Upon Further Review: Badgers get big plays when needed in beating Nebraska

Just call it a typical Wisconsin win over Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers couldn’t stop the Badgers’ offense and Nebraska tore through Wisconsin’s defense, but the difference was the Badgers made the biggest plays in the game, this time securing a 37-21 win in Lincoln.

Since entering the Big Ten, Nebraska has had difficulty slowing down Wisconsin’s run game and Saturday was no different as the Badgers gained 320 yards, averaging 7.1 yards per carry, led by Jonathan Taylor with 204. Quarterback Jack Coan once again floated to the background, completing 13 of 21 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown, but he didn’t turn the ball over.

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The Badgers also benefitted in part from a kick return for a touchdown by Aron Cruickshank, Wisconsin’s first kick return for a TD in four years, which tied the game at 7 and helped quiet the crowd.

On the other side of the ball, there’s something about a spread offense which Wisconsin can’t seem to handle. The Badgers have allowed over 300 yards of offense three times this season – to Illinois, Ohio State and now Nebraska. The Cornhuskers piled up 493 yards, the most allowed by the Badgers since they gave up 511 last year to … Nebraska.

But the Cornhuskers only scored 21 points thanks in part to a missed field-goal attempt but also three big stops by the Wisconsin defense on fourth downs, two of which came in the red zone.

In the end, the tradition continued – Wisconsin won again and is now 9-1 against the Cornhuskers since Nebraska entered the Big Ten and have won eight straight. Zack Baun was right, this isn’t a rivalry.

Here’s a recap of Saturday’s game:

 

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Jonathan Taylor had his worst game against Nebraska … and he still rushed for 204 yards on 25 carries (8.2 average) with two touchdowns. Nine of his runs (36%) went for 10 or more yards. Taylor not only became the first Badgers running back to have three 200+-yard games against the same team, but he also is the only FBS player to do it since at least 2000 (and, oh, he can accomplish this feat again next week). Taylor also continued to climb the record books: He passed Herschel Walker for most yards by a junior season, moved into second place on the Big Ten’s all-time rushing yards list and is now in third place in Wisconsin history in rushing touchdowns and total TDs. This just in: Taylor is pretty good.

 

 

DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME

We usually only talk about the offensive line when things went awry. Well, no one seemed to be talking about the offensive line Saturday. Which is, of course, a good thing. As mentioned earlier, Wisconsin rushed for 320 yards at 7.1 yards per clip. That does include two kneeldowns, though. Take away those and the Badgers averaged 7.5 yards a carry. It wasn’t just the run game. Coan was barely sniffed. Nebraska had no sacks – in fact, the Huskers had only one tackle for loss and that came on a Taylor reception (UW had seven TFL)– and only two quarterback hurries. The O-line stayed completely out of the game book, committing no penalties, either accepted or declined, the first time that’s occurred since the Kent State game. Kudos deserved all around for this unit.

 

 

THAT MOMENT

We referred to there being many big moments but this game turned on a dime late in the first half. Trailing 14-10, Coan hit A.J. Taylor over the middle, with the wide receiver bouncing off a tackle (this happened a lot on both sides – runners motoring passed defenders who tried to tackle with a hit instead of wrapping up) and ran all the way to the end zone for a 55-yard score. On Nebraska’s first play on its ensuing drive, Chris Orr deflected an Adrian Martinez pass with Jack Sanborn collecting the ball for an interception and returning it to the Huskers’ 21. Three plays later and Jonathan Taylor had the first of his two TDs and Wisconsin went from trailing by three to up by 10 in the matter of just over a minute and a half of game time.

 

THIS NUMBER

How bad did Wisconsin defense get gashed? Nebraska averaged 8.2 yards per play. The Badgers hadn’t allowed 8+ yards per play since 2014 and since 2000 it had happened only seven times. The Cornhuskers also averaged 7.4 yards per rush. That had only occurred five times since 2000 (including in four of those previously mentioned seven). All those games were Wisconsin losses. It really is kind of amazing the Badgers not only won but also allowed just 21 points.

 

THEY SAID IT

“In general our team did a good job of answering scores. We knew coming in this team was going to spread us out, obviously their quarterback is a heck of an athlete, and some were pretty quick hitters. They had some hits but it’s even more difficult when you’re not tackling.” — head coach Paul Chryst

 

“Football is a game of momentum and anytime that you can answer a score, there’s a feeling to it.“You love to match a touchdown with a touchdown.” — Chryst on Aron Cruickshank’s kick return for TD

 

“You can’t really come with the same scheme on offense each and every single year, so (coaches) always do a good job just putting little wrinkles in for this game in order to keep Nebraska on their toes and make it so they don’t know really what’s coming all the time.” — running back Jonathan Taylor

 

“It’s a bend but don’t break defense. They wanted to turn it into a track meet and they did a good job of that, but then we just controlled the situations we could control getting those fourth-down stops.” — linebacker Zack Baun

 

“I thought we did well. Traditionally we don’t do real well versus Wisconsin. SInce the time I was getting recruited here. I remember 2015 and 2014 watching how those running backs ran against us for years and years and years. I think today we did a good job of containing those running backs. A lot of push the pile plays where the linemen assisted the running back and drove the tackler back as well. I think we did a good job with our run defense. It was just critical downs when we needed to make a play and we didn’t. That was a big part of the game, you have to make those critical plays when you face a top 25 team.” – Nebraska linebacker Mohamad Barry in a very curious observation

 

“Open-field tackling is not easy. Tackling Jonathan Taylor is not easy. … He had great vision today. He reads his blockers really well. He makes you wrong as a defender.” – Nebraska DB JoJo Domann

 

WHAT’S NEXT

Wisconsin plays its home finale at 3 p.m. Saturday against Purdue. The Boilermakers have been hit hard by injuries to key players and are 4-6, although they won their last two games (vs. Nebraska, at Northwestern). Purdue was off this past Saturday. A win for Wisconsin and the Badgers will set up a Big Ten West title showdown at Minnesota in the season finale, thanks to the Gophers loss at Iowa.