Big Ten Championship: 5 Things Wisconsin Can Learn from Week 5 Loss to Nebraska
It was the one that got away when Wisconsin played at Nebraska Week 5 on the opening weekend of Big Ten play.
After taking a 27-10 lead with 10:29 remaining in the third quarter, the No. 22 Cornhuskers (10-2, 7-1) scored the next 20 points and held off the Badgers (7-5, 4-4) to avoid the upset in Lincoln.
It was sign of things to come throughout the rest of the season, but alas, here we are, on the eve of the Big Ten Championship Game, with Nebraska and Wisconsin set for Round 2 and a Rose Bowl berth hanging in the balance.
With revenge on the minds of Wisconsin and Nebraska looking for its second triumph over the Badgers, let's look at the five things Wisconsin can learn from its first meeting with the Cornhuskers.
Discipline Pays Dividends
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In the Week 5 meeting, Wisconsin was able to mount a big lead and stay in the game all night long because it remained disciplined.
The only turnover for the Badgers came on their final offensive play when Danny O'Brien ran the wrong play, coughing up the football when attempting to hand off to Montee Ball. In other words, you can basically throw that miscue out the window because it was Danny O'Brien.
Joel Stave also had a fumble earlier in the game, but the Badgers were able to recover. Other than that, Wisconsin only committed two penalties for a total of 15 yards, and it is one of the least-penalized teams in the FBS.
That can help explain why the Badgers have been in every game this season, and if Wisconsin can take care of the football and play within the rules, it should give itself a good chance to win on Saturday.
Get the Ball to Your Playmakers
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No disrespect to Montee Ball—he has made plenty of plays this season—but the Badgers have three players with big-play ability almost every time they get their hands on the football.
Of those three players—James White, Melvin Gordon and Jared Abbrederis—only Abbrederis received his fair share of opportunities against Nebraska, catching seven passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. White and Gordon had a grand total of four touches on the night.
The Cornhuskers will undoubtedly put more emphasis on shutting down Abbrederis, which is why Bret Bielema needs to realize what he has at his disposal when it comes to his explosive backup running backs.
White and Gordon each average over 6.5 yards per carry and 20 yards per reception in their limited time behind Ball. Ball has compiled some gaudy numbers this season, but it came as a result of several more carries compared to last season.
More plays need to be called for Gordon and White, and Ball's workload needs to diminish in order for Wisconsin to keep Nebraska's defense off-balance and for the Badgers to have success on offense.
Keep the Defense Fresh
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When you're going up against the likes of a dual-threat quarterback like Taylor Martinez, the defense is going to be running all over the field trying to contain him. And don't forget about the potent Nebraska backfield along with deep threat Kenny Bell.
With the defense growing fatigued as the game wears on, it's important for the offense to control the clock and keep its defense as fresh as possible.
That's exactly what Wisconsin was able to do in the first half against Nebraska, and the Badgers jumped out to a 17-point lead. But the offense came out in the second half struggling to move the ball, keeping the defense on the field as fatigue set in and Martinez became more effective.
The Badger offense becoming stagnant after halftime has been a common theme this season, and the coaching staff needs to alter its strategy as the opposing defense makes adjustments.
Which leads to exactly how Wisconsin can find success moving the football...
Utilize Every Inch of the Field
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The Badgers' utilizing the field end line to end line goes back to how they need to get the ball in the hands of their playmakers.
Nebraska handled Wisconsin's running attack with relative ease in the first meeting, holding Montee Ball to a 2.8 average and the team as a whole to a minute 1.4 yards per carry.
A lot of that had to do with the offensive line, but that unit has vastly improved since the early portion of the season. The way Nebraska was able to handle Ball shows that Ball can't do it by himself, especially when defenses are loading the box.
Wisconsin can take advantage of this strategy by running the ball outside and calling end-arounds and screens to stretch the defense. Not only have Gordon, Abbrederis and White had success when getting the ball toward the sidelines, but it keeps the defense honest and could create more opportunities for the former Heisman finalist.
Spy Taylor Martinez
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That picture of Martinez diving into the end zone was the turning point in Week 5 when these two teams first met, a 38-yard touchdown run that brought Nebraska within ten of Wisconsin in the third quarter.
Martinez had more success running the ball in the second half, and even if this was the result of a worn down defense, Martinez's big runs of 38 and 18 yards could have been avoided if the Badgers set up a contain and had a man responsible for Martinez.
Wisconsin primarily rushes only its front four, which could allow someone like linebacker Mike Taylor—who has struggled in pass coverage this season anyway—to keep an eye on Martinez when the junior quarterback drops back to pass.
The Badgers can't afford to allow Martinez to make big plays with his feet, as it swings momentum and opens up other avenues for Nebraska to move the football.