Going into this game week I didn’t think the Badgers had a snowflake’s chance in hell of winning in Lincoln. But after a first Husker possession 3 and out, a Stave bomb to Abbrederis (followed by a TD), and a Rex Burkhead fumble (also leading to a TD) I knew we were in it.
Early in the game, Nebraska made costly mistake after costly mistake, including multiple fumbles, a couple key penalties, failed drives, a missed field goal, and miss defensive assignments. The Badgers capitalized, scoring on almost every opportunity, including three Montee Ball touchdowns and a toss to Abbrederis.
Stave looked calm most the game. Composed in the pocket, throwing deep balls with nice touch. His biggest mistake was under throwing a wide-open Montee Ball, who also erred in not catching it. I believe this was the key turning point in the game.
One thing I noticed (and celebrated) in Matt Canada’s play calling during the first half was a constant use of fly-sweep plays, including straight runs and play action. The Nebraska defense seemed very uncomfortable with them and was slow to adjust, allowing for big gains. These plays also included Melvin Gordon, who wasn’t seen in any other capacity except kick returns (which were all touchbacks). I believe he is a potential game changer, who for some reason, the coaches use on a limited basis.
Going into the second half, especially with the first possession, I was convinced that Bucky could pull out the somewhat miraculous upset. Unfortunately I was wrong. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez found his stride, as did running back Ameer Abdullah, who used his slipperiness and speed, tiring Badger defenders. The Black-shirt defense sniffed out the Badger attack, shutting Montee Ball down, and putting more pressure on Stave.
After several successful scoring drives, the momentum of the game had fully shifted. A previously frustrated and quiet Husker fan-base became electric after several Nebraska scoring drives and a stifled Badger attack. I believe part of this is because the run game simply died.
The Badger o-line, successful in the first half, was simply stunted. Montee couldn’t get any clean breaks, falling for zero or negative yards 7 times. Moreover, Canada seemed to abandon the fly sweeps/fakes which were so effective in the first half. The simplified offensive scheme, plus a few critical incompletions/drops,
Towards the end of the game the Badgers seemed to run out of steam. The defense was exhausted, not being able to get off the field. The offense found itself punting, unable to convert on third downs. On top of all that, the crowd was continuously in it. Without a turnover to swing the momentum back in Bucky’s favor, the game was lost.
On the second to last Wisconsin drive, QB Joel Stave took back to back wicked blows, essentially knocking him out of the game. To replace him, Danny O’Brien came in but wasn’t any more effective. The game ended with the Badgers 3 points behind, 30-27, after Montee Ball was stuffed yet again, when needing only 1 yard for a first down.
It was really the tale of two halves, and of adjustments by Nebraska. Wisconsin changed its game plan slightly, but the Huskers were able to adapt and limit mistakes down the stretch, coming away with a win in the Big Ten opener for both teams.
After this game I feel much more strongly about our offense as a whole. It showed that when we want to, we can move the ball. Stave still shows clear signs of inexperience, specifically on recognizing blitzes and making faster reads, but overall I think it was a good effort. The defense was good as well, but was simply worn down after the offense lost steam in the second half. Again, I believe it is essential for the Badgers to get Melvin Gordon more touches. I understand that Montee is a star, and that he was a Heisman finalist last year, but Melvin is an explosion waiting to happen. Let him run between the tackles and we’we wil see what happens.
Next week is Illinois, a struggling team who I think we should beat. Beyond that, its hard to get a good guage on this team since it still seems to be figuring out its identity. It was a good effort in Lincoln that came just short, but even in defeat, doubters were proved wrong by a Badger team that didn’t quit and outperformed its critics expectations, including my own.