For the diehard fan of purebred Big Ten football, Saturday night versus Nebraska was an absolute dream come true.
Picture this: 365 rush yards from Wisconsin compared to just 163 through the air. Both teams had shockingly similar jerseys. If there were an encyclopedia definition for Big Ten football, this would be it.
Slow-paced, gritty, measured football was more than a theme Saturday, it was the overwhelmingly clear identity. Reliance on the run, a lopsided time of possession and a litany of rushing touchdowns would follow suit.
Wisconsin’s dependency on the ground attack was partially motivated by their Heisman candidate, and partially by Nebraska’s porous run defense — 143 yards rushing allowed vs. Troy, 285 vs. Michigan and 188 vs. Purdue meant Wisconsin rushers had the green light all night. Six bodies combined for 129 of the Badger’s first half yards, solidifying their game plan in stone.
On the defensive side of the ball, the stereotype of midwestern football continued. Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez lived outside the pocket after a consistent onslaught from Badger pass rushers. A sense of calm was hard to come by for the Nebraska game manager.
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In many ways, the game was reminiscent of last year’s average storyline: Wisconsin dominated in the facets of the game engrained in their DNA.
On defense, Nebraska would have to silence Jonathan Taylor to keep Wisconsin out of the red zone. On offense, Nebraska would need to either outsmart or straight up outplay the Badger defense, which is tough to do when the likes of TJ Edwards and Zack Baun leaked through the Nebraska offensive line with ease.
Fortunately for Wisconsin, no such thing would happen. In fact, Alex Hornibrook would even compile a strong first half, throwing for 105 yards and a 14-yard Jake Ferguson TD, diverting from a pattern of late surges so far this season.
A 3-yard Taylor touchdown, his first since week two, would give Wisconsin a 17-point advantage at the half. Nebraska’s only score would come as a field goal at the end of a pass-heavy drive in which they failed to convert on third down deep in Wisconsin territory.
To make matters worse for Nebraska, their offensive line was plagued by holding calls as they resorted to illegality to quell quarterback pressure.
That strategy wouldn’t last, and true blocking would soon be renamed as Nebraska’s most effective plan of action. Falling in line with their radical idea, Nebraska formed an almost perfect pocket for Martinez on their first second half drive. Martinez would take advantage of a play where scrambling wasn’t included in the script, finding wide receiver J.D. Spielman for a 75-yard score, whittling the Wisconsin lead to 10.
But remember when we talked about the pressing need for Nebraska to shut down Taylor? Apparently their memo got caught up in the mail.
Taylor would reach 100 yards rushing again thanks to a 21-yard touchdown ending a drive where he rushed for 41. Nebraska had a chance to respond, and were soon across midfield. Linebacker Tyler Johnson decided that wasn’t gonna fly, stripping Martinez after a mad scramble.
Dominant ground game?
Taiwan Deal would tack on a touchdown of his own following the sack, charging 20 yards down the Camp Randall sideline. Through three quarters, Wisconsin still lead 34-17 after a 12-yard Nebraska score. Rather surprisingly, the Badgers would only edge the Huskers in total yards by 40, pointing to Wisconsin’s ability to stifle scores even after extensive Nebraska drives.
The defensive security was partially to do with solid secondary coverage. Aside from the long touchdown, Wisconsin wasn’t plagued by the deep ball as they had been in the past. The most significant hit the secondary took was a loss in personnel.
Redshirt freshman safety Scott Nelson made it a mission to stomp out any chance of a deep completion, lowering his shoulder into the head of a defenseless Nebraska receiver. Nelson would be ejected for targeting after what may have been the shortest deliberation period in FBS history.
To begin the fourth quarter, and drive a nail into Nebraska’s coffin, Taylor would break loose for an 88-yard touchdown. He’d total 221 yards on the night, his fifth time eclipsing the 200-yard mark.
Equally stuffing the stat sheet, Martinez would have himself a fantastic showing on paper. The freshman quarterback threw for 384 yards and two scores Saturday.
Wisconsin heads to Ann Arbor to face Michigan one win richer, but with plenty to improve upon defensively. A team which surrenders 384 yards through the air to an 0-4 team should be concerned.