Nebraska football came into Saturday’s game against Wisconsin at 3-7, and those seven losses came by a total of 42 points. The story stayed the same for the Huskers as they added another tough loss of one score against the No. 15 Wisconsin Badgers, 35-28.
The Huskers showed fight, all the way up to the last drive that could have tied the game, but — because of special teams and defensive vulnerability — they fell short of the opposition, a major theme of this season.
Here are the position grades for Nebraska following the 35-28 loss to Wisconsin:
Junior quarterback Adrian Martinez was quite efficient in the first half of play, able to answer for the special team miscues and the touchdown from Wisconsin's offense to keep the Huskers in the game.
The first half came to a close with a 14-14 tie, and Martinez was 8-for-13 for 158 yards and a touchdown through the air. Martinez was also able to add five rushes for 12-yards on the ground. Martinez did not back down from the intimidating defense of Wisconsin in the first half.
Even with the confidence of being tied going into the second half of the game, Martinez decided to risk it, and was intercepted on the first drive of the second half for the Huskers. The ensuing drive started Wisconsin with a short field and, ultimately, ended with a touchdown to bring Wisconsin back up, 21-14.
Martinez would go on to post a stat line of 23-for-35 for 351 yards and a touchdown with his arm, as well as adding nine carries for 23 yards and a touchdown. To keep with the positives Martinez, in the fourth quarter with 10:19 to go in the game, completed a 15-yard pass to junior tight end Austin Allen for a first down at Nebraska’s 47-yard line, making him the program’s all-time leader in total offense.
The turnover woes influenced the outcome of the game as the Fresno, California product threw two interceptions. One of them, a wishful throw that was intercepted by Badgers senior safety Collin Wilder, made Wilder look like a center fielder catching a pop-fly with how off the target the pass was.
Martinez did have Nebraska's offense running smoothly, even with a few mistakes, and allowed the Huskers to be in a position at the end of the game to bring it to a tie game against a quality opponent.
Running Backs: C-
In the first half, the Huskers’ running backs had a slow start with the run game. Nevertheless, with a score from sophomore running back Markese Stepp from one yard out, the running backs’ stats did not reflect their poor performance.
Huskers freshman running back Marvin Scott III and sophomore wide receiver/running back Brody Belt led the way for the Huskers in the running game. Belt had seven carries for a team-high 31 rushing yards while Scott tied for the game high in carries with Martinez with nine for 29 yards.
In a game where the passing attack was rolling for the Huskers, they did not lean on the running game as much. Even with the lack of a run game, the Huskers had three touchdowns on the ground, including the one in the first half from Stepp.
Martinez vultured a touchdown from the one-yard line to tie the game up at 21, but the most crucial rushing touchdown came with 6:27 left in the fourth quarter. Scott took his second-and-goal carry and ran it in from three yards out to tie the game back up at 28.
The Huskers ended the game with 101 rushing yards and averaged 2.6 yards per carry.
On the first drive of the game, the Huskers senior wide receiver Samori Toure had two vertical shots for 42 yards and 27 yards, for a total of 69 yards, to help the Huskers answer back with a touchdown.
Toure and junior tight end Austin Allen led the way for the Huskers in the passing game, both eclipsing 100 yards receiving. Toure finished the game with seven catches for 113 yards and a touchdown, while Allen led the way with 143 yards on seven catches.
Allen averaged 20.4 yards per reception in the game and his performance marked the most receiving yards in a game by a tight end in school history, breaking the previous record from 1991.
The Huskers’ passing attack was effective on Saturday against a usually stout Badger defense. They had a total of 351 yards thrown in the air and averaged 15.3 yards-per-pass.
Allen and Toure accounted for 256 receiving yards of the total 351, an impressive showing from two of Nebraska’s most reliable targets this season.
Offensive Line: C+
The Huskers’ offensive line had a tall task coming into this game with the Badgers having 29 sacks on the season.
Martinez's legs helped the offensive line more than the statsheet will allude to, but the Huskers did not allow a sack in the game.
The passing game exploded, not so much because of the offensive line, but because the run game could not amount to anything due to a lack of running lanes.
The loss does not fall on the offensive line but it surely didn’t make the game any easier for the Huskers playing behind it.
Defensive Line: D-
The Huskers’ defensive line definitely did not stop the Badger offense, or make the game any easier with takeaways, but it wasn’t terrible.
The line was exposed by freshman running back Braelon Allen, who took 22 carries for 228 yards and three touchdowns. Allen averaged 10.4 yards-per-attempt and got a large chunk of his yards on his largest run of the day, a 71-yard touchdown run.
On the bright side, the Huskers halted the Badgers to a 33% fourth-down conversion rate. The Huskers defense as a whole let down the offense and the defensive line accounted for a lot of that.
Despite sophomore linebacker Garrett Nelson leading the team with six tackles, and having the team’s only sack of the game, he could not make up for the failures of the other linebackers.
The group had plenty of missed tackles to go around as they were involved heavily in Allen’s record-setting day.
The tight end screen game from the Badgers was the Huskers’ kryptonite as Badgers senior tight end Jake Ferguson led the team in both receptions and receiving yards with eight and 92, respectively.
Following Nelson, sophomore linebacker Luke Reimer had five total tackles and had a tackle for a loss.
The Huskers’ secondary was not tested as much as the rest of the defensive groups. When the ball was thrown, the Huskers allowed only 145 yards and a touchdown.
Wisconsin sophomore quarterback Graham Mertz went 12-for-18 against the Huskers' somewhat stingy secondary and only spread the yards around between four different Badgers receivers.
The secondary, however, was also guilty of missed tackles that would lead to big plays, hence the unit’s less-than-stellar grade.
Special Teams: F
It was a rough start for the Huskers’ special teams unit as the first action in the game was a 91-yard kick return by the Badgers, the most return yardage in any game so far this season for the Badgers, to give them the early 7-0 lead.
In a game that consisted of the Huskers answering back after every Badger score, the kick-return ended up looming large, even though it happened 10 seconds into the game.
Badgers sophomore wide receiver Stephan Bracey had 138 yards on three kick returns compared to the Huskers three returns for 40 yards from freshman wide receiver Alante Brown.
The Huskers did not have any kicking woes today with sophomore place kicker Chase Contreraz going 4-for-4 on his extra points. He did not attempt a field goal in the game.
Just one play ended up being the decider for the Huskers, the kick return, as special teams continues to be a killer for the Huskers.