10 things we learned from Nebraska's loss to Wisconsin
Nebraska fell to 4-6 overall and 2-5 in Big Ten play following Saturday's home loss to No. 15 Wisconsin.
Here are 10 of the most interesting things we learned from the game...
1. This was the most predictable game ever
Many Nebraska fans did their best this week in trying to prepare themselves for a lopsided home loss. Hopefully, that helped take some of the sting out of an outcome that pretty much everyone saw coming.
The usual storyline changed a bit in that the Huskers racked up nearly 500 yards of total offense and gashed one of the best run defenses in the country for 307 sack adjusted rushing yards.
In the end, though, it was the same old, same old on Saturday.
The Badgers followed the same formula they’d used in their previous six consecutive victories over NU: their offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage and wore down the defense with a bruising running game, and they capitalized on nearly every Husker mistake.
Jonathan Taylor, who has put together an impressive season stat line in his three games against Nebraska, had another monster day with 204 rushing yards and two touchdowns. That, combined with four turnovers (three on failed fourth downs) and costly special teams miscues, ended up being too much for NU to overcome.
Now Nebraska needs two wins in only two more games to go to a bowl game for the first time since 2016. Just like Saturday, it’s fairly easy to guess how that is going to go.
2. Taylor did it again
When Taylor’s career at Wisconsin finally comes to a close, few teams are going to be happier to see him go than Nebraska.
The stellar junior running back once again had his way vs. NU’s defense, plowing his way for his third 200-yard effort in three games vs. the Huskers.
Taylor has now amassed a whopping 674 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, making him the first Badger to ever run for 200-plus yards three times against one opponent.
He’s averaged 9.1 yards on his 74 combined carries in those games, and he has never been tackled for a loss.
As if that all wasn’t bad enough, Taylor’s 204 yards on Saturday marked his lowest rushing output against NU yet. He also had 249 yards vs. Nebraska in 2017 and 221 yards in 2018.
One more: Taylor has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in four of the six halves he’s played against the Huskers. The only halves he didn’t do it were the first half last year in Madison and Saturday’s second half, where he only gained 98 yards.
3. Mills shined in his first big opportunity
While much of the final box score on Saturday was fairly predictable, hardly anyone could have predicted Nebraska having the level of success running the football that it did vs. Wisconsin’s vaunted defense.
The Badgers came into the game ranked as the nation’s fifth-best rushing defense, allowing just 84.4 yards per game. Well, Nebraska ended up with 119 at the end of the first quarter.
Much of that success had to do with the stellar performance by running back Dedrick Mills, who had his breakout game as a Husker with 17 carries for a career-high 188 yards and a touchdown.
The junior college transfer ran like a man possessed, hitting holes at the line at full speed and breaking through arm tackles all day.
He became just the second opponent to rush for 100 yards against Wisconsin this season, joining only Ohio State’s JK Dobbins (160 yards).
4. Frost won’t put blame on Martinez’s shoulders
Adrian Martinez was far from perfect on Saturday, but as far as head coach Scott Frost was concerned, the sophomore quarterback was hardly the reason Nebraska lost that game.
Martinez finished with a solid stat line of 220 yards on 13-of-23 passing with a touchdown and 16 carries for 89 yards and a score. But he also missed on some big pass plays, took some awful sacks, and struggled to adjust when Wisconsin rushed three and dropped eight with a spy on him.
Frost stood by his guy after the loss, though, saying the Huskers’ problems had much more to do with the lack of execution at other positions than the play of the quarterback.
“Adrian played like the Adrian we know,” Frost said. “That kid has gone through a lot, through our struggles. I went through it; when we were 11-2, and I was the most hated guy in the state of Nebraska, I went through it. It’s hard.
"He’s been battling like a warrior. He hasn’t been 100 percent for a lot of this year. We’re not good enough around him yet. He played a lot like the guy we all expect him to be today except for a couple of plays.”
4. Robinson’s absence was a major blow
Yes, Mills’ big game fueled a surprising performance for Nebraska’s offense. But there’s no doubt that the absence of Wan’Dale Robinson hurt the Huskers in several ways.
Even after a full bye week to recover, the standout true freshman’s status for the Wisconsin game remained in doubt this week as he continued to deal with an injury he suffered late in the loss at Purdue.
When the Huskers took the field for pregame warmups on Saturday, that question was answered when he came out in sweats and a backward hat.
Robinson’s absence was felt in a big way, especially on a critical drive at the beginning of the fourth quarter. Down 34-21, Nebraska had marched down to the Wisconsin 18-yard line with a chance to make it a one-score game.
But Mills had to sub out of the game, and NU turned to senior Wyatt Mazour to finish the drive. Mazour was stuffed for a one-yard loss on an option pitch and then only gained two yards on a direct snap rush.
Martinez was stopped short on a fourth-down run on the next play. Had Robinson, who was just named a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award – given to the most versatile player in college football – been on the field, who knows how that drive would have ended?
5. Defensive line injuries couldn’t have come at a worse time
Losing starters to injuries is never good, but in Saturday’s case, Nebraska suffered a pair of losses that couldn’t have come at a much worse time.
Senior nose guard Darrion Daniels and senior defensive end Carlos Davis were both scratched from the starting lineup for the Wisconsin game, leaving the Huskers at an even bigger disadvantage than they already were.
Damion Daniels got the start in place of brother, and Ben Stille filled in for Davis, and the Badgers’ running game had an absolute field day against NU’s depleted defensive front.
Both Darrion Daniels and Davis had started the previous nine games this season before Saturday. Davis ranked eighth on the team in tackles and second in sacks, while Daniels was 10th in tackles.
Darrion Daniels didn’t practice all week, so his absence wasn’t a surprise. But Davis did practice, and Frost said he didn’t know Davis would be out until Davis told the coaching staff he was too injured to play before the game.
6. Special teams was a disaster
Nebraska hadn't gotten all three phases of the game clicking at once all season, and that story remained the same on Saturday.
While the offense had early success and the defense made a few plays to at least slowdown Wisconsin for a bit, the Huskers’ special teams were awful from start to finish.
There was an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown right after NU had taken a 7-0 lead, a 24-yard punt, three questionable kick return decisions, and a muffed kickoff that was nearly recovered by the Badgers.
All of that was just in the first half.
The second half followed up with a missed 41-yard field goal by Barret Pickering. Punter Isaac Armstrong averaged just 32.0 yards per punt, and NU managed a total of 26 yards on three kickoff returns.
Nebraska needed to be nearly flawless in every aspect to have a chance at an upset on Saturday, and the play on special teams did as much to spoil those chances as anything.
“We've got to get better in all three phases,” Frost said. “Special teams is especially one of them. Against a team like that, if you’re going to upset, when you get your chances you have to take advantage of them.”
7. Spielman got back into the mix
With a 23-yard touchdown pass to make it a two-score game late in the third quarter, JD Spielman found himself back in the end zone for the first time in weeks.
Nebraska’s No. 1 wide receiver hadn’t caught a touchdown since the first quarter of the loss at Colorado on Sept. 7 – a span of seven games and 33 quarters.
Spielman finished with a team-high four catches for 71 yards and a score, extending his streak of consecutive games with a reception to 31, the fifth-longest in school history.
For all the talk of Taylor’s success against Nebraska, Spielman has put his share of numbers against Wisconsin as well. In three games vs. the Badgers, the Eden Prairie, Minn., native has put up 19 catches for 728 yards (104.0 ypg) and four touchdowns.
8. Huskers shake up starting secondary with Bootle, Taylor-Britt
Nebraska made an unexpected change to its starting secondary against Wisconsin by moving top cornerback Dicaprio Bootle to safety and Cam Taylor-Britt – who had started eight of nine games at safety – to cornerback.
That marked Bootle’s second straight start at safety, as he filled in at Purdue for Taylor-Britt, who missed the game due to illness.
Frost wasn’t asked about the switch during his postgame press conference, so it’s unclear as to why NU went that route. It’s possible that Nebraska wanted to limit the number of hits Taylor-Britt had to take on his injured shoulder, as he had to miss some time on Saturday with an undisclosed injury.
Bootle and Taylor-Britt finished with five tackles each, and Wisconsin threw for just 162 yards on the day.
9. Huskers’ bowl hopes are officially on the ropes
Nebraska’s chances for bowl eligibility took a major hit after the loss at Purdue, but now needing two wins in the final two games to earn a bowl bid, those hopes now look slimmer than ever.
The Huskers might have a shot next week at Maryland, but they’re also a team that has lost nine of their last 10 road games. Even if they do win that one, they’ll have to upset a top-20 Iowa team at home to get to earn a bowl bid.
Maybe the pressure of having its postseason fate on the brink will light a fire in NU these next two weeks?
“For a long time I just felt like saying stuff to the media doesn’t really matter in the great scheme of things because I don’t get it across the team, and that’s what I am really focused on,” senior linebacker and captain Mohamed Barry said.
“For everyone out there, we grew up in this game; it’s easy to say that we could have got destroyed by Wisconsin like everyone predicted. It’s easy to say we could have just laid down and let 23 (Taylor) run down our throats, and we didn’t.
“We competed. We could have won that game. We found ways to beat ourselves, and these next two games we are going to compete just like that and win them.”
10. Once again, Moos got big news in before an ugly loss
Just like Nebraska did by announcing its major facilities project the day before a blowout home loss to Ohio State, athletic director Bill Moos made sure to put out news of Frost’s two-year contract extension hours before Saturday’s kickoff.
Moos and University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green issued a joint statement on extending Frost through Dec. 31, 2026, pushing his deal back to seven years. The original terms of the contract will remain intact.
“Two years ago, we had the tremendous opportunity to bring Scott Frost home to Nebraska to lead our football program into the future,” Moos and Green said in their statement. “We are even more committed to that decision today.
“Coach Frost has shown tremendous leadership in beginning to rebuild our football program. We appreciate that a change of this nature will not happen overnight. We are committed to Scott and the direction he is taking this program.
“Scott is the right coach at the right time for this program. We are excited for the heights to which he will take Nebraska football and the tremendous impact he will have in the development of our student-athletes.”