MADISON, Wis. — An overtime battle between Wisconsin (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten Conference) and Nebraska (7-1, 4-1) ended in the Badgers’ favor Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium, 23-17.
RB Dare Ogunbowale scored on a short third-down run on the Badgers’ first overtime possession, then the defense sealed the win with a stop.
Four things we learned
- The Badgers have a quarterback problem: And not the good kind where they have two fantastic options and are just as well off with either. Coach Paul Chryst is forced to flip-flop between redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook and senior Bart Houston because neither seems able to string together a complete game. Both showed moments of greatness against Nebraska — Houston, on a few third-down conversions, and Hornibrook, when he escaped pressure and hit Rob Wheelwright on a perfect touchdown toss — but that’s all they were. Moments. The rest of the game for both consisted of incomplete passes and a few interceptions.
- They also have a punting problem: It wasn’t as noticeable before this game, but when four of seven drives in the first half don’t make it past three downs, freshman P Anthony Lotti’s leg was on full display. In its seven games before Nebraska, Wisconsin averaged just 36.4 yards per punt, about six yards fewer than its opponents. Against Nebraska, Lotti had to kick it away five times in the first half alone, and floated around 39 yards per attempt — each was met with a collective groan from the Camp Randall crowd.
- The freaks don’t come out at night, apparently: On Halloween weekend, you’d think they would, too. Seemingly, there is no such thing as too much tailgating in Wisconsin considering students had all day and still didn’t fill their part of the bowl until the start of the second quarter. They came dressed to impress, though. Everyone from Harambe to Scooby Doo made an appearance.
- A familiar pace of play resurfaces: The Badgers’ run game appears to be back to its explosive ways, or at least the closest it has been all season. The running back corps has steadily increased production on the ground, but only recently have we seen the big breakout runs Wisconsin likes so much. Against Nebraska, those came from Ogunbowale. He averaged just under 10 yards per carry and led a great march up the field that ended in a touchdown to start the second half.
Any of Ogunbowale’s carries. They were stellar and came at crucial times. They didn’t always result in a score, but based on crowd reactions, his carries were about the only thing giving life to the Badgers.
What do the linebackers look like without Jack Cichy? Fine. His replacements, Ryan Connelly and Leon Jacobs, were called on early and often against the Cornhuskers. Neither has seen consistent playing time this season, but they led the defense in tackles. The defense was overpowered noticeably at times and Husker QB Tommy Armstrong looked entirely too comfortable.
Is a two-quarterback system viable long term? It didn’t appear successful against Nebraska. We learned from the Gary Andersen era that it tends to cause more problems than it solves.
The Badgers got stopped on third down on four of their seven first-half possessions. We saw in the second half that the offense can do some big things, especially with Ogunbowale, but he could have used more opportunities in the first half. The game might have ended differently had that been the case.
What it means
A lot still needs to happen if Wisconsin is going to make it back to Indianapolis, but beating Nebraska was arguably its biggest remaining hurdle. The Badgers will have to win out against Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota. It needs the Huskers to drop one of their remaining matchups — Nov. 5 against Ohio State might be the best shot for that.