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Nebraska-Wisconsin: Tracking the offense, defense

October 8, 2018

Tracking the offense

The game plan

Nebraska wanted no part of running against Wisconsin, at least in the traditional sense. No running back had a carry until the second quarter, and Devine Ozigbo and Maurice Washington combined for two rushes and 9 yards before intermission. NU was content to let true freshman QB Adrian Martinez keep the ball or distribute in spread formations.

The adjustments

Scott Frost and Co. continued to throw, and it produced better second-half results on the strength of Martinez making plays in and out of the pocket. Getting the ball to playmakers in space is a main tenant of Frost’s offense, and NU did so with a variety of swing passes, crossing patterns and deep balls.

Nebraska star

True freshman back Maurice Washington flashed his live-wire abilities as a runner and receiver, but he was outshined by JD Spielman’s historic night. The sophomore busted a 75-yard catch-and-run score in the third quarter and gobbled up green space downfield and in the flat all evening. The second Husker in school history to have consecutive games of 130-plus receiving yards ended with a program-record 209 yards on nine grabs.

Stat of the game

Three: Times in five games — all losses — that NU outgained its opponent. The Huskers nearly won the yardage battle (533-518) again while running four fewer plays.

Final word

Unlike the other units, Nebraska’s offense gave a taste of what it can become. Martinez is growing week by week, as is his chemistry with those around him — Spielman and Washington in particular. Experiences like this will be helpful down the road. While offensive-line infractions remain problematic and NU’s time-of-possession deficit was often unsightly Saturday, an identity for how the Huskers want to attack long term is coming into focus.

Tracking the defense

The game plan

Wisconsin doesn’t change its grind-the-clock approach for anyone, and Nebraska generally did well gumming up the trenches early on. But the pass rush remained MIA, leading to Badger pitches and catches that extended drives. Still, the unit committed one penalty in the first half and held one of the nation’s best red-zone offenses to a pair of field goals thanks to clutch play in the secondary.

The adjustments

Nebraska became the latest Wisconsin foe to wear down under the steady grind of big blockers and running back Jonathan Taylor. It exacerbated the problem with its usual mix of missed tackles and blown assignments, none more obvious than on Taylor’s 88-yard run that put the game on ice early in the fourth quarter.

Nebraska star

Mo Barry and his team-best eight tackles take the honor by default, though Khalil Davis might have put more pressure on Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook than anyone else and recovered a fourth-quarter fumble.

Stat of the game

11:06: The difference in time of possession between Wisconsin and Nebraska. Considering the way the Huskers moved the ball in the second half, UW’s strategy of keeping possession and grinding down the Blackshirts made a big difference.

Final word

The defense again made a decent opposing offense look like an explosive world-beater. What new topics are there to discuss? Penalties weren’t as troublesome this time, but the missed run fits and shoddy tackling seemed the only things more relentless than Wisconsin’s power running game. The complete inability to force turnovers (one in garbage time Saturday) and dried-up pass rush (one sack) are also harbingers of struggles to come.

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