The Wisconsin Badgers (8-3 overall, 6-2 Big Ten) managed to win their seventh game in a row on Saturday, beating Nebraska 35-28 to retain the Freedom Trophy. The Badgers never trailed in the back-and-forth contest, but Nebraska kept it interesting and had a chance to tie it up in the final seconds. Wisconsin was able to hold on for the win, however, and extend their overall winning streak against the Cornhuskers to eight.
Let’s break down what stood out from the crucial Big Ten victory.
Bracey kick return
Wisconsin came into the Nebraska game averaging just over 14 yards per kickoff return this season, good for No. 128 out of 130 total FBS teams.
Stephan Bracey needed only one touch to change that story in a hurry. Playing in his first game of the season due to injury recovery, Bracey took the opening kickoff 91 yards to give the Badgers an early 7-0 lead.
Kaden Johnson and Hunter Wohler each threw nice blocks to give Bracey a chance, but Bracey broke two tackles and initiated the afterburners from there to give the Badgers their first kickoff return for a touchdown since Aron Cruickshank did it in the Rose Bowl.
Bracey began the 2020 season as the team’s primary kickoff returner but lost the role to Devin Chandler due to an injury. Well, the sophomore from Michigan displayed why the staff put him back there last season. With Chandler no longer in the picture, and Bracey seemingly back to full health, the job appears to be his moving forward.
Bracey recorded solid returns on his two other chances in the game, and he definitely gave the Badgers a jolt of energy to begin the game.
Seniors step up
Wisconsin’s seniors rose to the occasion on Saturday and provided key plays when it mattered most.
Tight end Jake Ferguson had his best game of the season with eight receptions for 92 yards, including multiple drive-extending plays on third down. Wide receiver Kendric Pryor was able to overcome a bad early drop to come back and catch a pivotal touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter. Senior linemen Logan Bruss, Tyler Beach, and Josh Seltzer were all heavily involved with opening up lanes for Braelon Allen to run through.
On defense, senior safety Collin Wilder recorded two interceptions that tilted the game in Wisconsin’s favor. He now is tied for the team lead in interceptions for the season with Caesar Williams.
Safety Scott Nelson and inside linebacker Jack Sanborn also tallied a ton of tackles versus Nebraska, with Nelson playing much better as the game wore on. Senior cornerback Faion Hicks made the game-saving pass breakup in the end zone to secure the win with seconds remaining.
Senior Day can oftentimes lead to a letdown. However, Wisconsin's seniors rose to the occasion and made some huge plays to lead the Badgers to a win. That is a great way for this group of seniors to finish off their careers at Camp Randall.
I might as well have Braelon Allen’s section of this review pinned and/or prewritten every week.
The kid is a stud. Freak. [Insert your favorite adjective here].
He was once again scintillating, and he did what every Wisconsin back tends to do against Nebraska...cut through them like a hot knife on butter. Allen carried the ball 22 times on Saturday and ran for 228 yards and three scores. The Nebraska game marked his first career 200-yard game, seventh straight 100-yard game, and second-consecutive three-touchdown performance.
The Wisconsin offensive line deserves a ton of credit, but Allen is also incredibly special. His strength and balance continue to stand out, but he made a couple of really impressive jump cuts against Nebraska that a 238 pound running back isn’t supposed to be able to make. Add in the fact that he can’t buy a lottery ticket yet, and boy did Gary Brown hit the jackpot with this kid.
Allen now has over 1,000 yards in the last seven games and is up to 12 touchdowns this season. He has completely shifted the complexion of Wisconsin’s offense, and at this point, no one was surprised by what he did against Nebraska, which is probably the most spectacular aspect of it all.
Tanor Bortolini has played a bunch of football for the Badgers. He has primarily been a reserve offensive lineman in Joe Rudolph’s group, with spot starts along the offensive line when needed as injuries pop up.
However, on Saturday he assumed a new role. Blocking tight end.
With the Badgers down a few tight ends, Bortolini saw the field as an extra blocker frequently against Nebraska. While rewatching the game last night, he was someone that stood out to me.
He really moved well for a guy his size and he displayed why the staff inserted him into the lineup. I was personally surprised that Cormac Sampson, who previously played tight end, did not get those reps, but I think that it hints towards a much larger role for Bortolini next season. Wisconsin has used the blocking tight end role in the past as a way to get their best offensive linemen on the field, and that appears to be the case once again late in the season.
Bortolini saw reps as a true freshman last season due to injuries, and he has played all across the offensive line when needed this season. At this point, he is probably a favorite to earn a starting role next season with three seniors expected to move on and their spots up for grabs.
Graham Mertz and the offense were good on Saturday. The Wisconsin defense was not at their best though.
Credit Scott Frost and Nebraska, they put together a really good game plan and were able to move the ball all day long against the Badgers. Nebraska utilized motion, play action, and moved the pocket with Adrian Martinez to neutralize Jim Leonhard’s attacking front seven.
Wisconsin was unable to get to Martinez, and he managed to make them pay with over 350 passing yards. TE Austin Allen and WR Samori Toure gashed the Wisconsin secondary, combining for 256 receiving yards. The game marked the first time in a while that the Badgers weren’t dominant on the defensive end, and that will give Jim Leonhard plenty to clean up ahead of Minnesota.
Nebraska is a much better football team than their 3-8 record suggests, and this was not the first time that Adrian Martinez had a good game statistically against the Badgers. However, as bad as the defense looked for much of the game, the fact that they rose up when it mattered most and made some key plays to grab the win is a testament to the resiliency and grit they have embodied this year.
The defense won Wisconsin the majority of their games this season, so I think they were due for a game where the offense had to carry the torch.