As Nebraska honored their 1997 National Championship squad on Saturday, the Wisconsin Badgers decided to give their own tribute to Tom Osborne's final team.
With the game tied 17-17 early in the third quarter, the Badgers (5-0, 2-0) kept the ball on the ground for 32 of their final 34 plays, including 22 straight runs to close the game en route to a 38-17 victory.
It was vintage Nebraska (3-3, 2-1), the only problem was it wasn't the Huskers doing the damage. It was the empire former Husker Barry Alvarez designed after Nebraska that came into Memorial Stadium and administered the old school beat down.
"I think that probably the key point in the game was their response to us making the play to tie the game," head coach Mike Riley said. "Our pick six, their response to that was pretty interesting and it was very physical."
I think that's probably what continues to be the most disheartening for Nebraska about this Wisconsin series.
The Badgers own a 6-1 record in the series, and most importantly beat the Huskers in a way Nebraska used to do it.
They win with physical line of scrimmage play, sound defense and a running game.
“I don’t want to be Wisconsin. I’m Nebraska if that’s simple enough to say," junior offensive lineman Jerald Foster said. "I don’t want to be them. I believe in what we have with our quarterback. He’s a gunslinger, in the sense of him being able to do what he does I don’t want us to be running the ball the whole time. We have great backs, definitely, but being able to have two parts of the game, being able to run it, being able to pass it at the same time is why you become an A list team. I’m not saying Wisconsin’s not, that’s their identity, that’s something they stick to, but what we’re going to stick to is what we’ve had good success with, which is being able to run the ball on the downs we need to run it and trust ourselves in Tanner (Lee) so he’ll be able to do the big things in the pocket.”
The scary thing now is what's ahead for the Huskers.
Urban Meyer and a red hot Ohio State team come into Lincoln next week, and you know they aren't taking their foot off the gas pedal. They will be playing to stay in the College Football Playoff race, and Nebraska will be their next target in the road.
“Disappointing loss, but we know what we have coming,” Lee said. “It’s going to be on us to have a great week of practice. We just have to get better, and that will be our focus in every way.”
Now on to the breakdown...
What I saw on Saturday
***I couldn't have been more wrong about my pregame prediction that Nebraska had a chance to hold running back Jonathon Taylor under 100 yards. I thought NU's run defense was better than that, but boy did the Badgers proved me wrong.
***I liked how Nebraska's offense didn't back down and they went right at Wisconsin. They had a great game plan, the problem is they had no margin for error. You can't give a team like Wisconsin free points, especially when your defense plays the way Nebraska did on Saturday.
***Former Husker secondary coach George Darlington had some choice words to me at halftime about how poor NU's corners were tackling. That has been a real problem at times, and you fear for the worst next week when Ohio State puts those guys in space.
The Wisconsin staff also told the BTN TV crew in their pregame meetings the game plan going in was to go after NU's corners and make them tackle.
***What's frustrating about this game for Nebraska is Wisconsin didn't come out playing their best football early. Their defense was on their heels, and they got more penalties tonight than normal. NU never could take advantage of that.
***Devine Ozigbo deserves some credit tonight, as does the entire offensive line. They did something nobody gave them much of a shot to do. Ozigbo ran for 96 yards alone in the first half, and Tanner Lee was not sacked once.
***Wisconsin has now won five straight against Nebraska. It's starting to take on a Texas feel, as the Longhorns beat the Huskers six straight times to close out the Big 12 era, and nine out of 10 times overall.
The final grade out
Rushing offense: B
Nebraska ran for more yards on the ground than anyone has all season against Wisconsin. Devine Ozigbo was effective, finishing with 112 yards on 23 carries. The problem was the game got out of hand by the fourth quarter where the running game became a non-factor.
Passing offense: C+
The offensive line gave Tanner Lee excellent protection, and he made some big time throws on Saturday. Lee's 80 yard touchdown pass to Stanley Morgan Jr. was the longest play from scrimmage the Badgers have allowed all year. The problem was the passing game also produced two crucial turnovers. The pick six to start the game and Morgan's fumble after he made a big third down catch when the Huskers were driving.
Rushing defense: F
Nobody really saw a performance coming like this from the Blackshirts. The Huskers were ranked 22nd nationally against the run coming into Saturday's game, but gave up 361 yards on the ground, including 249 yards on 25 carries from Jonathon Taylor. It's scary to think Taylor is just a true freshman. The Huskers seemed off-balanced all night against the run.
Passing defense: C+
Wisconsin threw only when they had to, and they were effective in key third down situations. Aaron Williams pick six was a big moment in the game that looked like it was going to turn things. The Badgers answered with a 10 play 93 yard drive where they passed twice the rest of the game after that - one for a 31 yard gain on third down and the other for a third down touchdown.
Special teams: B
Nebraska got an excellent punting game out of Caleb Lightbourn, and their coverage units forced a fumble that Wisconsin recovered. De'Mornay Pierson-El nearly broke a punt return for a touchdown as well. The only thing to really downgrade NU for was Drew Brown's early missed field goal that would've made the game 10-3.
Sean Callahan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 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-Up Tuesday's at 7 pm.