No matter who was under center, the play at quarterback was sporadic and mostly poor. Alex Hornibrook did deliver a 30-yard pass to Troy Fumagalli but take that play away and his numbers were porous (9-for-15 for 41 yards and a touchdown without it). He also made a critical fourth-quarter interception to Nathan Gerry by airmailing his target, breaking a string of five straight completions.
Bart Houston was not much better. Getting more series (five) than he did the week before against Iowa (two), Houston finished 4-for-7 for 43 yards (his best throws were a 12-yard timing route to Jazz Peavy for a first down and a 16-yard pass to Rob Wheelwright on the next play) but he threw an even worse interception to Gerry than Hornibrook’s. The series after Hornibrook was picked, Houston rolled to his left and threw across his body into double coverage. Considering it happened on second-and-8, Houston had to throw the ball away.
I have a hard time giving a position a failing grade in a win, but this one was close. Hornibrook saves it by going 2-for-2 with his third-down pass attempts coming out of the locker room, including his 9-yard touchdown pass to Wheelwright under pressure.
Is UW better off sticking with one guy?
Dare Ogunbowale had only three carries for 22 yards in the first half, but a 14-yard carry on third down in the shadow of his goal line late in the first half got him going. Ogunbowale had runs of 17 and 15 yards to open the second half (including a 15-yard carry on third-and-7 at the Nebraska 32). His 39-yard run put UW in position to add insurance (although an interception negated that) and his 11-yard touchdown run in overtime – the game-winner – was a senior being patient to let his linemen set up the blocks.
Ogunbowale finished with a season-high 120 yards and averaged 10.9 yards per carry.
“This is a game you want to leave your stamp on,” Ogunbowale said. “We talk about that all the time. For us to be able to leave our stamp on a game like this for this season is big for us.”
After back-to-back 100-yard performances, Nebraska was determined to not let Corey Clement beat them, stacking the box on a number of occasions when he was lined up in the I-formation. His first 14 carries went for just 27 yards but his 41-yard run on the first play following Nebraska tying the game was big – even if UW couldn’t deliver the winning field goal. The highlight of the run was a nasty stiff arm to Gerry that gave him 28 more yards. Bouncing a second-and-5 run to the outside for seven yards and a first down in overtime was equally huge on an 82-yard rushing day.
Bradrick Shaw’s vision to cut back into the running lane on the touchdown run was a combination of vision, speed and agility. He still needs to learn more of the playbook, but it’s a play like that which shows you how special he can be. He had only one more carry after that for two yards but it picked up a first down on second-and-short.
Austin Ramesh had to leave the game with a leg injury, but his seal block on the Sam linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey was textbook, allowing Shaw to scamper into the end zone. Alec Ingold filled in during the second half, but didn’t appear to deliver the same kind of pop.
Wisconsin made sure to get Wheelwright heavily involved coming out of the locker room and the senior delivered on UW’s 13-play, 73-yard drive that chewed 6 minutes, 43 seconds off the clock. Starting with a bubble screen for six yards, Wheelwright caught three more targets on the drive for 21 yards and his first touchdown of the season. He finished with five catches for 43.
After he wasn’t strong enough with a catch on his first target, resulting in a punt, Fumagalli caught his next four attempts, including the big 30 yarder and a 9-yard catch on third-and-2 when he faked outside and cut across the middle in front of the safety. That catch helped add on a field goal. Fumagalli turned those four catches into a team-high 48 yards.
Eric Steffes’ second-down whiff on a pass from UW’s own end zone could have been costly but UW picked up the necessary yardage on the next play. He made up for it with his block that helped spring Clement for 41 yards in the fourth quarter. Wheelwright also delivered a block that was key.
On Wisconsin’s best throw of the game, a 30-yard completion from Hornibrook to Fumagalli, the line’s protection was so good it allowed the quarterback to take five crow hops forward to muster enough on the attempt to drop it over the receiver and into the tight end’s arms. What made the play really impressive was Fumagalli got hung up running through the traffic in the middle of the field, meaning the line had to hold their blocks for a couple beats longer.
Ryan Ramczyk and Jon Dietzen delivered a perfect running lane for Shaw to scamper through for the score. Dietzen sealed his player to the outside while Ramczyk slid inside Dietzen to pancake the linebacker.
Ramczyk also combined with center Michael Deiter on Ogunbowale’s game-winning touchdown – Deiter pull blocking and smashing the safety and Ramczyk locking up the linebacker. Text book from two guys who will be playing on Sundays sooner rather than later.
Wisconsin didn’t do nearly as many rotations as the week before, although Micah Kapoi rotated in at right guard on the fifth drive and worked at left guard on the first drive of the fourth quarter. Beau Benzschawel has struggled but his lead blocking on Ogunbowale’s 15-yard carry kept the chains moving on UW’s only second-half touchdown.
On Ogunbowale’s 39-yard run, Benzschawel perfectly sealed his defender to the outside and Dietzen did the same with his player. Deiter released to the linebacker and Ogunbowale had a huge running lane, made bigger when he cut to the outside, using receiver George Rushing and the official as a blocker.
“The way he can make people miss, when he gets out in space he’s pretty lethal,” Deiter said of Ogunbowale. “He’s quick side-to-side, makes quick decisions when he has to and it shows.”
Nebraska had two sacks and both came on the final drive of the first half - when Dietzen lost leverage and caused Houston to side step into a sack and the second when Carlos Davis pushed Dietzen back into Houston’s facemask. Other than that, UW’s offensive line didn’t give up a QB hurry.
Although he gave up a few pressures, David Edwards did nothing in his first career start at right tackle that warranted his name being called out. That means he had a good day.
“Throughout the entire huddle, guys had that look that said we’re going to go out and get this done,” Ramczyk said.
Chikwe Obasih had his way with David Knevel (we’ll hear more about him later), delivering five tackles and a pass breakup that forced a third-and-8.
Alec James started to rush the left side of the line before dropping back into coverage as a Tommy Armstrong spy. The result was him getting his hands on a pass attempt, deflecting it high into the air and into D’Cota Dixon’s arms. There are few players on UW’s roster playing better than him right now.
Once again, an opposing team had nowhere to run against Wisconsin’s front, and the Badgers’ line did a good not allowing the nimble Armstrong to break a run longer than 10 yards.
Nebraska’s longest carry was only 19 yards.
The first series of the game was foreshadowing of how Ryan Connelly’s day was going to go. On a third-and-5, Connelly read the play perfectly, got his arms up and registered one of his two pass breakups. His 11 tackles were big but his two biggest ones came in crunch time.
In the fourth quarter he chased down Nebraska receiver Jordan Westerkamp for a 1-yard loss on a reverse. That put the Huskers behind the chains and with Armstrong struggling throwing the football, made Nebraska settle for three.
In overtime Connelly shot the middle gap and tackled tailback Terrell Newby for minus-1 yard, setting up a third-and-8.
The play after Obasih’s pass breakup, Vince Biegel (5 tackles) flattened Knevel – a former Wisconsin recruiting target – and flushed Armstrong was from the pocket, resulting in a harmless scramble.
Leon Jacobs rotated in and finished with 11 tackles, which must feel like vindication for him after a toe injury cost him his starting linebacker role a year ago.
“Coming in, we knew Armstrong was an explosive player and could run,” Jacobs said. “(Make him throw) was the game plan for the most part and we did our job.”
T.J. Watt (3 tackles) did the same on left tackle Nick Gates, getting the better of him a handful of times that caused Armstrong to scramble out of the pocket and make throws on the run (not close to his strength). Knevel was also no match for him.
And to rub salt in Knevel’s wounds, Garret Dooley (seven tackles) caught Knevel flat footed on a speed rush and took down Armstrong for an 8-yard sack at the Nebraska 42. That caused the Huskers to just sit on the ball to end the half.
Some points are taken off for Nebraska going 9-for-18 on third down (a season-high against a UW opponent), but those plays were more well designed than poor execution on UW.
There are so many positive plays to list here for this group, especially by the starting cornerbacks. Derrick Tindal was matched up in one-on-one coverage multiple times with Westerkamp and delivered great coverage, including a pass breakup inside the 10-yard line when he had batted away a pass with his right hand. He did the same thing on drive later with the same hand on backup tight end Trey Foster, who played the pass poorly. Tindal also got better at playing the edge to prevent Armstrong from turning big runs up field.
Sojourn Shelton missed a critical tackle on Westerkamp that cost UW 20 yards down to the Nebraska 5, setting up the Huskers’ first touchdown, but the senior made a big interception at the UW 9. Instead of playing the receiver Alonzo Moore, Shelton read the eyes of Armstrong, allowing him not to bite on Moore’s double move and be in perfect positioning to make a play on the ball. In reality, Shelton was in better position to make the play than Moore. Shelton held Moore without a catch, delivering a PBU on him on a second-and-8 in the second quarter, too.
In addition to his interception, Dixon (3 tackles) perfectly played the final play of the game by reading the quarterback, covering a lot of ground in cover 2 and hitting his landmark. Dixon should be an All-Big Ten player.
Senior Leo Musso chipped in with six tackles and Joe Ferguson added three, making the safety spot an area of strength.
Anthony Lotti’s first punt was a beauty, a season-long 49-yard punt that flipped field position from the Wisconsin 35 to the Nebraska 29. His punts went down the rest of the game (47, 39, 36, 25), but the first two kicks have to be a huge for his confidence boost. Even so, UW put in P.J. Rosowksi for a fourth quarter punt (34 yards) after Lotti miss hit the 25-yard punt.
Clement made two players miss on his first punt return of the game, resulting in a 24-yard gain to the Wisconsin 49. It doubled Wisconsin’s previous long return of the season.
Wisconsin coverage units were decent (70 yards on six returns), but Ogunbowale started his dive too soon on a punt return by De’Mornay Pierson-El, allowing the junior to side step out of the way for a 15-yard return.
Andrew Endicott’s recent struggles are troubling, as the senior has missed three of his last five field goal attempts and an extra point in overtime. His missed 45-yard kick that would have won UW the game had terrible rotation and his missed extra point was just shanked.
Wisconsin going play action to start its third series was a great call. Nebraska had eight players in the box, including will linebacker Dedrick Young. Young came in to stop the run, allowing Fumagalli to get open after going across the middle and running a go route down the hash marks.
Chryst also showed some cojones by calling an Ogunbowale run play on third-and-10 from his own 3. It was that play – out of a three WR set – that convinced Chryst to run it more in the second half and it yielded big results.
Wisconsin’s defense had 10 pass breakups, a lot of those coming at the line of scrimmage by getting their hands up to affect the passing lane of a smaller quarterback. That’s great film study by the defensive staff.
A banged-up Wisconsin committed only one penalty for five yards. No matter who is in the game, Wisconsin’s coaching staff has them well prepared.
Is Chryst playing with fire by using two quarterbacks and is Hornibrook looking over his shoulder now after Houston took the final three series? We’ll see