Nebraska-Wisconsin: Analysis of Cornhuskers' Rude Wake-Up Call Against Badgers

Kraig LundbergAnalyst IIIOctober 3, 2011

So much for finally winning one on the big stage.

The Nebraska Cornhuskers had a huge opportunity to thrust themselves into the national title race in a huge game against the Wisconsin Badgers, but instead, they gave up 34 consecutive points after leading 14-7 early in the second quarter and ultimately fell 48-17.

Not only did the Huskers show that they were not championship contenders, but that they will be hard pressed to even win their division if they don't make a huge improvement from this week.

Nebraska seemed to be handling the big stage well early on, but when adversity struck, the Huskers folded and mistakes snowballed into a blowout.

As poorly as the Huskers played, the Badgers still showed why they are not only the odds-on favorite to win the Big Ten, but also a legitimate national championship contender.

Let's break down each aspect of Nebraska's performance.


Running Game

Nebraska's running game was performing quite well to start off the night, which made it very puzzling when offensive coordinator Tim Beck strayed away from it after falling behind 20-14.

It seemed as though the Huskers got overexcited and began slinging it around when the lead shifted to Wisconsin, and it ended up dearly costing them.


However, when Nebraska did run, it ran pretty well. Rex Burkhead continued to show why he's one of the best backs in the Big Ten, rushing for 96 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Many of those yards came when the Huskers were in a deep hole, but that shouldn't be counted against him because the Badgers defense was still playing very hard in an effort to keep the Huskers from scoring in garbage time.

Taylor Martinez continued to keep the ball too much, carrying 20 times for just 61 yards.

The bottom line is, Martinez needs to put the running game on the shoulders of Burkhead and the improving offensive line.


Passing Game

Oh, boy, where to start....

How about with Taylor Martinez, who threw three interceptions that all led to Wisconsin touchdowns and ultimately turned a close game into a blowout?

Martinez was downright awful through the air after the first quarter, but not all the blame should be put on him. As noted before, Tim Beck inexplicably abandoned an effective run game and allowed Martinez to put the ball in the air on almost every play, which had devastating consequences.

Martinez's inability to complete passes on first and second down created obvious third-down passing situations in which the Badger secondary preyed on the primarily-running quarterback's ineffective reads and poor decisions.


Had Beck stuck to the running game despite the small deficit, I'm convinced the outcome of this game could have been vastly different. The game likely would have been a loss regardless, but perhaps the Huskers could have saved themselves from a great deal of embarrassment on national television.

It's clear Nebraska's running game must be established before Martinez can be an effective passer, and if the Huskers ever get themselves in a big hole early, don't expect any possible comeback to ride on the arm of Taylor Martinez.


Run Defense

Although Montee Ball rushed for 151 yards and four touchdowns on 30 carries, the Huskers' running game wasn't quite as bad as the stats indicate.

For one thing, Montee Ball is undoubtedly in the top echelon of college running backs with guys like Trent Richardson and Marcus Lattimore. He's as difficult to tackle as any back in the nation. Then there's his offensive line, which also rivals any in the nation. That alone could give any defensive front fits, even the likes of Alabama and LSU.

Furthermore, Wisconsin was having so much success through the air that the run was nearly impossible to stop. Russell Wilson's running ability is second only to his passing ability, which means headaches—no, migraines—for any defense.

At this point, I think it's appropriate to take the Badgers' 231 rushing yards with a grain of salt. With that being said, the run defense must get significantly better with the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan and Iowa still looming on the schedule.



Pass Defense

As far as Nebraska's secondary goes, it's time to panic.

OK, so that may be a little drastic, but the bottom line is, the Cornhuskers miss Prince Amukamara, Dejon Gomes and Eric Hagg a lot right now.

Aside from two impressive sacks by Lavonte David early on, the Huskers failed to get much pressure on the Badgers and the secondary got eaten alive.

The biggest thing to remember about this unit is how young it is. With all the experience so many young players are getting, it's hard to imagine this unit not being fairly good next season. However, they will be without senior leader Alfonzo Dennard, which might negate that improvement.

This secondary's problems include inability to cover the deep ball, inability to make a play on the ball and the inability to force incompletions on third down, among others.

I think after this performance, you have to start wondering about the job Corey Raymond is doing at coaching these guys, but there's no need to cast the blame there just yet. Youth is most likely the root of these problems, and the bottom line is, Russell Wilson is a standout, Heisman-worthy quarterback.

Immediate and significant improvement is needed, though, with quarterbacks like Braxton Miller, Kirk Cousins, Denard Robinson, Dan Persa and James Vandenberg coming up on the schedule.



Special Teams

Special teams were ultimately a non-factor with the way the score ended up, but if Nebraska had been able to keep the game close, its special teams likely wouldn't have helped steal a win.

Although Ameer Abdullah was impressive yet again on kickoff returns and Jared Crick blocked an extra point, the coverage units weren't stifling and Brett Maher missed a field goal.

Nothing terrible in this game, as Maher's attempt was from 50-plus, but nothing really of note either, other than the blocked extra point.



The most important thing Nebraska can take away from this game is that, when you commit penalties and turnovers against great teams, it will snowball on you.

The Huskers are not that much worse than the Badgers talent-wise, and that showed in the first and early-second quarter. But with Nebraska, when it rains, it pours.

If the Huskers are to win their division and get to the Big Ten Championship game to get another crack at Wisconsin, they will have to handle adversity better and commit fewer penalties and turnovers.

This game can be a learning experience for this young team if it is used correctly, but if it isn't, the rest of the season could be very disappointing.

The Huskers must now take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in Lincoln, a game that a stable of high-profile recruits will be attending.

Nebraska needs to rebound from an embarrassing loss and finish the recruiting season with a flourish. The Huskers have the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone this week against the Buckeyes.


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