Game Day Grades: Nebraska

MADISON – When it comes to the national stage, No.4 Wisconsin has relished the opportunity. In two nationally-televised games, Wisconsin has scored 99 points and racked up 985 yards of total offense while allowed only 34 points. With a week off to soak in the 48-17 dismantling of Nebraska, Badger Nation publisher Benjamin Worgull hands out the grades.


Look at Russell Wilson's completion percentage and the numbers don't really stand out, as the senior quarterback finished only 14 of 20. It's what he did with those 14 completions that make the Wisconsin signal caller one of the early Heisman favorites.

Wilson was again spectacular in his efforts against his toughest challenge yet, throwing for 255 yards and two scores and confounding the Nebraska defense.

"It was a great experience playing here in Camp Randall with these guys," Wilson said. "It was an awesome experience and a blessing and come out with a great win."

Wilson's intuitiveness was on display from the first play from scrimmage, sidestepping a blitz from stud Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick and completing a pass to Jared Abbrederis for 21 yards. It was a sign of things to come, as Wilson's play-action allowed him to hit a wide-open Abbrederis for a 36-yard touchdown and hit Nick Toon in stride for a 46-yard touchdown on the next drive with 32 seconds left in the half.

After weeks of being content throwing the ball, Wilson took off a few more times this week and the results were laughable. He did a pivot move on linebacker Sean Fisher that figuratively broke his ankles and he stiff armed P.J. Smith on a 10-yard waltz to the end zone, as he finished with 32 rushing yards and the score.

"If there is a better player in college football right now, I would like to see it," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "The big stage, he thrives on it. He played so clean."

Bielema alluded to a play in the fourth quarter with Wilson and the offense looking to milk the clock. On third-and-9 and no receivers open downfield, Wilson scrambled to his left looking to buy time and when nothing was open, he simply slid on the turf, staying inbounds and keeping the clock moving. His karma was rewarded, as Nebraska was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul penalty at a first down for Wisconsin.

That's something most quarterbacks just don't do.

Grade: A

Running Backs

In the days leading up to the game, word got to Montee Ball that the newest team in the Big Ten was talking a little bit of trash.

"A couple of players said, ‘We're Nebraska! They've got to play us! Are they ready to play us?'" Ball said. "I want to thank them for saying that."

Nebraska's big mouths led Ball to have a big game with a career-high 30 times for 151 yards (100 of which came in the second half alone) and four touchdowns. More importantly, he didn't lose a yard on any one of his carries.

"I really felt like I haven't shown what I am capable of doing (up to Saturday), and I am really glad I was able to against a great opponent," Ball said.

Since re-emerging against Iowa a season ago, Ball has scored 29 touchdowns and shows no sign of slowing down.

"He just smells that end zone and he cannot be denied," Bielema said. "His last three scores were unbelievable."

Ball has rushed for 511 yards on 93 carries through five games this season, and he ran harder Saturday than he did all season. Ball has emerged as Wisconsin's No.1 running back, as sophomore James White carried the ball just 11 times for 26 yards (a 2.4 yards per carry average). When you've got the hot hand, you've got to stick with it.

Grade: A

Wide Receivers

Abbrederis' night couldn't have started any worse, fumbling his first punt return after a 21-yard gain to give Nebraska prime field position that the Cornhuskers turned into points. As Bielema always likes to say, "it's not how you start, but how you" finish and Abbrederis finished with a bang.

Abbrederis finished with five catches for 95 yards and a 36-yard touchdown grab that gave Wisconsin the lead for good.

"I was waiting to get back out there and get back to playing so I could forget about that (fumble)," Abbrederis said. "I was hoping the defense would get a stop for me, but they played a great game the rest of the way."

Toon (who passed his father on UW's all-time career receptions mark) finished with four catches for 94 yards and a score and Jacob Pedersen was flanked all night by the defense but managed three catches for 49 yards.

Grade: B+

Offensive Line

Sophomore Travis Frederick got a firsthand look of how good Nebraska All-American Jared Crick was. After missing last week's game with a head injury, Crick was the difference maker early. He stopped Ball for no gain on first down, broke through Frederick on third down and almost registered a sack and caused more commotion on the next third down, allowing linebacker Lavonte David to come untouched for a blitz.

"He's a very, very talented player," Frederick said. "I had a good opportunity to be able to go against him. It was an exciting game and good experience for me."

It was good experience for Crick, too, as the senior never really figured out the Wisconsin's offensive line after that. Crick was a virtual non-factor against the Frederick and the Badgers from that point forward, finishing with only five tackles.

Wilson was sacked only twice by the ‘legendary' Blackshirts and avoided pressure when it came. Without question, Wisconsin's offensive line wore the Huskers down in the second half and saw its running backs run for 170 yards in the last 30 minutes.

Just like in past years, Wisconsin is a balanced unit, rushing for 231 yards and passing for 255 yards.

"It's been really good for us because the running game hasn't been really good for us, but opposing teams are screwing down, trying to get us to not be able to run the ball," Frederick said. "For us to be able to throw the ball and open them up a little bit, it really helps the running game and gets James and Montee some good carries."

Grade: A

Defensive Line

Faced with the challenging test of stopping Nebraska's one-two rushing punch of quarterback Taylor Martinez and running back Rex Burkhead, the Wisconsin defensive line was put on its heels early, as the Cornhuskers ran for 55 yards in the first quarter, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. It got a lot harder after that.

Martinez (105.2 rushing yards per game) and Burkhead (105) were stymied by Wisconsin's defense, as the Badgers held Martinez to just 68 yards on the ground and 77 of Burkhead's 98 yards came on his team's final two meaningless possessions.

"(Saturday), I think we definitely got better against a very prolific offense," senior defensive tackle Patrick Butrym said. "These guys have the ability to make big plays at any time in the game. I think we definitely got better."

They also had the last laugh, too. With Wisconsin up 31 points and the clock under a half minute, Nebraska tried one more time to make the game respectable. One second and goal from the 1, Martinez tried to rush the ball into the end zone but was met by linebacker Mike Taylor and defensive tackle Ethan Hemer. Rather than call his final timeout and try one more, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini simply gave up.

"We've had issues all year," defensive coordinator Carl Pelini said, "and they did a nice job of exposing those issues."

There was concern going into the weekend with the loss of junior defensive end David Gilbert – who will be out 4-to-6 weeks – how junior Brendan Kelly would perform after taking his spot in the lineup. Kelly responded with his first career sack, and should provide some protection as Gilbert gets healthy.

Grade: A


Sophomore Chris Borland dominates the headlines among the Wisconsin linebackers, but junior Mike Taylor is making a push for the leading role. Taylor finished with a career-high 14 tackles, added a tackle for loss and intercepted a pass in the second quarter. Wisconsin scored on the ensuing possession to take a lead it would not relinquish.

"If we could make (Martinez) throw it, we knew we'd do all right," Taylor said. "We knew he's fast, but we've played quarterbacks like him. We knew what to expect … As a defense, we just ran to the ball, which helped a lot."

With Borland (8 tackles) and senior Kevin Claxton (3 tackles) marking Martinez throughout the game, the Badgers made the quarterback one dimensional, as his 20 carries for 61 yards (a 3.05 ypc average). His carries were a season high, his yards per carry were a season low and as a result, Nebraska's 42.8 points per game offense was held to just 17.

"Kevin just flew around back there," Taylor said. "They key was the whole defense was flying around."

Grade: A


With Martinez's subpar passing numbers, Wisconsin knew that if they could get in his face early that Martinez would give them opportunities for turnovers. The plan worked to perfection. Martinez was sacked twice, hurried twice, hit often and gave the Badgers three interceptions, including two on the final two drives of the first half and one by Aaron Henry.

That allowed the offense to score two touchdowns in the final 2 minutes, 3 seconds of the first half. Wisconsin's secondary kept the pedal to the metal in the second half when Antonio Fenelus picked off Martinez's first throw and watching as the offense convert that into seven points.

In a span of 6:04 in game time, the Badgers turned a 14-13 deficit into a 34-14 lead because of those three poorly thrown interceptions.

"The game is all about momentum," Bielema said. "When you have it, you have to keep it. When you don't have it, you have to try and get it back. Our guys really answered the bell with those two interceptions."

The Badgers need the bye week, especially when Josh Peprah was forced into action when Dezmen Southward (who was starting in place of Shelton Johnson) got dinged up and needed some time on the sideline and the Badgers couldn't use senior walk-on Adam Hampton, who popped his hamstring earlier in the week according to Bielema. A sure sign of depth, Peprah played pretty well in his first real time on the field.

The Huskers held the yardage and momentum edge early, when Martinez completed long passes for 29, 28 and 26 yards. In the second half, Nebraska had just 112 yards on 24 plays, and 60 of those yards came on the final drive when Martinez was stuffed at the goal line.

Grade: A

Special Teams

The only area of concern from the Badgers Saturday was the special teams. Wisconsin got senior kicker Philip Welch back in the lineup after missing the first four games with a right quadriceps injury, but the Badgers failed to fully execute on the second extra point attempt. The result was Crick blocking the extra point and Nebraska returning deep into Wisconsin territory.

"I don't know I was going to kick until Wednesday and I didn't know I was starting until about 30 minutes before the game," said Welch. "All I could do was smile. I was really happy to be back."

Abbrederis' fumble on his first punt return set up Nebraska's first touchdown and Alec Lerner averaged just 59.6 yards on his kickoffs. These are moot points, but things that need to improve before the Badgers go on the road.

Grade: C

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