This game was equal measures encouraging and frustrating.
It was encouraging to see the Husker ground game make headway against a very stout Badger defense. If you hold up the offensive statistics and look at them side-by-side, you would have a hard time telling which team won by sixteen - until you get to the red zone opportunities (but you already knew that).
The Huskers had the edge in total offense 493 yards to 482. The Huskers averaged 8.2 yards per play while the Badgers averaged 7.3 yards/play. Both teams averaged more than 7 yards for each rushing attempt. Both passing games were efficient with both teams completing 13 passes with Wisconsin averaging 12.5 yards/completion and Nebraska averaging 16.9 yards/completion. Each team scored 7 points off turnovers. Neither team was heavily penalized (Wiscy 4 for 36 yards and Nebraska 3 for 31 yards).
The glaring difference between the teams was that Wisconsin finished drives and Nebraska did not. The Badgers were 5-5 in red zone scoring chances (two touchdowns and three field goals) while the Huskers were 2-4 in the red zone (2 touchdowns, a missed field goal and a turnover on downs). The Huskers were 0-3 in converting fourth down opportunities.
Special teams was probably the biggest disaster for the Huskers. Giving up a kick return touchdown is never ideal. Not having a reliable field goal kicker hurts as well - a missed field goal and a clear red zone problem with the offense often means zero points instead of three. Nebraska also gave up nearly 9 yards of field position per punt compared to Wisconsin (although each team only punted twice). Wisconsin started on average on their 31 yard line while the Huskers started on their 23.
The Husker defense probably played a bit better than they are given credit for, but they clearly have some work to do. When I say “better”, I really am referring to the fight and grit I saw at times from the Blackshirts. The right attitude seemed to be there most of the time even as other bugaboos (like missed tackles) were evident.
The Huskers made 80 tackles compared to Wisconsin’s 50. However, the location those tackles were made was an issue. Thirty-two of the Badger tackles were solo and 34 of the Husker tackles were solo. That means the Badgers had 18 assisted tackles while Nebraska had 46! The missed tackles total was surprisingly close - Nebraska whiffed 19 times and Wiscy whiffed on 18. The Badgers logged seven tackles for loss, four of them sacks, and four pass breakups. The Blackshirts had ONE tackle for loss, zero sacks, and one pass breakup.
Looking over the PFF grades from today's Nebraska vs. Wisconsin game. Lots of missed tackles on both sides. Nebraska had 19 missed tackles and Wisconsin had 18. Don't know if I've seen a game that high on both sides.— Sean Callahan (@Sean_Callahan) November 17, 2019
Color Coded Pile of Numbers
The Husker offense continues to show an ability to pile up yards without getting the points to go with the yardage. The red zone issues are something Scott Frost will most likely be spending a lot of time on in the offseason (again - a healthy, reliable field goal kicker would help a lot).
The defense continues to give up yards and points in spades. The amount of experience graduating this year continues to worry me as the youth we will see on the field next season will need some time to gel and develop their communication.
Looking Ahead to Maryland
Fortunately for Nebraska, Maryland is having a miserable season on offense as well as defense. They can run the ball fairly well, but are even worse than Nebraska in the red zone and in scoring points.
Of course, we know that Nebraska is not a team that has shown an ability to put away teams like this, so I am trying not to get my hopes up.
The Terrapin defense looks like they could give up yards to a Husker offense that is firing on most cylinders, but we have yet to see that. Will we see the Dedrick Mills who averaged 11.1 yards/carry vs the Badgers or will we see a game plan that gets away from that? Will we see decisive Adrian Martinez or the one who hesitates (we’ll probably see both - how much of each will likely decide the efficiency of the offense).
What did you see in the numbers? Let me know in the comments!