Wisconsin Badgers fans celebrate a score during game against Nebraska Football
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Braelon Allen and Wisconsin’s Run Game Test Nebraska’s Defense

November 20, 2021

Something interesting happened late in the first half between Nebraska and Wisconsin. Without JoJo Domann and Pheldarius Payne available for the game, Damian Jackson made his way onto the field. The 29-year-old outside linebacker applied pressure on a key third down, forcing Wisconsin to attempt a 33-yard field goal. Collin Larsh missed it, keeping the score 14-14 with 2:43 left before halftime.

A missed kick by an opposing team is interesting, but there is something else. Jackson originally wasn’t suited up pre-game. Much like he was against Ohio State, he was in street clothes through warmups.

It’s hard to say what happened—we didn’t get confirmation post-game—but it may have been Caleb Tannor going down with an injury in the second quarter that forced Jackson into the game. Either way, he made an impact on a day when Nebraska’s defense was particularly thin in some spots.

Isaac Gifford also stepped up for Nebraska against Wisconsin. He became Domann’s replacement at the Huskers’ outside linebacker/nickel defender spot. Domman recently had surgery on his injured left hand that kept him from playing against the Badgers and will keep him out against Hawkeyes.

It wasn’t a perfect night for Gifford, especially going up against Wisconsin true freshman running back Braelon Allen. There was a particular moment—a one-on-one at the goal line—that the 238-pound Allen won over Gifford, which helped Wisconsin go up 28-21.

“He’s a big kid,” Gifford said after the game. “You’ve got to wrap up on him. You’ve got to get the whole crew on him.”

It wasn’t just Gifford that Allen gave grief to. In the fourth quarter, for instance, he evaded an open-field tackle from safety Myles Farmer and ran it 53 yards into the end zone. He also cut loose on a couple of plays, turning big Nebraska mistakes into points. He finished the day with 22 carries for 228 yards and three touchdowns.

If you took two of his touchdowns away, however, he would have ended the day with only 94 yards. That’s how impactful those Nebraska mistakes were on defense.

“He’s big and fast and he has a lot of good people blocking for him,” Coach Scott Frost said.

Allen is a force to be reckoned with. He came into the matchup with Nebraska boasting six straight 100-yard rushing performances. That included a 173-yard game against Northwestern. His 228 yards against Nebraska officially helped him eclipse the 1,000 yard-mark on the season, making him the third Wisconsin true freshman to do so.

“He’s a big body,” defensive lineman Casey Rogers said. “He can hit the hole hard. He’s not deciding what way he is going. He knows he’s going straight down at you. You’ve got to tackle him low. You’ve got to hit his leg, you’ve got to wrap up and some of the biggest plays they had we weren’t doing it. A couple of times we tried to hit him into the ground with our shoulders and it’s just not going to work, especially against Big Ten backs like this.

“Credit to him. He’s a young guy. He has a bright future ahead and I look forward to playing him in the future.”

Rogers is right. It wasn’t one of the Nebraska defense’s better days. Wisconsin ran the ball for 252 yards (again, Allen had 228 of that), which was out of the ordinary for the Huskers in 2021. Wisconsin also averaged 8.1 yards per play, which was (again) out of the ordinary for the Blackshirts.

Tackling was certainly an issue, as Rogers noted. The 70-yard play that was made possible by a Cam Taylor-Britt missed tackle? It was only the second 70-yard play the Husker defense has allowed this season.

“We’ve seen better days,” Rogers said. “They did run the ball a lot on us. It was very uncharacteristic of us to give up as many [explosive] plays as we did, but a lot of that was just tackling, poor tackling, minor mistakes that turned into huge mistakes to be honest with you. It’s all fixable stuff which is a good thing but no, 252 yards rushing is not something we are OK with. We’re going to get to work fixing that.

We’ve got a big game this week with (Iowa), a rivalry game, a team that we look forward to playing every year. A very similar offense too, run east to west, same type of stuff as (Wisconsin).”

Nebraska’s defense will get back to work on Sunday trying to address what exactly went wrong against Wisconsin. Whatever it was, Allen was certainly a big part of it. No doubt he’ll then be a big part of the Blackshirts’ film study going forward.

One final note on Allen: He’s only 17-years-old. Wild to think about, especially when you think back to Jackson. Let’s just say it was an interesting day for the Huskers no matter which way you slice it.

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