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ThotDoc's Brain Droppings on the Wisconsin Game

Badgers Bludgeon Blackshirts as a Rookie Rolls amidst More Husker Muffs, Mistakes and Misses

Nebraska’s 20-game home night game win streak ended Saturday as Wisconsin bullied the Huskers 38-17 on an evening dedicated to honoring the 1997 National Championship team. Unfortunately, the Badgers looked far more like that memorable unit than the current Husker product. Wisconsin responded to a 17-17 third quarter deadlock by running the ball 28 out of next 30 plays in route to 21 straight points turning a nail biter into a rout. Their Freshman running back, Jonathan Taylor averaged nearly 10 yards a carry on his way to 249 yards, the third most ever by a Husker opponent. Cheer up as we only have to face him three more times.

Nebraska clearly outplayed Wisconsin in the first half amassing 313 yards, but kept being their own worst enemy as the offense, defense and special teams all contributed a major miscue. A pick six by the offense, a 75-yard draw play by the defense (following an 80-yard scoring play by Nebraska), and a chip shot missed field goal by our nearly always reliable place kicker. Those gaffes and better second half adjustments by the Badgers led to the Husker offense netting just 68 yards after the break.

Wisconsin football is what we were (minus the championships) and what many a Husker fan still desires we would be. We have become their whipping boy. The Badgers have beaten us five straight times and six of seven since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011. It’s become embarrassing as well as maddeningly frustrating. The game was winnable had Nebraska converted their first half opportunities and made Wisconsin play from behind. But, the Huskers first four drives ended at the Wisconsin 17, 39, 44, and 16 and yielded no points. In fact, 8 of the 12 Husker drives in the game ended in Badger territory and we garnered just 3 total points on those eight possessions.

Tanner Lee (16 for 32 for 262 yards) played reasonably well, aside from his fourth pick six of the season. He threw many catchable balls and was let down repeatedly by his receiving corps. De’Mornay Pierson-El dropped a potential 47-yard score, JD Spielman had two more drops that could have been scores, Hoppes added another, and Stanley Morgan Jr dropped a ball after he caught it leading to a Wisconsin score when Nebraska desperately need to quell the Badger momentum. The ball off Ozigbo’s helmet may not have been a horrible call had Devine rounded his route and been looking for the ball. He may have even scored on the play, but alas, another miscue. It would also have helped if Morgan would have made any kind of block on Orr as it would have prevented the pick as well. Nebraska is just not good enough to have repeated mistakes and turnovers and get away with it against subpar opponents, let alone a team ranked in the Top Ten.

Stanley Morgan Jr (4 catches for 115 yards) had another game past the century mark aided most by his 80-yard touchdown scamper. Kudos to Tyjon Lindsey for his pancake block on the play that ultimately sprung Morgan. The 115 yard total is a career high for Morgan and his 510 season receiving yards is second only to Johnny Rodgers (1972) in school history by a Husker through the team’s first six games. The 80-yard connection was also the longest pass completed by Lee at Nebraska. JD Spielman (6 catches for 79 yards) had four of his catches for third down conversions. De’Mornay Pierson-El (3 catches for 59 yards) had a 37-yard catch on the first series of the game, but didn’t create enough space for more receptions. As mentioned earlier, the wide receivers were a disappointment in this game and underperformed as a unit.

Devine Ozigbo (23 carries for 112 yards) had his third straight 100-yard rushing day as he was the only running back to see the field with Wilbon and Bryant still ailing. This also marks the first time a Husker back has rushed for 100 yards in three straight games since Ameer Abdullah did it in September of 2014. Ziggy ran hard and was productive in the first half as the line appeared to open holes against the nation’s #4 ranked defense. In fact, this was the first time Wisconsin has allowed a 100-yard rusher since LSU’s Leonard Fournette topped that mark at the beginning of 2016. The Huskers rushed for 101 first half yards but only netted 9 more in the second half. Part of the problem was that the Huskers only had 19 total plays in their four 2nd half possessions compared to 38 plays by the Badgers. The Huskers couldn’t get the ball back and then didn’t do anything with it when they did.

On defense, Aaron Williams (11 tackles) led the team in stops as well as contributing his own 15-yard pick six. This was the second interception for Williams in 2017 and the fifth of his career. Joshua Kalu (10 tackles and 2 pass breakups) returned from injury and made his presence known with many solid stops. Unfortunately, it’s not really a good sign when your leading tacklers are safeties and you are not playing a passing team. Antonio Reed, who had played so well the past few weeks, barely saw the field, and apparently left early with some sort of knee injury. Dedrick Young (10 tackles) and Chris Weber (8 tackles and 2 pass breakups) led the linebacking corps while Luke Gifford (3 tackles) got the only Husker sack. Defensive Back/Safety Marquel Dismuke (9 tackles) had his career best day in tackles, but unfortunately, when the opponent rushes for 353 yards, too many of the tackles were too far from the line of scrimmage. Chris Jones (2 tackles) made his surprising season debut and it was good to get him game experience but he is still knocking the rust off.

Special teams also contributed their share to the mistake fest as there were two penalties on punt returns, a missed field goal, a punt from the 39 that ended up a touchback to name a few. Drew Brown did manage a 32-yard field goal and had two touchbacks on three kickoffs. Caleb Lightbourn averaged 47.4 on five punts including a career long 69-yard field flipper and later added a 57-yarder. The punt was the longest by a Husker since Sam Foltz had a 70-yard punt at Wisconsin in 2014. I think Sam would be proud of his young protege. Lightbourn also placed three of his punts inside the 20-yard line.

The Huskers two game win streak against the worst in the Big Ten didn’t change the fact that this team has significant problems that was so clearly revealed against better competition. Next week against Ohio State could get ugly once again. Hopefully, not 62-3 ugly, but butt ugly anyway. The last two weeks the Buckeyes pummeled Rutgers 56-0 before thrashing Maryland 62-14 today. I’m concerned what this may do to the psyche of the players and the fans. The players face the possibility of losing a coach but hopefully, they can rely on each other and weather the adversity and not lose the season. The fans, on the other hand, may just lose their collective minds. We are halfway through the season and are 3-3. I fantasized that the Huskers would be 5-1 at this point or even undefeated. Delusions appear difficult to treat and reality is a tough taskmaster. As I pen these droppings, it is Sunday afternoon in the Pacific south of Kamchatka, Russia. It’s probably a bit more peaceful here than in Lincoln. Go Big Red!!!

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