I wrote an individual story on Joel Stave’s day, which can be found here. All that I need to say is that UW fans should be glad to have him.
The first 30 minutes started to look like the previous 60 for Wisconsin. Bottled up front with nowhere to go, the Badgers had only 45 yards at halftime. Worse yet, Wisconsin was down a second tailback, as leading rusher Taiwan Deal lasted only four carries before exiting with a right ankle injury.
But while the yards were hard to come by, Dare Ogunbowale knew the production was within reach.
“We knew it was a bunch of one moves in the first half,” he said. “One more block here, one more block there, one more read from us, one more cut. We finally all got on the same page and we got some good plays opening.”
They were necessarily big plays in the second half, although Ogunbowale had a 32-yard carry that set up a field goal, but the runs were efficient and wore down the defense. Averaging 3.1 yards per carry through the first three quarters, Wisconsin averaged 5.0 in the fourth quarter, which in turn opened up things in the passing game when Nebraska started stacking the box
UW rushed for 89 of its 147 rushing yards in the final 15 minutes. Finishing with a career-high 117 yards, Ogunbowale ran for 83 yards in the fourth quarter, averaging 6.9 yards on those 12 carries.
“We were getting back to the huddle and we feel like we’re wearing them down,” said Ogunbowale. “That was big for us and gave us confidence.”
Alec Ingold’s stat line doesn’t jump off the page (8 carries, 14 yards, one TD) but were vital carries that helped take some the brunt off of Ogunbowale’s shoulders. He’s the epitome of a team player.
Ogunbowale did leave some yards on the field, trying to cut to go north and south instead of east and west, critical yards that matter in tight games. Wisconsin still needs Corey Clement in the backfield. Thanks to the performance of the running game down the stretch, the Badgers still have meaningful games for him if/when he returns.
The stats crew doesn’t count receivers drops, good thing for Wisconsin’s pass catchers. The Badgers had close to 10 drop passes and failed to win a lot of 50/50 passes, allowing Nebraska’s defense to finish with 12 pass breakups.
Tight end Troy Fumagalli didn’t use rust as an excuse, especially after missing multiple nonconference games and having his left hand wrapped, but the sophomore tight end is being thrust into a bigger role now with senior Austin Traylor being shelved for at least the next month. His six catches for 60 yards all felt like they came at critical junctures, the two biggest being his 7-yard touchdown catch on third-and-goal in the second quarter and his 23-yard grab on the final drive to get UW to the Nebraska 28.
“I still think I need to improve on some things,” said Fumagalli. “Trying to get in a rhythm of playing more. It’s definitely not easy, but I’m definitely starting to get adjusted to it.”
Senior Alex Erickson, UW’s No.1 weapon, passed the concussion protocol on Thursday and played a critical role with seven catches for 113 yards. He also had a key downfield block that sparked Ogunbowale’s 32-yard run.
"I thought (having Erickson) was big; he's a really good football player and it was good having him back,” said head coach Paul Chryst. “I know that Joel trusts him and you like playing with as many of your guys as you can.”
The perceived No.2 receiver – Rob Wheelwright – had his fair share of drops, but his 30-yard catch along the sideline was the biggest of his five for 81 yards. Initially ruled incomplete before a video review, UW would have been punting into the wind from five-yard deep in its own end zone had he not got his foot down.
Jazz Peavy continues to make great strides in his game. Not only did he have four catches for 44 yards (2 for 21 in the fourth quarter), he drew a critical pass interference call on a third-and-11. UW went ahead 17-14 on the drive. UW also got some nice contributions from tight end Eric Steffes, who looked good in the both run and pass blocking.
UW’s success running the football late opened up some things over the middle of the field and in one-on-one coverage, especially after the Huskers' defense was getting worn down. UW missed a lot of chances but made the big catches when they really counted.
“The way you respond is more important than what happened in the past,” said Erickson
The rotating carousel on the offensive line continues to circle, but the play of the group in the final quarter could be a sign that the ride is about to come to an end. The Badgers debuted their fourth combination of starters in six games when redshirt freshman Beau Benzschawel made his UW debut with his first career start and held up well.
Benzschawel had missed Wisconsin's first five games because of a knee injury suffered in camp but became the fourth redshirt freshman to start a game on the line this season, not to mention the third different starter at right tackle (Hayden Biegel missed his second straight game and Jacob Maxwell, Biegel’s replacement, didn’t make the trip).
Wisconsin struggled with Nebraska’s physicality up front in the first half, routinely seeing the Huskers’ defensive linemen win their matchups. In one instance on the goal line, Vincent Valentine simply out muscled left guard Michael Deiter, flattening him for the sack on Stave. That was the Huskers' only sack, but the UW offensive line allowed seven quarterback hurries, as the Huskers’ blitz schemes played havoc on UW’s protection.
But as Nebraska started cramping up in the fourth quarter, UW – as they have done so many times against the Huskers – starting wearing down the defense with continuous punches to the mouth. The end result was the Badgers ran 84 plays – 19 more than Nebraska – and needed every one of them.
This group is still a work in progress but the way they played down the stretch should make the group feel good about their direction.
Nebraska’s spread offense was not ideal for the Badgers’ front to generate mountains of pressure on Tommy Armstrong and company, constantly moving the pocket for the mobile Armstrong. In fact, UW finished with no sacks, only two tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries. Stats are sometimes misleading, like Nebraska rushing for 196 yards on the ground.
Save for a 55-yard by fullback Andy Janovich off of two missed tackles by UW’s secondary, the Badgers didn’t give up much. Take away Janovich’s run and the Huskers had no carries over 16 yards. UW held Terrell Newby in check (15 for 59) and didn’t allow Armstrong to beat them on the ground, either, holding their gaps and lanes and limiting him to 50 yards on eight carries.
He did notch a rushing touchdown in the second quarter but it appeared Chikwe Obasih might have been restrained in a less than legal matter. It didn’t matter in the end.
"I think guys just kept playing and that was the story of the game,” said Chryst. “There was a ton of momentum shifts and we just had to keep playing and that's what I thought the guys did. That you appreciate."
Nose tackle Olive Sagapolu and defensive end Arthur Goldberg (four tackles each) provided a formidable unit up front that limited the Huskers, minus the 55-yard run, to 4.2 yards per play and 3.9 yards per rush
As stated above, the opportunities for backfield pressures were limited against Nebraska, as well as plays up the middle. Nebraska routinely tried to hit the edges against Wisconsin, something ideal considering the one-punch at outside linebacker for the Badgers. Vince Biegel had six tackles (two for loss) and Joe Schobert had a quieter day with four tackles (one for loss), but the Badgers saw ILB T.J. Edwards continue his stretch of solid play. He finished with a team-high nine tackles.
Nebraska went 8-for-18 on third down but the plays came in bunches. Armstrong went 4-for-4 on the Huskers’ first scoring drive (two throws against linebackers) and had a 16-yard scramble on third-and-15 where containment was lost, setting up Janovich’s run.
Other than that, the damage inflicted by NU’s offense was minimal, as UW held Nebraska to 3 of 9 on third down in the second half
Senior captain Michael Caputo was blunt after the game, saying the Badgers could not have afforded another loss and still accomplish their long-term season goals. A loss would have dropped UW to two games behind Iowa in the standings (three including the tie break) with six to play.
That’s why Caputo was blaming himself for missing the tackle on Janovich as UW’s last line of defense, and why he was anxious to get back on the field following Rafael Gaglianone’s 39-yard miss, knowing a first down for the Huskers would have clinched the game.
“We keep it poised as a D,” said Caputo. “It gives us our edge a little bit to give the ball back to our offense.”
Caputo wasn’t the only player to miss on Janovich. D’Cota Dixon had him wrapped up near the line of scrimmage but couldn’t bring him down. When UW needed three stops, Dixon – due to indecision on the sideline – ran on the field seconds before the snap and made a tackle for no gain on second-and-7.
“D’Cota loves to stick his face in there and hit people,” said Schobert. “He was at the point of attack, he was able to make a better play in that situation and just to see him come back and make a play like that shows what kind of football player he is.”
Much like he was running the ball, Armstrong was ineffective passing, finishing 11 of 28 for 129 yards. Forty-one of those yards went to receiver Alonzo Moore, who made a terrific catch over junior cornerback Sojourn Shelton, who was flagged for pass interference, for the touchdown.
Other than that, Nebraska had one other pass longer than 12 yards and none longer than 20, averaging 8.8 yards on those 10 completions.
“I think for the most part we executed the game plan,” said senior cornerback Darius Hillary. “There were some things that we had to make adjustments to at halftime, but for the most part the back end did the job.”
Safety Tanner McEvoy and cornerback Derrick Tindal were both aggressive, finishing with two pass breakups, but both missed chances. McEvoy missed an interception after under cutting the receiver (Nebraska later scored a touchdown on the drive) and Tindal was flagged for pass interference.
It’s becoming harder and harder to find things to complain about with this group.
After Rafael Gaglianone missed a 43-yard kick in the first quarter, the fourth straight game he’s missed at least one try, Chryst apparently told him that, “all that matters it the next one.”
When he lined up for the game-winning 46-yard kick, 82 game seconds after his 39-yard try clunked off the right uprights, Stave said it was like a golfer attempting a putt.
"They hit their putt once and if they miss it, they're going to make it the second time," Stave said. "They've got the line, they've got the read."
Gaglianone had it, making him feel a lot better about a performance that saw him make three of his five field goal attempts, all from between 42 and 46 yards, and hitting the big one when it mattered most.
“It’s like Ray Allen in the corner,” said Ogunbowale, “he misses the first one, he’s not going to miss the next one.”
Gaglianone has not enjoyed the same type of consistency he had last season, a year in which he ended the season making 14 consecutive field goals. He’s had plenty of distance but his ability to judge some windy conditions of late has caused him to struggle with his accuracy. When he felt the wind altered his 39-yard try, he made a slight adjustment from the same right hash that allowed him to tuck the winner just inside the upright.
“I was hoping that wind wouldn’t push it too much,” said Gaglianone, who slightly adjusted his target point. “When I saw that it didn’t, I was like, ‘OK, we’re good.’”
Punter Drew Meyer struggled with the windy conditions – kicking it too far with the wind at his back (two touchbacks) and too high with the wind in his face (a 12-yard punt following massive backspin). To his credit, his next punt into the wind after the 12-yard miscue went 53 yards and was downed at the Nebraska 1. The Huskers didn’t return any of his six punts.
Andrew Endicott booted half of his kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, although he did pull one of bounds. Former UW signee Jordan Stevenson played his first collegiate game strictly as a returner but was held to one 14-yard return.
UW’s coverage units continue to shine, although the Badgers only managed a combined 20 yards on four punt and kick return.