The now-No. 15 Wisconsin Badgers ran over and outlasted the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Saturday, racking up 533 total yards in a 41-24 win.
Wisconsin (4-1, 2-0 Big Ten) racked up 370 yards on the ground, with Jonathan Taylor recording 221 yards on 24 carries with three touchdowns. After a solid first half for Jim Leonhard’s defense, quarterback Adrian Martinez went on to rack up some impressive numbers in a rough final two quarters for T.J. Edwards and Co.
Our writers came together for another round of discussion debating the good, the not-so-good and what’s next for Wisconsin before they face a top-15 Michigan squad in the Big House on Saturday night.
THE GOOD: What went well against Nebraska?
Owen Riese: Just about everything offensively. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook played mostly mistake free and most importantly completely turnover free and allowed the offense to run through Taylor and the rushing attack, as God intended. I also thought the secondary played better than the statistics would relect, but I’ll mention that in the next question.
Tyler Hunt: The running game is firing on all cylinders, and man oh man were they impressive on Saturday night. Whether it be Taylor, Taiwan Deal, or Garrett Groshek they all ran the ball well behind that offensive line. I know the Nebraska defense is abysmal, but anytime you run the ball like that its clear that things are working. Taylor averaged 9.2 yards per carry, which is just an insane number. He basically got a first down every time he touched the football. If this team runs the ball like that, they’re going to be hard to beat.
Drew Hamm: Running. The. Dang. Ball. Look, I know Nebraska’s defense is basically an abstract thought at the current moment, and I know that this abstract thought is in the brain of a very stupid person, and I know that this very stupid person has never even watched college football ... but still! The running game looked great, and when Deal’s 7.4 yards per carry was the lowest of the three running backs, brother, you’re having a pretty solid game.
I’d also like to point out that third down conversions have been good all season. The Badgers rank 17th in the country, and second in the conference, with 49.2 percent of their third downs (#HireDrewAResearchAssistant) being converted into first downs. On Saturday, they converted 6-of-12, many of them passes to tight end Jake Ferguson.
THE BAD: Still things to clean up. Let’s name ‘em.
Owen: I don’t think that the secondary was quite as bad as they were made to look against two future NFL wide receivers and a quarterback that I’m entirely convinced was playing football in his backyard at Thanksgiving rather than extending plays in Camp Randall Stadium.
Now, clearly the secondary wasn’t good, some may even say bad, but they’ll be fine. Donovan Peoples-Jones will be a larger task (physically) than JD Spielman was, but I think coordinator Jim Leonhard will rally the troops (not the actual troops though) and have the youngsters at defensive back wound up tighter than a two dollar watch in the Big House.
Tyler: There’s no beating around the bush, the secondary struggled Saturday night. Martinez threw for 384 yards, and he made it look pretty easy. The Badgers had no answer for Spielman and Stanley Morgan Jr. I know the unit is banged up, but they will have to clean up a lot of things to have any chance next weekend or as the season goes along. They’re young, and playing like it right now. Martinez is a good quarterback so he was going to get his numbers, but I was hoping to see some improvement out of the bye week.
Drew: The secondary was brutal and the pass rush was mostly non-existent. These two things are related, friends. I’m worried that Donovan Peoples-Jones is going to have 300 yards receiving on Saturday. Safety D’Cota Dixon wasn’t on the preliminary injury report for Michigan, so that’s great news, but Caesar Williams and Deron Harrell both are and Scott Nelson is suspended for the first half due to targeting. Defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk is also back on the injury report which could hurt the aforementioned non-existent pass rush. Lastly, please stop fumbling the football, running backs. **glares in Groshek’s direction**
GAME BALLS: Who deserves them?
Owen: THE GOD DANG OFFENSIVE LINE. The big fellas up front played well, and got some incredible movement at times against a Nebraska defense, that if it has a strength, it’s in the front seven, isn’t as bad as they’ve played either. Wisconsin finally got some chunk plays in the run game, and while some of that is on the wide receivers and perimeter blocking, it’s also on the offensive line for holding their blocks for just a little longer and allowing the backs to get up to the second and third levels untouched.
Tyler: All the running backs deserve it, and we all know it, so i’ll skip to someone else—inside linebackers Ryan Connelly and T.J. Edwards. The two had seven tackles each, and Edwards racked up two sacks in the process as well. Those two are absolute animals. It’s the second game in a row where this duo dominated, and Wisconsin will need that play to continue next week against Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson and company. These two had 21 total tackles combined last year against the Wolverines, so I’m confident heading into Ann Arbor that they are again bound for a quality performance.
Drew: Aron Cruickshank gets one for his block on Taylor’s long run as well as for his 30-yard average on kick returns. Hornibrook gets half a game ball for not turning the ball over and making throws on third down when needed. Edwards can have the other half for his two sacks.
WHO’S NEXT: MICHIGAN. Key match-ups you’re already seeing for next weekend?
Owen: Hicks, Williams and Harrell against Donovan Peoples-Jones. DPJ got a long pass against Derrick Tindal last season, and he’ll look to take advantage of a less-experienced and banged up secondary unit.
Tyler: As mentioned above, the linebackers dominated last year against Michigan. That one will again be key. Patterson versus the Wisconsin secondary will be obviously something to watch for as well. I think the biggest will be Wisconsin’s offensive line against Michigan’s front seven. The Wolverines are No. 1 in Total Defense coming into this week, so moving the football will be a challenge. If the offensive line plays the way they have been, it will be an awesome match-up to watch battle.
Drew: I need to see the outside linebackers apply some pressure to Patterson and help a young and banged up secondary. Also, Wisconsin averages 87 more yards rushing than Michigan. If the Badgers are going to win, they’ll need to outrush Michigan by over 100 yards, especially since Michigan’s defense is giving up under 100 yards per game on the ground overall (#HireDrewAResearchAssistant).