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Grading Wisconsin’s 41–24 win vs. Nebraska

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Lots to break down in the victory.

Matt Fleming

MADISON — The Freedom Trophy stays home with the No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers after a 41–24 victory over the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday night inside Camp Randall Stadium.

Wisconsin (4–1, 2–0 Big Ten) contained Nebraska’s offense just enough to preserve a win, while the Badgers’ own offense took care of business with 533 yards and a three-headed monster of Jonathan Taylor, Taiwan Deal, and Garrett Groshek racking up 368 yards and four touchdowns combined.

Here are my grades for the units:

Offense: AB

Wisconsin’s offense gained 370 yards on the ground on 7.7 yards per attempt, popping off for over 530 on the evening. Taylor gained 221 yards, including a career-high 88 yard scamper, and three touchdowns. Deal and Groshek ran for 74 and 73 yards, respectively, as more-than-respectable complements to Taylor. Redshirt freshman tight end Jake Ferguson again showed why he is becoming an emerging target for quarterback Alex Hornibrook, hauling in four catches for 47 yards and his second touchdown of the year, a 14-yard strike in the second quarter.

The offensive line deserves a game ball for what it accomplished not just in the run game, but only allowing one sack and keeping Hornibrook upright.

UW scored on seven of its 11 possessions (not including the end-of-half drive where Hornibrook took a knee) and moved the chains on six of 12 third-down opportunities.

Defense: C (First half: AB; Second half: D)

This grade was difficult. Overall, Wisconsin gave up 513 yards to Adrian Martinez and the Nebraska offense.

That. Is. Bad.

However, it was a tale of two halves, and a depleted defensive unit tried to stop some talented skill players in the third and fourth quarters.

In the first half, Nebraska only scored on one of its five series and gained 156 yards. In the second half, the Huskers tallied 362 yards and scored three touchdowns on seven of its drives.

Credit Martinez, who threw for 384 yards and two touchdowns on 24-of-42 passing and also gained 57 yards and a score, for his young poise and making plays. He will be a big-time quarterback in the conference. Also, wideout JD Spielman had a heckuva game as well, grabbing 209 receiving yards on nine receptions (a school record) with the Badgers’ secondary allowing a 75-yard touchdown to jump start the Huskers’ offense on the first drive of the second half.

The Badgers’ defense appeared to apply more pressure, registering two sacks with seven quarterback hurries, along with a Tyler Johnson forced fumble that was recovered by Olive Sagapolu. However, Martinez made them pay when they could not get home on him.

Wisconsin’s defense started withering in numbers due to a number of factors, especially in the secondary. Cornerback Caesar Williams did not suit up for the game this week due to injury, while starter Deron Harrell was knocked out of the game with a head injury. On top of that, the ejection of safety Scott Nelson for targeting late in the third quarter and fellow safety D’Cota Dixon limping off the field in the fourth quarter left that position group with redshirt sophomores Eric Burrell and Seth Currens patrolling the defensive backfield. At one point, the two safeties joined cornerbacks Madison Cone, Rachad Wildgoose, and Donte Burton in the secondary (Faion Hicks appeared to be in the final Nebraska series).

Defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk also left the game due to injury, and that will be something to monitor heading into next week at Michigan.

Again, some bright spots, but without a doubt more needs to be done to improve. They’ll need to craft a sound plan against Wolverines quarterback Shea Patterson for next weekend.

Special teams: AB

Redshirt senior Rafael Gaglianone connected on both short field-goal attempts, but the kickoff and return games really took a step forward on Saturday night.

Aron Cruickshank showcased more flash, averaging 30 yards per kickoff return with a long of 34. If Caleb Lightbourn does not trip the true freshman up on one attempt, the Brooklyn native finds the end zone for his first career touchdown. Redshirt sophomore Jack Dunn returned a punt 15 yards to set Wisconsin up in good field position.

Connor Allen averaged 43.5 yards per punt on two attempts, with one inside the 20.

Coaching: B

Honestly, I hate giving coaches grades because their knowledge of football is far superior to mine or really anyone here that probably reads the site.

I will say the offense stepped up in a huge way, converting drives into points on seven series. Defensively, Wisconsin did a great job in the first half containing Nebraska, but the Huskers put up some insane offensive numbers in the final two quarters.