It was kind of the same old story for the Badgers tonight. Offensive line issues. Shaky quarterback play. Special teams problems. Defense breaking down in key moments. Of course it didn’t start out that way. In the first half Wisconsin executed well, especially in the play action passing game. Joel Stave looked like a poised veteran out there flinging deep balls to Jared Abbrederis to rock the Nebraska secondary. The Badgers at one point built a 20-3 lead thanks in large part to some bonehead Nebraska mistakes. These miscues included a Rex Burkhead fumble to set up a touchdown, and a roughing the punter call against Stanley Jean-Baptiste to keep another scoring drive alive. For awhile the Cornhuskers just couldn’t seem to get out of their own way, and the Badgers seemed to be doing everything right.
But the tide slowly started turning late in the first half. Nebraska cut it to 20-10 with a long drive. Wisconsin had a chance to take back control of the game, but despite being aided by a big pass interference penalty on Nebraska, couldn’t get anything before the half. They received the opening kickoff in the second half and once again produced no offense. Then came a play that seemingly had a chance to turn things back in the Badgers’ favor. Chris Ash dialed up a twist that allowed David Gilbert to strip Taylor Martinez, and Chris Borland fell on the ball for the recovery deep in Nebraska territory. The Badgers quickly punched it in to put their lead back up to 27-10. But after that everything fell apart.
How did Nebraska score 20 unanswered points to win the game? By dominating up front on both sides of the ball. While building their lead Wisconsin confused Nebraska’s defense with some shifts and were able to exploit a poor secondary with deep play action passes, but that wasn’t there in the second half. Nebraska cleaned up its mistakes and began coming hard at the Badgers. Wisconsin was totally stymied when they tried to run, their sub-par offensive line unable to stand up against the cascade of Cornhuskers. Matt Canada could find no answer and the avalanche just got rolling faster and faster. Eventually Joel Stave, who showed a lot of poise early, started to crack. The blitz got to him a couple times and he was rattled and began making bad throws.
The lack of offense put the defense in a tough spot. For much of the first half Wisconsin was able to play in the Nebraska backfield, stuffing their vaunted run attack, but later the balance shifted. Nebraska’s offensive line began to dominate a clearly tired Wisconsin front. They gashed Wisconsin in the run game and pass protected for Taylor Martinez who was able to make a enough plays with his arm. Martinez hurt the Badgers with his feet too. The big play that got Nebraska rolling was a Martinez 38-yard TD run set up by an unnecessary roughness penalty for a high hit against Michael Trotter. Wisconsin seemed to get all the breaks in the first half but in the second half it seemed they couldn’t buy one. Once Nebraska got their offense rolling the Badgers had no answer.
A last gasp drive by Wisconsin, with Danny O’Brien in for a physically and mentally battered Stave, came up short when Nebraska once again steamrolled the offensive line to stuff a fourth-and-inches play. Clearly, that offensive line is still having major problems. And all the other Wisconsin weaknesses showed up too. Once Nebraska got it figured out, Wisconsin seemingly had no counter. No Melvin Gordon. Limited deep action in the second half after having good success with it early. How could the team that built the early lead be the same team that gave it away? You get the feeling, had Nebraska not shot themselves in the foot a few times in the first half, this would’ve been a blow-out from the start. Nebraska is lucky they righted the ship. And the Badgers find themselves once again asking the same questions they’ve been asking all year.
Follow Badger of Honor on Twitter for links, in-game updates and general amusement.
Want to blog about the Badgers? Fill out the blogger application and join the team. Serious homers, negative types, tape wonks and general wack-jobs all welcome.