The Badgers beat the Huskers 37-21 on Saturday afternoon in Lincoln to keep the Freedom Trophy in Madison, the only home it has ever known. Jonathan Taylor had another masterful performance against a hapless Nebraska defense and the Badgers defense did just enough when it mattered (on fourth down usually) to keep the Huskers at arm’s length.
Drew (who only missed the final score prediction by two points!), Belz, Ryan and Rock have some thoughts on the game and what to drink next year when the Badgers travel to West Lafayette.
The Badgers covered the spread and still, somehow, felt underwhelming. What are your initial, overall thoughts on retaining the Freedom Trophy?
Ryan: Aron Cruickshank won that game for Wisconsin. Nebraska had all the momentum following the fumble recovery and their touchdown. Once Aron broke free on the return, he sucked all of the air out of the stadium. It was very similar to last season as well, where Nebraska out-gained Wisconsin, but Wisconsin was able to win by multiple scores. Apart from the Cruickshank return, Wisconsin shutting Nebraska down on fourth down, three times was key.
Rock: We got lucky that of Nebraska’s almost 500 yards, 283 of them didn’t lead to points. 7 of their 10 meaningful drives went for at least 40 yards. That has to get bottled up. It really felt like Nebraska was able to dance out of danger and convert long third downs, while Wisconsin had trouble getting going offensively until you look it up and think “It was a two score game at 5 minutes left in the 2nd quarter until the end of the game.”
Belz: It was alarming to see Nebraska march up and down the field on the Wisconsin defense. The game felt eerily similar to the road loss to Illinois. The difference in this one was the ability of Wisconsin to run the ball at will basically, and some big plays. I don’t know how this game unfolds if it wasn’t for that Aron Cruickshank kickoff return.
Drew: This was one of those games where, I watched the whole thing, but I couldn’t tell you much about it outside of Jonathan Taylor being amazing and the special teams looked better than they had all year. I wasn’t happy with how the defense looked in stopping the run, something that will need to be looked at this week.
What was wrong with the defense on Saturday? What needs to be fixed before the Purdue game, and certainly before the Minnesota game?
Ryan: Missed tackles and the running ability of Martinez hurt the defense. You could tell Martinez’s dual threat ability kept the defense on edge.
Rock: There was some point in the first half where I noticed Nebraska had run about 28 plays to Wisconsin’s 14. ‘Losing’ an offensive series because of a kickoff return is a weird thing to lament, but our defense ended up playing a lot early. Having to constantly chase down Martinez or Mills was tough. Leonhard’s going to have to look at the Iowa-Minnesota tape closely to figure out ways to get a defender on Tanner Morgan (if he plays) without sacrificing coverage on the Gophers skilled wideout corps.
Belz: The defense was killed by missed tackles, and they came in bunches. The read-option has been a struggle for the Badgers. I agree with Rock that Jim Leonhard will need to work on cleaning some scheme up for the run-pass option, because in road games against Illinois, Ohio State and Nebraska the defense has been exposed to an extent. In those contests, linebackers have been out of position, or reading their keys wrong and the result was an easy five yards before contact.
Drew: On my Wisconsin friends text thread, multiple people texted about missed tackles within seconds of each other, so that is definitely something to work on. Purdue’s offense is a shell of its former self due to injuries, but they still have a scheme that can give the Badgers fits. Minnesota has an extremely efficient and well-oiled offense that usually (except against Iowa lol) will make you pay for giving up as many yards as Wisconsin did to Nebraska.
You can only use one adjective to describe Jonathan Taylor’s career versus Nebraska. What is it?
Rock: Heismanish, but in the way he coached Georgia Tech against Cumberland. Hey, you learned something.
Belz: Marvelous, in an ode to his superhuman capabilities.
But seriously...how good was Taylor?
Ryan: Very? I think it’s safe to say that Taylor should get the deed to Nebraska, after going 3-3 in terms of 200-yard games against Nebraska.
Rock: 204 yards at 8.2 ypc and those are his worst marks against the Huskers. Amazingly, he did it with most of those runs at the average – he didn’t have any rushes longer than 19 yards on the day. That wasn’t the case of a few long runs really skewing the numbers. Taylor got far ahead of the chains every time he touched the ball. That’s an absolute joy to behold.
Belz: Respect. Another 200 yard game on only 25 carries for Taylor. He did it without the big play, but he was a shoelace tackle away from breaking multiple for chunk yardage. Overall, Taylor continues to run strong down the stretch, and I doubt that changes next Saturday.
Drew: Watching Taylor run the football for Wisconsin is an honor and a joy. He never goes down after the first defender hits him and he always, always falls forward. He is fast (he ran track, you know), patient (please teach this to Nakia Watson before going pro, JT) and has cleaned up his fumbling issues (knocks on wood). He is everything you want in a running back and he may, without playing his senior season, be one of the best three to every play college football.
Who gets your game balls on offense and defense?
Ryan: The Taylors, on offense. A.J. had a huge 55-yard score and Jonathan because, well… yeah. On defense, Zack Baun and Chris Orr. Both of them made huge plays that helped tip the scales in the Badgers favor.
Rock: Impossible not to give it to Jonathan Taylor on offense, but the offensive line did an amazing job clearing the way for him and keeping Coan upright when he dropped back.
Defensively, it’s tough to pick between Baun and Orr. Orr’s tip directly led to a touchdown, but I’m giving the nod to Baun. His 20 yard sack early in the third quarter not only killed that drive, but drove Nebraska so far back they missed a field goal when it was still a 13 point game.
Belz: Jonathan Taylor is seemingly the easy answer offensively, but I will go with A.J. Taylor. He had a couple nice catches, including that 55 yard catch and run. He has been fairly quiet this year, but he had a big game against Nebraska.
On the other side of the ball I will go with Baun as well. The big sack that Rock mentioned was huge, and that was his second of the game. Orr and Sanborn had some splash plays with the tip and interception, but the duo missed too many tackles and were out of position on multiple occasions.
Drew: The offensive line gets it for me. They have been, rightfully, under the microscope for some of their recent performances but against Nebraska they were dominant. Jack Coan was sacked zero times, the rushing game has been mentioned and there were multiple times where I saw Taylor get four or five yards past the line of scrimmage before he could even smell a defender.
On defense it’s a bit tougher. Baun had two sacks, which was good. Eric Burrell forced a fumble, had a tackle for loss and a pass breakup, all good things. But I think I’m giving it to Reggie Pearson for leading the team in tackles, with 10, and for seemingly being all over the field at once.
Early thoughts on Purdue?
Ryan: I’m not too worried about them, but nor was I against Illinois. However, this game will be at Camp Randall and on Senior Day. Not to mention, Taylor has put up good numbers against them in the past.
Rock: West Lafayette is a fine town to spend a weekend in during football season. Boiler Black is a great beer available in the stadium, Breakfast Club gave me a ton of confidence in my dance moves, and I found a place that had multiple varieties of Bushmills.
Their team is a disaster on offense, and the fact that I don’t get to see Rondale Moore cook in person again disappoints me greatly.
Belz: Purdue has been decimated by injuries on both sides of the ball. Coming off of a bye I am assuming that they will be a bit healthier, but Jonathan Taylor has run for historical high yardage marks on them in the past and I could see him following suit again come Saturday.
Drew: This should be an easy win for Wisconsin. It’s at home, Purdue doesn’t have any quarterbacks left, Rondale Moore is hurt, Taylor plays well against them historically, yada yada yada. Hopefully no one gets hurt and the backups play the whole fourth quarter.