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Wisconsin Football defensive grades: No Nick Herbig, no problem in 15-14 victory

Several players stepped up after Nick Herbig’s ejection in a key defensive performance vs Nebraska.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 12 Wisconsin at Iowa

The Wisconsin Badgers rallied to defeat the Nebraska Cornhuskers in a 15-14 victory where they relied on their stout defense and gritty running game to push through for the win.

Here are the defensive grades from Wisconsin’s win over Nebraska.

Defensive Line: A

The defensive line was phenomenal on Saturday. There’s no other way to put it.

Defensive tackle Keeanu Benton continued his stout play recently, consistently getting great penetration in the running game, while recording two sacks as well.

Benton’s play has elevated his draft status and he stepped up in a major way without Nick Herbig in the second half to give Wisconsin a boost, making a clutch play on Nebraska’s last drive to get to Casey Thompson as he tried to escape the pocket.

Rodas Johnson has quietly compiled a strong season, and he got good penetration consistently as well in the running game, forcing Casey Thompson to be uncomfortable in the pocket.

C.J. Goetz played a vital role in Wisconsin’s win as well, showcasing his hustle by making plays all over the field.

Goetz had several tackles for loss, while leading the Badgers with seven tackles on the day. Goetz even played in coverage and broke up a pass on the final drive.

Backup edge rusher Darryl Peterson had two major plays as well, stopping Anthony Grant on a run for a 0-yard gain.

But, his biggest play came in the fourth quarter on a 2nd & 11 when Peterson exploded for a crucial sack on Casey Thompson, essentially killing the drive.

Overall, Wisconsin dominated both sides of the trenches, which was a major reason for their win on Saturday.

Linebackers: A

Wisconsin’s young linebacker core continues to show development this season.

Maema Njongmeta notched his third sack of the season on a double-linebacker blitz with Jordan Turner.

Turner’s sideline-to-sideline ability has been a big value in the running game, as he read a 1st & Goal play well for a tackle for loss, while getting quick to the ball to stop Anthony Grant for a 0-yard gain on another run.

On the final drive, Turner made a significant tackle inbounds on a 1st down, forcing the Cornhuskers to call a timeout.

Turner has been a good blitzer, as well as a solid tackler, which has overcome his inconsistencies in coverage and developed him into a solid starting linebacker for the Badgers this season.

While Jake Chaney didn’t have a big role in this game, Wisconsin has built a nice foundation at the linebacker position for the future.

Cornerbacks: A-

The cornerbacks continued to flourish with Alexander Smith in the lineup, holding Casey Thompson to 12/20 passing for 106 yards, although he did pass for two touchdowns.

More importantly, top receiver Trey Palmer was held to four catches for 47 yards.

Not only did Smith play well in coverage, but the redshirt senior made a nice play in the running game, recording a tackle for loss.

Smith and Jay Shaw primarily held receivers to smaller gains in the passing attack, limiting the explosive plays that hurt the Badgers early in the season.

However, Shaw did have a miscommunication with Kamo’i Latu on a Trey Palmer touchdown where it appeared that the safety should’ve switched over the middle to prevent the score.

Wisconsin’s third cornerback in the rotation, Justin Clark, suffered a hamstring injury early in the game, which limited the Badgers to their top two options for the majority of the game.

Still, the unit played well, resulting in an A- grade.

Safeties: B

The safety group played well for the majority of the game, but had a few crucial lapses that led to scoring opportunities for the Cornhuskers.

First, safeties Kamo’i Latu and Hunter Wohler missed tackles on a 3rd & 7 where the Badgers blitzed, forcing Casey Thompson to check down to his tight end.

Had the duo made their respective tackles, Wisconsin would’ve held Nebraska to a field goal, but the whiffs provided Nebraska with a first down, resulting in a touchdown later in the drive.

Later, safety John Torchio committed a controversial roughing the passer penalty along with Rodas Johnson, which extended the Cornhuskers’ drive where they eventually scored the touchdown to Trey Palmer on the Latu miscommunication.

While there were a few missed tackles, the safeties primarily played well and avoided explosive plays, as Nebraska had just one passing play of over 15 yards in the game.