,” Watt said.“So, I think they just do a great job, go about their business as if they are the starter each and every week, and it shows.”Yet success has been fleeting. Pittsburgh thought it had figured some things out two weeks ago in Tampa Bay when it produced four turnovers in the second quarter to cool off the Buccaneers.Then Baltimore came to Heinz Field and controlled the second half on its way to a decisive victory.Whether Pittsburgh’s play against Atlanta is a one-off or a sign of things to come is uncertain.“Hopefully this performance can catapult us in the right direction, and start climbing the leaderboard of defenses and continue to win,” Fort said.___More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL PITTSBURGH (AP) — Joe Haden understands how it looks. Spend an afternoon keeping the NFL’s leading wide receiver in check and you’re bound to get all the credit.