Final take: Huskers show improvement, but the story remains the same
Nebraska played better on offense than we've seen all season at times on Saturday, but the final result still remained the same.
Yes, the Huskers put some chinks in the armor of Wisconsin, but they still are nowhere near a complete enough team to finish off a Big Ten heavyweight like the Badgers.
NU's margin for error on Saturday to win the game was next to none. An 89-yard kickoff return, a tipped pass interception and a 41-yard missed field goal were three key moments that paved the way to Wisconsin's 37-21 victory.
Not having running back/wide receiver Wan'Dale Robinson and defensive linemen Carlos Davis and Darrion Daniels also didn't help the Huskers cause.
“That’s a good team," NU head coach Scott Frost said following his team's loss. "We've got to keep bringing more talent into this program, so we are going into gunfights with fully loaded guns and we’ve got some really good bullets on this team.
"We have some really good pieces, some really good weapons, but we need more. When you come in missing some guys it makes it even harder and that’s why I’m proud of our guys for how they fought; a vast, vast majority of this team came out and fought. We need more of that. We need more guys that are willing to do that."
Saturday's loss to the Badgers also came on the heels of Nebraska announcing a two-year contract extension for Frost, bringing his deal out to the end of the 2026 season.
It was a big statement by the NU administration that come hell or high water, they believe in the direction Frost is taking this program, despite the disappointing 2019 season.
“I’m grateful, I’m grateful to a lot of people. To (NU Chancellor)Ronnie Green, he came to my office and suggested it and told me it’s what they wanted to do," Frost said. "I’m grateful to him and Bill [Moos] and (President) Susan Fritz, the leadership at this university. This is where I want to be.
"People in Nebraska know me pretty well and I’m a fighter and I’m not going to quit until this is right. We took the Nebraska job as a staff because we figured we had the runway to build this and build it the right way, in a lot of ways there was more work to be done than we even anticipated before we came to Lincoln, and there’s still things to do to get right."
With improved play on Saturday by NU, there's still some hope the Huskers can win their last two games against Maryland and Iowa and qualify for a bowl game.
That's about the only thing out there left to play for right now.
“I think we have to take it one at a time and we have to focus on beating Maryland," quarterback Adrian Martinez said. "Right now, it is kind of still the 24-hour rule and [I will] kind of regroup and watch this last game. Then we will move on to Maryland and plan on winning. That is what it comes down to. We are going to be determined and fight and we are not going to quit.”
Now on to the breakdown...
What I saw on Saturday
***Nebraska had more rushing yards (119) in the first quarter on Saturday than Wisconsin was giving up per game. NU clearly had a good game plan on how they wanted to spread out and attack the Badgers defense.
***NU's lack of pass rush continues to be an issue this season. The Huskers failed to produce a sack on Saturday, and they have just six over the last five games. You just aren't going to win very many games with this type of production.
***Nebraska is just one of two teams all year that has scored a first-half touchdown on the Badgers defense. NU also got a big break with the near 60-degree weather on Saturday. It allowed Frost's offense to be fully functional out of the gates.
***The Huskers made one slight adjustment in their secondary vs. Wisconsin. DiCaprio Bootle played safety and Cam Taylor-Britt corner. It makes you wonder if they played Taylor-Britt at corner vs. safety to protect his shoulder and not expose him to a lot of hits at the safety position.
***Some notable newcomers that saw action on Saturday were Nick Henrich (special teams) and defensive linemen Keem Green and Ty Robinson.
***With Nebraska actively talking to junior college kickers right now it makes you wonder about the long-term future of Barrett Pickering. The sophomore missed a key field goal on Saturday and lacked the leg strength needed on kickoffs to put the ball through the end zone.
Speaking of kickoffs, it's also hard to figure out why Brody Belt is running balls out of the end zone vs. taking the fair catch.
***The one series of the game that made you really scratch your head happened when Dedrick Mills was off the field and Wyatt Mazour got back-to-back touches. NU called an option play to Mazour and then a direct snap on third down. It was as big of a set of plays as NU had in the second half. It seemed like an odd choice to go to Mazour in that situation.
***Frost said after the game Carlos Davis not healthy enough to play vs. Minnesota. This comes after Davis practiced all week for NU. Of all the injury things the Huskers faced, Davis not playing was by far the biggest surprise.
This forced guys like Fyn Anderson and Robinson to play quite a few significant snaps.
The final grade out
Rushing offense: A
Nebraska had 307 "sack adjusted" rushing yards on Wisconsin's defense. Coming into the game they were allowing just 84 rushing yards per game on the season. If you told me Dedrick Mills would go for 188 yards on 17 carries I would've liked the Huskers chances to win. They ran the ball better than any team has all season vs. the Badgers. The offensive line also opened up some huge holes.
Passing offense: C
Adrian Martinez finished 13-of-23 for 220 yards, but the interception and the sacks he took were costly plays that Nebraska is not good enough to overcome right now.
Rushing defense: F
Nebraska only allowed one run longer than 20 yards on Saturday, but the bad news is Wisconsin had a steady diet of 7 to 9 yards runs to finish with 320 on the day. Jonathan Taylor finished with 25 carries for 206 yards vs. the Big Red. He's now rushed for 676 yards in three meetings vs. the Huskers and rushed for over 100 yards in four out of six halves of football. On 74 rushing attempts vs. Nebraska, Taylor has never had a negative play.
Passing defense: C
Nebraska's JoJo Domann forced a fumble early in the passing game that led to NU's first score. Jack Coan finished 13-of-21, most of which came on a 55-yard pass to A.J. Taylor. That was the Badgers only play longer than 30 yards on the day. In fact, they had just one pass and one run over 20 yards. Still, Coan did enough through the air to move the offense for the Badgers.
Special teams: F
Once again special teams were one of the key reasons why this game turned early. The Huskers allowed an 89-yard kick return for a touchdown, Barrett Pickering missed a huge field goal that impacted how NU played the rest of the game and you had walk-on running back Brody Belt trying to take kickoffs out of the end zone. There were no positives today when it came to special teams play. The lack of leg strength on kickoffs by Pickering is also startling. Even with a strong south wind to his back he couldn't get the ball through the end zone.
Sean Callahan can be reached at email@example.com and he can be heard each day at 6:45 am and 5:05 pm on Big Red Radio 1110 KFAB in Omaha during the football season. He can also be seen on KETV Channel 7 in Omaha during the fall and each week he appears on NET's Big Red Wrap-Tuesday's at 7 pm.