Final take: Huskers show promise, but still leave Madison 0-5
MADISON, Wis. - Nebraska showed flashes of what they could eventually be on offense under Scott Frost.
The Huskers connected on a few good punches on Saturday at Wisconsin, but it takes more than that to knock out a Big Ten heavyweight.
The Badgers set the tone early with their physical offensive play, rushing for 370 yards en route to a 41-24 victory. It was classic Barry Alvarez football, and it overshadowed the 441 yards of total offense put up by quarterback Adrian Martinez on Saturday night.
However, even in defeat, you could see it in Frost's eyes. He saw something from his team on Saturday to build on for the future.
It was an emotional week in Lincoln, highlighted by the decisions of wide receiver Tyjon Lindsey and running back Greg Bell to transfer. Through it all, Frost liked the way his team came to play in Madison.
"I told the team, sometimes when you’re sick, you’ve got to puke it out and I really think last week was a turning point for us, believe it or not," Frost said. "I saw a team come together. I saw a team practice the best it’s practiced all year. I saw a team start loving each other, holding each other accountable and they came out here and fought. We weren’t good enough to win the game but I really feel like that was a turning point for us and that’s what I told them in the locker room."
Once again though things like penalties, special teams blunders and a bad fumble overshadowed the good on Saturday.
"I felt like we took a step forward tonight, but it's the little things we have to keep getting better at," senior running back Devine Ozigbo said. "Still, I think tonight showed everybody what this team can be."
All the Huskers can do now is move on to Northwestern. Nebraska hits the road for the third time in four weeks for an 11 a.m. ABC game in Evanston.
"We’ve got a lot of good players on this team that I’m proud to coach that we’re going to keep working with and keep improving," Frost said. "I hate losing more than anybody in the world, I challenge you to find anybody who hates it more than me. I think we’re on the road to getting this to a better place."
Now on to the breakdown....
WHAT I SAW ON SATURDAY
***I ran into former Iowa State head coach Dan McCarney before Saturday's game in Madison. He was in town for the 25th anniversary of Wisconsin's 1993 Rose Bowl team.
McCarney was very complimentary of Frost and said there was no doubt in his mind he'll get things going at Nebraska over time.
***After seeing Devine Ozigbo run last week vs. Purdue, and the flashes shown by Maurice Washington on Saturday, I would say the running back position is just fine without Greg Bell.
Frost had to hold his tounge a little bit following Saturday's loss. He wanted to comment more about those guys leaving this week, but he took the high road and wished them luck at their new schools.
***Last week's walk-on story of the week was Kade Warner at wide receiver. This week the story is what Isaac Armstrong gave the Huskers at punter. NU benched Caleb Lightbourn after he gave them just a 29.5 average on two punts. Armstrong came in and gave them a 53.5 average on two punts. I would say NU has a new starting punter.
I get the sense Lightbourn's problems right now are as much mental as physical.
***Hat tip to Lamar Jackson for sticking out a rough week in Lincoln. It would've been very easy for Jackson to jump ship with guys like Bell and Tyjon Lindsey, but he stuck around and fought. I was glad to see him get another chance on Saturday.
***The penalty issues for Nebraska have become mind numbing. Almost any time there's a play where somebody cuts accross field or Martinez holds the ball for an extended period of time it seems like the Huskers are flagged for holding or an illegal block in the back. I've never seen a stretch of penalties like this before at NU.
***Frost probably said it best on Saturday. His guys fought hard, but they have nowhere near the horses up front to match-up with teams like Wisconsin and Michigan. You can develop skill talent overnight, but offensive and defenisve lines take years to build properly.
***This is my fourth time at Wisconsin, and I'll say it once again. Camp Randall has the best fan atmopshere of any road venue in the Big Ten, and Madison is as fun of a trip in the conference in terms of Friday and Saturday pregame festetivies.
THE FINAL GRADE OUT
Rushing offense: C
Nebraska's rushing offense was really a non-factor on Saturday. Devine Ozigbo and Maurice Washington had just a combined 56 yards on 10 carries, as they weren't part of the overall offensive game plan once NU fell behind. Adrian Martinez led Nebraska with 57 yards on 13 carries, including an impressive 7-yard touchdown run.
Passing offense: A-
As Martinez grows, this could be a moment we all look back to. He finished with 384 yards passing, but still had those freshman moments at times. Martinez needs to get better at throwing the ball away, and also finding his check-down options. However, he delivered some brilliant passes on Saturday and stressed Wisconsin's defense. JD Spielman and Stanley Morgan had a combined 17 catches for 302 yards. That's the type of volume those guys need every week. The holding penalties were killer at times, but Martinez founds ways to overcome them.
Rushing defense: F
You are not going to beat Wisconsin, or anyone for that matter allowing 370 rushing yards. The Badgers pounded the Huskers like a sledgehammer early, and by the second half they broke through, highlighted by Jonathon Taylor's 88-yard touchdown run.
Passing defense: B-
Wisconsin didn't want to pass, but when they did, the Huskers held up for the most part. However, Alex Hornibrook still was able to execute some big third-down throws when Nebraska needed to get off the field.
Special teams: D
We saw special teams penalties again, and more struggles from punter Caleb Lightbourn. However, I think the Huskers found something with Maurice Washington as a kick returner, and they got a big boost from Isaac Armstrong, who replaced Lightbourn at punter.
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.