LINCOLN, Neb. — The Nebraska defense knew what to expect from Wisconsin. At least that’s how senior linebacker Chris Weber explained it postgame.
“It was what we expected. It was Wisconsin,” Weber said. “What they do is they’re big up front and they’re going to try to move you and run power and stuff like that. It was what we expected.”
The Huskers knew the Badgers were an old-fashioned power running team. Yet, Nebraska was unable to stop Wisconsin from pounding the ball on the ground over and over Saturday night.
By the end, the Huskers had given up 353 yards on the ground and lost 38-17.
In his postgame comments, coach Mike Riley called Wisconsin big and powerful. The Badgers were also persistent. And that persistence mixed with size and power paid off.
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor ran for 249 yards on 25 attempts. He had 2 touchdowns and averaged 10 yards per carry, thanks in part to a 75-yard touchdown run in the first half.
By the way, Taylor is a freshman.
He was a major problem for Nebraska’s defense Saturday night, but he didn’t act alone. In fact, after safety Aaron Williams’ pick-6 tied the game at 17, Wisconsin answered and answered big.
Of the 30 plays that followed Williams’ pick-6, the Badgers ran the ball 28 times. That added up to 177 yards. Ouch.
So, what happened?
“It looked to me like we lost some spots, when they’re running the power play, we lost some force on the edge. We were getting engulfed, and they were actually making our secondary tackle by bouncing that ball on the corner and forcing, and actually using the wide receiver to block the safety, and a lot of times, forcing the corner to try to have to tackle,” Riley said. “So we probably with our front need to force that edge and hold that a little bit better than we did for sure.”
And as Weber said, Nebraska stopped tackling well in the second half. There were also gap assignment errors and the defense stopped getting off its blocks.
Once again, the Huskers knew what Wisconsin was going to run on them Saturday night. Mirroring Weber’s thoughts, sophomore cornerback Eric Lee Jr. shared what Nebraska had seen and expected.
“Wisconsin in itself is a very disciplined team, so we knew coming into the game that we would have to be on top of our A-game to be sure we do everything we need to do,” Lee said. “Whether that’s filling that gap, making that tackle, we knew what we needed to do to get the job done.”
Despite knowing, the Huskers defense didn’t get it done. In many ways, it goes back to finishing, which became a big theme over the week and Saturday night. Lee can see where the defense may have gone wrong, especially when it comes to finishing a tackle.
“From my vantage point, it’s kind of hard because you just see a lot of linemen moving every which way,” Lee said. “I think the big thing is just staying disciplined and they ran a lot of outside zone kind of stuff. We just have to make sure we fill those gaps and tackle at first contact.”
Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco wasn’t ready to get too specific about what he saw Saturday night, but he’s eager to watch the film. From there, he plans to coach his players up based on what he saw.
Chances are, he’ll see a team that struggled to stop the run. And now the question will be how Diaco and his group prevent that going forward, especially when they know what they’re coming up against.