MADISON— The Wisconsin Badgers continued their winning ways back at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday night in front of 80,000-plus fans, denying the Nebraska Cornhuskers by a score of 41–24.
A slow first quarter led to an offensive explosion in the final three, as Wisconsin finished with over 500 yards of total offense and rushed for 370. The downside? Wisconsin allowed over 500 yards of total offense, including over 400 passing. Inexperience paired with some injuries in the secondary have run the Badgers thin with a tough test next weekend, heading to Michigan to face the Wolverines and stud wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones.
Badgers run wild on Nebraska
Jonathan Taylor ran for 221 yards and three touchdowns as the Wisconsin running game seemed to get back on track to what it had done in the first couple of games this season, and, for the most part, last season.
While the production itself hadn’t waned, the large chunks of yardage Badger fans had become accustomed to seeing Taylor rip off weren’t happening over the last few games. Gains of six, five, seven, four, five, etc., were more the style for Taylor, who finally got off of the schneid on Saturday night. Runs of 88 and 21, along with a 20-yarder for a touchdown by Taiwan Deal and a 24-yard carry from Garrett Groshek, gave the Wisconsin offense the pop it needed to finally wear down the Huskers up front.
“Every play is different, but it all comes down to one guy falling off of their block or one guy on the perimeter missing their block,” right guard Beau Benzschawel said when asked why those long runs hadn’t been hitting. Taylor’s two long runs both went to the left side.
Senior left guard Michael Deiter was asked what he saw on Taylor’s 88 yard run.
“I saw some pretty sweet blocks,” the four-year starter said. “I saw Aron Cruickshank get a sweet block on that run too.”
Look for a lot of outside zone from Wisconsin tonight against Nebraska's 3-4 base.— bryan boolaga (@RieseDraft) October 6, 2018
Wisconsin ran outside zone a lot in 2017 against Nebraska as well, so it wasn’t hard to put two and two together. A 3-4 alignment creates some advantageous blocking angles for the offensive line on outside zone, so Wisconsin looked to use that again this season for some success.
“They were trying to space out their three-technique, he played more of a four, to try to space out against outside zone, so we took advantage of that and kind of got away from it,” Benzschawel said. The first play of both halves was outside zone to the right, but the Badgers didn’t use it nearly as much as they did a year ago.
“Their backers were playing fast,” Deiter said in regard to outside zone. “They knew we were going to look to do that, so they ran the backers fast and made some things tough for us, so we had to adjust to that.”
Improved pass rush is encouraging
An area of concern over the first few weeks of the season for Wisconsin’s defense was the pass rush, or lack thereof. While Wisconsin’s edge rushers didn’t record any sacks, their pressure certainly sped up Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez and forced him into some quick throws and poor decisions early, which allowed the Badgers to get ahead and let the run game dictate the contest.
“We used more of a crush rush this week instead of a traditional outside rush,” outside linebacker Zack Baun said. “We didn’t want [Martinez] to get those B-gaps open and allow him to run around and use his athleticism.”
While the outside linebackers’ efforts didn’t end in sacks for themselves, T.J. Edwards ended up with both Badger sacks on the evening, one a direct result from the pass rush on the outside. This group doesn’t have any dynamic pass rushers, but if it can fulfill its potential as a unit, it can certainly be enough to supplement a secondary that will continue to improve and gain experience by the week.
Attrition taking its toll on the secondary
Faion Hicks was the only starter who made it to the end of the game for the Wisconsin secondary. Caesar Williams didn’t play due to an injury, and Deron Harrell left the game due to a head injury. Scott Nelson was ejected from the game in the third quarter due to a targeting penalty, and D’Cota Dixon limped off of the field after a pass break-up. The Badgers gave up over 400 passing yards and JD Spielman had 209 yards receiving, which broke his previous school record.
The good news? They won, and everything that went wrong is fixable through experience and coaching. Nebraska quietly has one of the best wide receiver tandems in the country, much less the Big Ten, and Wisconsin played two true freshmen heavy minutes in this game. Eric Burrell and Seth Currens both received extensive, meaningful playing time against the Huskers.
Now, all that being said, there’s no rest for the wicked. The Michigan Wolverines will invite Wisconsin into the Big House and don’t care one bit about Wisconsin’s injuries and lack of depth at corner and safety. Another test awaits the Wisconsin cover guys in Peoples-Jones, a former five-star recruit who has lived up to the billing thus far in his college career.
“You try to do what you’ve always done, but you definitely lock in for a guy like that,” Hicks said. “He’s definitelygood, but you don’t worry about him too much. We’re gonna compete too.
“We treat them all the same. You want to show us that you can beat us,” said Burrell, who will start next week for Nelson, who will be eligible to return in the second half against Michigan. “You get excited for guys like that, but it’s next man up.”