Nebraska Football: 10 things we learned from NU's loss to Wisconsin
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10 things we learned from Nebraska's loss to Wisconsin

Here are 10 of our biggest takeaways from Nebraska's 35-28 loss to No. 15 Wisconsin on Saturday...

1. Same ending, but a different script 

Once again, Nebraska gave a higher-ranked opponent all it could handle until the final minutes and still wound up on the wrong side of the scoreboard when all was said and done.

However, while the ending was similar to several other close-but-no-cigar losses this season, there was a different feeling to Saturday.

In many respects, the Huskers equaled and at times even out-played No. 15 Wisconsin from start to finish.

They put up 452 yards of total offense, more than double the Badgers' allowed per game average this season. Every time UW took the lead, Nebraska came firing right back with an answer until the last seconds.

Head coach Scott Frost said one of the most concerning issues with his team all year had been that the players were often just "hoping" they would win rather than truly believing it.

This time around, Frost said he sensed that the Huskers finally believed they could not only compete with Wisconsin, but also win the game.

Until Adrian Martinez's last pass fell incomplete with four seconds remaining, NU had total faith it was going to score a touchdown, convert a two-point conversion, and snap an eight-game losing streak to its division rival.

Nebraska still failed to get the job done, but maybe the team took a critical step in believing instead of hoping.

2. The Adrian Martinez experience was on full display

There was so much to like about what Martinez did against Wisconsin's vaunted defense.

His 351 passing yards were more than any opposing quarterback had thrown on the Badgers all season, and he made explosive plays with his arm and his legs all game.

But for all of the positives the fourth-year starter showed on Saturday, a handful of critical mistakes once again spoiled the performance.

Martinez threw two costly interceptions in the second half. The first, Frost said, was more the fault of his intended receiver not making an effort to come back to the ball.

The second was just a poor throw that floated over the middle into double coverage.

Martinez suffered an injury late in the second quarter that forced him to sit out NU's final drive of the half. He was able to return for the second half, but Frost hinted that some of his throws were impacted by his undisclosed ailment.

Injured or not, Nebraska again saw the dramatic pendulum swings of the Martinez experience in both directions.

3. Running back carousel still turning

Just when Nebraska thought it had at least some semblance of consistency with its running back rotation, the unit was shaken up more than ever.

Rahmir Johnson, who had established himself as NU's starter for the past several weeks, did not travel to Madison due to an injury. Backup Sevion Morrison had already left the program last week.

That left Markese Stepp, Marvin Scott III, and Jaquez Yant as the only scholarship running backs available against Wisconsin. Walk-ons Brody Belt, Zach Weinmaster, and Cooper Jewett were the other backs on the travel roster.

To the group's credit, those who played on Saturday stepped up in their own ways. Stepp, who got the start, and Scott both scored rushing touchdowns, while Belt led the Huskers with 31 yards on seven carries.

Yant did not play a single offensive snap.

4. Braelon Allen is the real deal

On the same day that Wisconsin honored former running back great Melvin Gordon and his NCAA record 405-yard game vs. Nebraska in 2014, the Badgers had yet another back run wild on the Blackshirts.

Freshman Braelon Allen, who is still just 17 years old, was the biggest X-factor of all on Saturday.

Allen finished with 22 carries for 228 yards and three touchdowns, marking the most NU had given up on the ground all season.

But where Allen really changed the game was with momentum-shifting explosive runs. He reeled off a 71-yard touchdown scamper to put UW up 14-7 in the first quarter, and then he ripped off a 53-yarder for the eventually game-winning score with 3:50 left to play.

Nebraska has been torched by several Badger running backs over the past decade. Whether it was Gordon, James White, Jonathan Taylor, or now Allen, Wisconsin has always had a guy run all over the Blackshirts.

It appears that won't be changing any time soon.

5. Austin Allen earned himself some money 

Austin Allen has been regarded as one of Nebraska's top NFL prospects since the start of the offseason, but his production had been somewhat hit and miss this year.

In a showcase battle between two of the Big Ten's best tight ends with him and Wisconsin's Jake Ferguson, Allen showed exactly how much of a weapon he could be when given the opportunities.

Allen was targeted nine times and caught seven passes for a career-high 143 yards. That wasn't just the best performance of his career; it was the best game an NU tight end has ever had.

Allen set two school records on Saturday. His 143 yards were the most by Husker tight end, breaking Johnny Mitchell's record of 137 vs. Oklahoma in 1991.

He also moved his season reception total 36, passing Tyler Hoppes' previous mark of 34 set in 2017.

With 547 receiving yards on the year, Allen is now just 13 shy of breaking Junior Miller's school record of 560 in 1978.

6. Depth was tested on defensive front seven

Nebraska was already without arguably its best overall player in senior outside linebacker JoJo Domann, who underwent season-ending hand surgery over the bye week.

When the Huskers took the field for pre-game warmups on Saturday, fellow outside linebacker Pheldarius Payne was nowhere to be found, as he didn't make the trip with an unknown injury.

Then, after the game started, outside linebacker Caleb Tannor went down with an injury and did not return.

It got even worse for the Blackshirts, as nose guard Damion Daniels hardly played at all in the second half after aggravating a pre-existing injury.

As a result, NU had to turn to some young and inexperienced backups to fill in and play significant snaps against the Badgers. Outside linebacker Blaise Gunnerson took over for Tannor and had two tackles, while Nash Hutmacher filled in for Daniels.

It was great experience for two players who will likely have big roles on defense in the coming years. But it was also part of the reason why Wisconsin was able to rush for 252 yards and three touchdowns at 8.1 yards per carry.

7. Samori Toure is on pace for a record season

The most dynamic threat in Nebraska's receiving corps all season as been senior Samori Toure, and Saturday was another breakout game for the Montana transfer.

Toure finished with seven receptions for 113 yards, including a four-yard touchdown and two catches that went for more than 40 yards.

He made his presence felt on NU's opening possession, as he hauled in grabs of 42 and 27 yards to set up the Huskers' first touchdown.

Toure tied the school record with five 100-yard receiving games on the year, joining Stanley Morgan Jr. in 2017. He also moved up to 831 yards for the season, putting him in eighth place on the NU all-time chart.

Averaging 20.8 yards per catch, Toure needs 169 yards against Iowa to join Morgan as only the Huskers' second 1,000-yard receiver.

8. Garrett Nelson is becoming a leader of the Blackshirts

Though he's still listed as a sophomore, Garrett Nelson is quickly becoming an important piece of Nebraska's defense both with his production and his leadership.

The Scottsbluff native finished with a team-high six tackles, had one of NU's two tackles for loss, recorded the only sack against Wisconsin, while also breaking up a pass.

Nelson now leads the Huskers with five sacks and 11.5 TFLs on the season and has posted at least one tackle for loss in 12 of his past 14 games going back to 2020.

But what has been equally as impressive is how strong Nelson's voice has become as a leader of the Blackshirts.

His energy on the field is unmatched, but he's also been a mainstay in post-game press conferences, facing the cameras and being a voice of the team following one tough loss after another.

9. NU was more aggressive on fourth down

Frost hinted this week that he might be inclined to keep his offense on the field rather than try for field goals, given Nebraska's glaring issues in the kicking game this season.

He stuck to his word on Saturday, going for it on fourth down three times inside Wisconsin territory.

The Huskers went for it on a fourth-and-2 from the Badger 6-yard line in the second quarter, which ended with an incomplete pass to Allen in the end zone for a turnover on downs.

The second came in the fourth quarter, when NU went for another fourth-and-2 at the UW 45 and Martinez hit Allen for a 38-yard pass.

The final attempt came on Nebraska's last offensive play, where a field goal wasn't even an option.

To his credit, starting kicker Chase Contrerez made all four of his extra points.

10. Logan Smothers made an appearance

There had talk about whether Nebraska might give some of its other quarterbacks a chance to see some meaningful playing time over the final two games, especially when it was revealed how beaten up Martinez had been this season.

No. 2 QB Logan Smothers did end up getting his name called on Saturday, but it wasn't exactly in the most expected fashion.

After Martinez suffered his unknown injury late in the second quarter, the second-year freshman checked in with 50 seconds left in the first half with the Huskers starting at their own 10-yard line.

Smothers had a keeper for no gain and then handed off to Stepp for six yards before the half and his playing time came to an end.

It was an otherwise inconsequential appearance, but it did officially end Smothers' chance of redshirting this season since he had already played in his allotted four games.

Not that it will really matter in the grand scheme of things, as Smothers essentially redshirted last year with the free season of eligibility due to COVID-19.