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Husker Report Card: Grading Nebraska's performance against Wisconsin
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Husker Report Card: Grading Nebraska's performance against Wisconsin

Scott Frost speaks following the Nebraska vs. Wisconsin football game at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison on Saturday, November 20, 2021. Wisconsin won the game 35-28.

After each game this season, The World-Herald will hand out a Husker Report Card, assessing Nebraska's performance in several areas. Here are the grades coming out of the Wisconsin game.

* * *

RUN OFFENSE

Without Rahmir Johnson, Scott Frost opted for rushing by committee. Brody Belt had his moments. Marvin Scott, too. But 2.9 yards per carry and 101 total didn’t do enough to alleviate stress on Adrian Martinez. This grade would have received a bump, but a critical (and questionable) holding call on Turner Corcoran erased Scott’s 33-yard fourth-quarter run. GRADE: C

PASS OFFENSE

Martinez threw for 351 yards, including 113 to Samori Touré and a tight end-record 143 to Austin Allen. The line protected well, yielding no sacks and allowing NU to take deep shots. But the failed final drive and two second-half interceptions remove the shine from the stat sheet. Martinez’s first pick wasn’t all his fault; Oliver Martin could’ve made a more aggressive attempt on the ball. But the second interception early in the fourth quarter was ugly. As poor as any throw Martinez has made all season. GRADE: B-plus

RUN DEFENSE

Let’s start with the highlight: A fourth-and-1 stop midway through the fourth quarter that kept the Huskers alive. The Blackshirt front didn’t budge. Unfortunately, the rest of the game felt like a flashback — albeit more tolerable — to past disappointments. The Badgers had 31 rushes, but the 252 yards and 8.1 per carry felt bad enough. Freshman Braelon Allen produced 228 and three touchdowns, including 71- and 53-yard dashes. The longer this game wore on, the more vulnerable Nebraska seemed to Allen’s downhill style. GRADE: D-plus

PASS DEFENSE

Graham Mertz, ordinary even by Wisconsin standards, entered Saturday with the 10th-best efficiency among Big Ten quarterbacks. He played better than his track record, throwing for 145 yards. Could’ve been more if receivers hadn’t dropped a couple. But he didn’t hurt Nebraska much. Eight of his 12 completions went to tight end Jake Ferguson. So why isn’t the grade higher? Because the Blackshirts needed to force negative plays to put Wisconsin in long-yardage situations. Aside from one Garrett Nelson sack, they did not. GRADE: B-plus

SPECIAL TEAMS

Remember when Frost stated that “special teams” wasn’t the problem, just “specialists.” Well, not Saturday. Wisconsin returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. A disastrous third-quarter kick return gave NU the ball at its 6-yard line. Little things hurt, too, like the Huskers failing to pin Wisconsin inside the 10 on a first-quarter pooch punt. Saturday certainly won’t boost Nebraska’s awful special teams ratings. The only saving grace? Perfect extra points and a missed Wisconsin field goal. GRADE: D-minus

PLAY-CALLING/GAME MANAGEMENT

Without four offensive assistants, Frost could’ve gone conservative with the offensive game plan. Instead he attacked downfield from the opening drive, targeting Allen and Touré specifically. The Huskers held the ball for 33:17, a surprising number. Penalty yards were even and could’ve been an advantage with a few breaks. Fans might nitpick a couple of fourth-down calls and timeout usage, but the coach and his makeshift staff managed this one well enough to win. GRADE: B-plus

OVERALL

Nebraska gained 452 total yards, the most against Wisconsin’s defense since ... the Big Red gained 493 two years ago. Nobody moves the ball on the Badgers quite like Frost. But yards don’t equal points. Consider the odds of beating a ranked team on the road when you give up a kickoff return for touchdown and you’re minus-2 in turnover margin. Nebraska has now directly given the opponents 34 points this season on offense and special teams: one scoop-six, one pick-six, one kickoff return TD, one punt return TD, two safeties and a two-point return. That’s inexplicably bad. Victory here would not have altered the narrative for 2021, but it would’ve eased the program’s frustration and boosted optimism for 2022. The Huskers hung tough, competing to the final minute in a stadium that has haunted them. But the same old mistakes — some big, some little — confirmed Nebraska’s status as a fatally flawed team. GRADE: B-minus


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Reporter - Sports

Dirk writes stories and columns about Husker football in addition to covering general assignments and enterprise for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @dirkchatelain. Phone: 402-444-1062.

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