A lot of people expected the Nebraska Cornhuskers to flame out against the Wisconsin Badgers on Saturday night. What folks didn’t anticipate, though, was the lackluster, unemotional way in which the road team would go down. To say that they went out with a whimper would be giving them too much credit.
As the Huskers fell to the Badgers in that embarrassing 48-17 massacre, a number of the team’s glaring holes that went unnoticed against the likes of the Chattanooga Mocs and Fresno State Bulldogs bubbled to the forefront. Stopping Russell Wilson from systematically destroying your defense, apparently, is a little tougher than keeping Wyoming Cowboys passer Brett Smith at bay.
Nevertheless, even in defeat their valuable lessons to be learned – and Huskers have a ton of lessons that they can take away from this one. Here are the three most important things learned from Nebraska vs. Wisconsin:
Taylor Martinez will never lead you to a national championship. The Nebraska quarterback is so ridiculously likeable, so easy to root for, that sometimes you make the mistake of overestimating his intangibles. The fact that he looks so awkward passing the ball and feels the need to take off running all of two seconds after the ball is snapped makes his successful periods on the field look much better than actually are. That’s what happened in the first four games of the season, he looked better than he actually is by virtue of playing against patsies (although he didn’t even look particularly great last week).
Then he throws for no touchdowns and three interceptions -- and in the process, hands over all the momentum -- in a game that you need to win, and all of that flies out the window.
Yes, against the likes of the Mocs, Bulldogs and even Cowboys Martinez’s leadership and dual-threat nature is enough to win you the game. Against a real quarterback like Wilson, though, he just can’t stack up. He doesn’t have the arm. He doesn’t have the patience. And, most importantly, two years in, he still can’t figure out a way to protect the ball.
The running game isn’t as good as advertised. Coming into the game, Martinez had racked up 371 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground, and running back Rex Burkhead pitched in 417 yards and seven touchdowns of his own. The Huskers also had the No. 8 ranked rush offense in the country.
All of that, coupled with the fact that they were preparing to play the No. 22 ranked rush defense in the nation led most to believe that Nebraska would absolutely ram the ball down Wisconsin’s throat. As it turns out, not so much.
For some inexplicable reason, Martinez and offensive coordinator Tim Beck opted to abandon the run game early despite the fact that it was seemingly their trump card. By the end of the first half, Martinez had thrown more passes than his Heisman candidate counterpart across the field – a troubling sign any way you want to look at it.
The only logical explanation for this is that the Huskers realized that they don’t have as strong a rushing attack as everyone believed they did. This has been hinted at, mind you, all season long as Burkhead struggled through the first two games of the year against Chattanooga and Fresno State. Although everyone seemed to agree that Burkhead broken out of his shell after back-to-back 100-yard games, clearly Nebraska didn’t believe that they could move the chains against Wisconsin’s rugged defensive unit.
Ameer Abdullah has heart. There was exactly one bright spot in that beating that Nebraska got from Wisconsin, and that bright spot came on special teams. In the face of adversity all night long, despite the constant failures of both his offensive and defensive teammates, Abdullah consistently put his squad in good field position. Sure, they didn’t do much with it, but that shouldn’t take anything away from Abdullah – a player who has already played the savior role for the Huskers earlier in the year against Fresno State.
For the game, he had seven kick returns for a total of 187 yards.