There’s plenty to tackle in this week’s review of the Wisconsin game film. Big plays, big turnovers, big momentum shifts, and, ultimately, big win for Nebraska.
Each week the Hail Varsity staff sits down with a former Division I football coach to break down what happened last week. Here’s a closer look at five key plays from last week’s 30-27 win. Highlights from the game are included below and each play is listed with the timestamp from this video so you can follow along:
1. 1st Quarter, 12:49 (YT: 0:22), 54-yard pass Stave to Abbrederis: After a fumble on the first snap derailed Nebraska’s opening drive, Wisconsin goes big to grab momentum early. On second-and-8, the Badgers split Jared Abbrederis out to the left and motion a back across the formation left-to-right. Nebraska safety P.J. Smith cheats towards the line to deal with the motion. He cheats too far.
At the snap, quarterback Joel Stave fakes to Montee Ball on the dive, then fakes to the back on a de facto reverse coming back right-to-left, an action Wisconsin would use for the rest of the night. That draws the Daimion Stafford up to deal with the run fake leaving Josh Mitchell alone on Abbrederis. Mitchell has outside leverage on him and actually covers him pretty well. He’s supposed to force him to the middle where the safety can offer help but Smith, strangely, doesn’t sprint back after realizing it’s a pass (you can see the tail end of Smith’s run to get back in the video above). Biting on the run fake happens, but Smith’s effort to get back was surely brought up in film review on Sunday. Abbrederis is able to shield Mitchell with his body and the Badgers are in business.
The play covered 54-yards, which was nearly 20 percent of Wisconsin’s total offense on the night.
2. 2nd Quarter, 11:57 (YT: 1:52), 29-yard TD pass Stave to Abbrederis: A roughing the punter penalty gives Wisconsin a first down on fourth-and-18. Six plays later, the Badgers take their second big shot down the field, again on play action.
Cornerback Andrew Green is on the line to jam the wide receiver and makes contact, but Abbrederis gets too good of a release to the outside. Stave throws a pretty good ball and, with Daimion Stafford blitzing on the play, Smith can’t get over to the pylon from the middle of the field to offer help. Green does a relatively good job of recovering after Abbrederis got by him, but a better jam at the line could have disrupted the play. Wisconsin has a 20-3 lead.
3. 3rd Quarter, 11:52 (YT: 2:58), Gilbert strips Martinez: After clawing back to within 10 and stopping Wisconsin’s opening drive of the second half, disaster strikes. Two high throws on first and second downs, leave Nebraska in third-and-10 from its own 23-yard line. Martinez is in shotgun with Rex Burkhead to his left. The Badgers are showing blitz, putting seven defenders on the line in two-point stances. It looks like zone blitz, designed to confuse because Nebraska can’t know where it’s coming from, but at the snap Wisconsin only rushes four, but three of them come from the left side.
Burkhead picks up his block between the guard and tackle. Left tackle Brent Qvale is matched-up against speedy defensive end David Gilbert. Qvale gets a piece, enough of him really, to bow Gilbert out and around if Martinez steps up in the pocket. He doesn’t and gets stripped. A lot of people will put that on Qvale but, given the time Martinez had, he can’t be a stationary target, particularly with room to move up. Wisconsin takes a 27-10 lead and three of the touchdowns have come off two fumbles and the roughing the punter penalty.
4. 3rd Quarter, 3:55 (YT: 4:00), 10-yard TD pass Martinez to Reed: If you want to see the evolution of Taylor Martinez as a quarterback, watch this throw. It may seem pedestrian at first, but it’s as good a throw as he’s made this year. Out of a four-wide set, Reed is the wide receiver on the right and runs a square in at the goal line. He’s got a safety draped on his back and linebacker Chris Borland is there to offer help as well but Martinez places it perfectly. He had too. The only place to go with it is low and leading and Martinez executes it, allowing Reed to make the catch despite a defensive pass interference call.
But there’s one more thing to note. Wisconsin dropped eight players into coverage. After reading pass, the Badgers defensive tackle drops into a short middle zone. Martinez gets it around him too, but it tells you that teams are still more than willing to test his throwing ability. From the 10-yard line, Wisconsin was quite content to make Martinez fit a pass into a tight spot. On this play, he did, cutting the lead to 27-24.
5. 4th Quarter, 1:26 (YT: 4:57), Whaley strips Ball: It’s fourth-and-1 from the 49-yard line and Nebraska can win it right here with a stop. After the game, defensive coordinator John Papuchis said the Huskers were in a fairly basic call out of the 4-3 to protect against a play action pass.
Wisconsin lines up with only one wide receiver out wide and three backs in the backfield. After the game, their staff would reveal that the play call was supposed to be a naked bootleg with quarterback Danny O’Brien faking the dive to the Ball and carrying it out to the right. Due to miscommunication, or just a bad read, O’Brien tries to give it to Ball who isn’t expecting it. Even if the Badgers had run the play for Ball, Whaley shoots the gap and likely would have stopped him. Instead, Ball never gets the ball in his chest and Nebraska recovers.
But the bigger question is, would Nebraska have had the bootleg covered? On the play, Smith had cheated down to just off the line of scrimmage because there was no receiver out wide on his side. At the snap, Smith does what he is supposed to do – he shuffles for three steps to protect against the boot before crashing down once he sees the ball has been handed off. Would he have been able to get out and make the play if O’Brien had kept it?
It likely would’ve been a footrace to the first down marker or a one-on-one tackle in space where O’Brien likely would have had to make Smith miss. Either way, you have to like Smith’s odds there but it would have been interesting. It looks like a quick crash on the film, but he did maintain outside contain.