MADISON – The Wisconsin Badgers moved to 4-1 on the season with a 41-24 victory over Nebraska on Saturday night at Camp Randall. Here’s how each unit for Wisconsin graded out.
Offense – B+
The Badgers racked up a ton of yards on the ground and we finally saw running back Jonathan Taylor break a long run. His 88-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter was his longest of the season and one that the Badgers needed to see. Taylor hasn’t shown the ability to break this type of run for much of the 2018 season and this was definitely a welcome sight.
He wasn’t the only one that saw success in the backfield, although his stat line of 221 yards on 24 carries and three scores was the most impressive. Both Taiwan Deal and Garrett Groshek had good nights running the ball, too. Deal finished with 74 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown, while Groshek had 73 yards on nine carries and a lost fumble.
Through the air, quarterback Alex Hornibrook was solid – as he has been for much of the year for Wisconsin. Hornibrook finished 13-of-24 for 163 yards and a touchdown. The big thing he seems to have cleaned up this season is the turnover issue. He’s only thrown two interceptions half way through this season. Through five games last year he had thrown four of his 15 picks.
His ball placement wasn’t terrific throughout the night, as he placed the ball behind his receivers on a couple different instances. Nothing to write home about for the signal-caller, but enough to get the job done, nonetheless.
Tight end Jake Ferguson looks to be comfortable in this offense as a pass catcher and someone that Hornibrook can rely on. He had the lone receiving touchdown on the day as part of a 4-catch, 47-yard performance.
Defense – D+
The numbers don’t tell the entire story for the Badgers, but it wasn’t pretty on this side of the ball. The Cornhuskers totaled 518 yards of total offense on the night, which is by far the most Wisconsin has allowed this season. That number is one far too large for Jim Leonhard’s unit, especially when 407 of those yards are through the air.
Wisconsin did an OK job containing the ground game of Nebraska, as quarterback Adrian Martinez was the only one who did any damage of note that way. It was the beat-up secondary that struggled.
It was a tough task for Wisconsin to shut down Nebraska wide receiver JD Spielman who finished with nine grabs for 209 yards and a touchdown. Morgan Stanley also had a big day with 93 yards on eight catches.
Things won’t be getting any easier for the Badgers moving forward as they’ll have to deal with Shea Patterson and Michigan next weekend and the secondary has serious questions. Both Deron Harrell and D’Cota Dixon left with injuries against Nebraska and Scott Nelson was ejected.
Harrell left due to a head injury, Dixon hurt his knee, and Nelson was ejected for targeting in the second half, which means he will not be eligible for the first half of the game against the Wolverines.
Special Teams – A-
Aron Cruickshank almost broke a kickoff return but was tripped up by the kicker, and advanced the ball out past the 25-yard line three times on returns. That’s something that has been missing from that unit so far. There have been times where it has been easy to criticize Cruickshank’s decision making on returns, but tonight wasn’t one of them.
Rafael Gaglianone was perfect on the night, which is far from surprising. He even tied the Wisconsin career record for field goals with Todd Gregoire.
Coaching – C+
Wisconsin needs to figure out a way to fix the problems that are occurring in the secondary, and fast. If an effort like this from those positions repeats next week against Michigan the Badgers are going to be in quite a bit of trouble.
This definitely was the bright spot of the season as far as an offensive performance, with the exception of punting from Nebraska’s 35-yard line in the first half.