Wisconsin Football: Grading All 22 Starters from the Nebraska Game
The Wisconsin Badgers may have won the uniform battle, but the Nebraska Cornhuskers won the war in a 30-27 thriller Saturday night in Lincoln.
The Badgers held a 27-10 advantage with 10:29 remaining in the third quarter, but Nebraska reeled off 20 straight points and went ahead for good on a 41-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
It was a disappointing loss, despite the fact that many national pundits picked Nebraska to win handily. The theme of the coaching staff failing to make the necessary adjustments at halftime continued as the Badgers choked away another big lead.
Here are the grades for each starter of the Wisconsin Badgers.
Quarterback: Joel Stave
Stave's numbers don't exactly jump off the page (12-of-23, 214 yards, one touchdown), but the freshman succeeded in protecting the football—although there were some close calls—and he put the Badgers in position to pull off the upset.
Unfortunately for Stave, he wasn't given the opportunity to lead the team on a two minute drill. He was pulled in favor of Danny O'Brien with 2:55 remaining.
Needless to say, O'Brien was unable to muster enough for the comeback.
Still, Stave looked very poised considering the circumstances, as a freshman playing in his first road game—in Lincoln, no less. He looked comfortable running the play-action and racked up a majority of his yards after faking the hand-off. Even though three-and-outs became the norm in the second half, Stave and the Badgers performed better than expected.
Running Back: Montee Ball
This fall that was supposed to belong to Ball. Not so much.
Yes, the senior tailback tallied three scores on the ground, but neither of the runs was more than two yards. His longest run of the day was 14 yards and he only managed 90 yards despite carrying the ball 32 times.
Blame the offensive line if you'd like—it's probably a fair argument. But this was Ball's worst performance of the year when taking into account yards-per-carry and his drop on a would-be touchdown in the second quarter.
Again, it would be nice to see James White and Melvin Gordon get more looks, but the two combined for only three carries and zero yardage. Until Wisconsin decides to share the wealth in the backfield, this will be a recurring theme for the Badgers.
Wide Receivers: Jared Abbrederis, Jordan Fredrick
Jared Abbrederis is having some kind of year.
He proved to be the only true threat the Badgers have in the passing game on Saturday night, catching seven passes for 147 yards and a touchdown.
What else can you say about this guy? He is beginning to make a name for himself as one of the top receivers not only in the Big Ten but in the entire nation. What makes his performance even more remarkable is the lack of a second threat in the passing game.
Fredrick, on the other hand, is a freshman still trying to find his way at Wisconsin. While he set a career high with three receptions against Nebraska and took some heat off of Abbrederis, he only accumulated 27 yards and hasn't even broken 40 receiving yards in a single game all season.
Normally, freshmen aren't counted on to play a key role at receiver, so Fredrick should be cut some slack. We'll see if his role continues to grow as the season progresses.
Tight Ends: Jacob Pedersen, Brain Wozniak
The role of the tight end continues to disintegrate at Wisconsin.
Jacob Pedersen had a grand total of zero receptions against Nebraska, making you wonder if Matt Canada was kidding when he said the tight end would still play a big role in the offense prior to the start of the season.
He was targeted a few times, but he dropped what would have been a 27-yard reception late in the second quarter and also let a shorter pass bounce off his hands in the fourth quarter.
Brian Wozniak holds the role as the blocking specialist among the tight ends. Not only did the Badgers only average 1.4 yards-per-carry, but Wozniak also didn't record a reception.
Not exactly a game to remember, and he didn't even have the best block among tight ends. That honor belongs to Pedersen on Montee Ball's 14-yard run in the second quarter.
On Wisconsin's opening possession, it looked like the Badger offensive line of old. The rest of the way, it was back to its usual form.
The line created a nice push on the Badgers' five-play, 71-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter, and overall in the first half, it did a nice job of protecting Stave and helping move the ball forward on the ground.
Overall, however, there wasn't much room for Montee Ball to maneuver. On the final offensive play on a 4th-and-1, the line got pushed back on the right side and O'Brien barely even handed the ball off to Ball before Nebraska caused a fumble.
Third-and-short situations have been a nightmare for the Wisconsin O-line, and it continued Saturday night.
Consistency is another big factor with this unit, and there are still some inexcusable lapses at times. It showed it can put it all together early in the game, but that's not good enough.
Defensive Ends: David Gilbert, Tyler Dippel
David Gilbert probably got the most pressure on Taylor Martinez out of all the defensive linemen, but because of how much the defense was on the field in the second half, Martinez was able to run wild.
He created the second turnover of the game when he stripped Rex Burkhead in the third quarter, leading to a Badger touchdown.
However, rarely did Martinez not have enough time to throw, and when the pocket collapsed, he would just take off running. Frustrating for Gilbert and company, no doubt, especially after having to sit out the first play because of these comments. He wasn't technically the starter, but he gets the grade.
With no Brendan Kelly once again, Tyler Dippel got the call opposite of Gilbert and didn't make much noise, either. While Gilbert at least got a few pressures on Martinez, Dippel was controlled at the line of scrimmage and looked like his feet were stuck in quicksand.
We'll see how much time he sees next week against Illinois if Kelly is healthy enough to give it a go.
Defensive Tackles: Ethan Hemer, Beau Allen
The Cornhuskers averaged 5.6 yards a carry, and while Hemer can't be counted on to shut down the running ability of Taylor Martinez, he should be able to generate some pressure and force him to go on the run.
Hemer essentially failed in that regard, and his only notable play came when he batted down a pass in the first half. Otherwise, Hemer was relatively dominated in the trenches against Nebraska.
Speaking of getting dominated in the trenches, Beau Allen was pretty well stuffed and didn't create much pressure on the quarterback. Of the two defensive tackles, Hemer probably created the better push, but that isn't saying much.
Even when Allen and Hemer were able to get near Martinez, he would just blow right past them. There weren't many positives in the play of Allen against a Cornhusker offensive line that didn't have much trouble keeping him at bay.
Linebackers: Chris Borland, Mike Taylor, Ethan Armstrong
It has become a weekly tradition for Chris Borland to create terror in opponent backfields and tenaciously attack the ball, wherever it may be. He recovered two forced fumbles in the game to back up that claim.
Borland blew up multiple runs before they could even reach the line of scrimmage, and if there's one knock you want to make on Borland, it's that he struggled to help contain Taylor Martinez at times. Other than that, Borland just looked like a man among boys.
Mike Taylor racked up 15 tackles against Nebraska and like Borland, made some plays in the backfield and always seemed to be around the ball.
Being an outside linebacker, he was more responsible for containing Martinez than Borland, when Martinez scampered out of the pocket, but he seemed to be the only one who could consistently bring him down. There were also instances where Taylor struggled in pass coverage, including on a big gainer late in the third quarter.
Per usual, Armstrong didn't get his name called too often by the announcers Saturday night, but he hustled all over the field and was probably the best linebacker in coverage.
Obviously, he's not at the same level as his two highly touted teammates alongside him, but he's a good fit at the outside linebacker spot opposite of Taylor.
Cornerbacks: Devin Smith, Marcus Cromartie
I'm not sure what it is with these Wisconsin corners playing so far off their receivers, but Smith was picked on by Martinez as a result. To allow someone with the throwing ability of Martinez to go 17-of-29 and throw two touchdowns is rather embarrassing.
Even if the plan is to tackle the receiver immediately after the catch, Smith failed in that regard at times, as well. He did bear down on third down to hold Nebraska to a game-tying field goal, and didn't have any blown coverages.
Cromartie was also inconsistent in his tackling and allowed Martinez to get into a groove in the second half with his soft coverage. Gone is another game in which the Badger secondary failed to intercept a pass, let alone cause a turnover.
He was partially responsible for the evaporating 17-point lead and just wasn't the same guy in the second half. Cromartie was dragged by Burkhead for the majority of a 21-yard run. Even still, this loss can't completely be pinned on the Wisconsin corners.
Safeties: Dezmen Southward, Michael Trotter
In the second half, Southward started looking more vulnerable in coverage, although it didn't help that Martinez had a day and a half to find the open man down field. As with many Badgers—on offense and defense—Southward looked like a different player in the final two quarters, likely due to fatigue as a result of being on the field so frequently.
He was often in good position and wasn't involved in any game-changing plays, unless you consider the forced fumble on Ameer Abdullah that was recovered by Martinez for a first down. It was the first instance this season where anyone from the Badgers secondary showed instinct for the ball.
Michael Trotter was the culprit on Nebraska's first touchdown when he failed to cover Rex Burkhead on a short three yard route. He was also the recipient of a personal foul after a high hit on a receiver, although it was a questionable call.
Trotter may have had the worst second half of any defender, missing a tackle on Martinez's 38-yard touchdown run. He was also flagged for pass interference on Martinez's second touchdown pass.
Before the Nebraska game, Trotter did a nice job in place of the injured Shelton Johnson, but he looked lost out there Saturday night.