Nebraska’s defense overall has been quite stout this season, surrendering fewer than 19 points per game this season. However, there is one big weakness that the Huskers will have to clean up if they hope to have any chance at the Horsehoe against Ohio State: limiting long runs.
Through eight games, Nebraska is in the bottom 15 in the country in runs of 30 or more yards allowed, while Ohio State is in the top 15 in runs of 20 yards or more. If the Huskers don’t improve, the Buckeyes could run away from them on Saturday night.
Against Wisconsin, the Huskers allowed seven runs of 10 or more yards including runs of 39 and 41 yards. Let’s break those plays down to see where Nebraska has to improve.
First Big Run, First Quarter
The Huskers forced a three-and-out on Wisconsin’s first drive, but a big punt return and a long completion gave the Badgers the ball at the 21-yard line. The Badgers line up with two backs and two outside receivers, while the Huskers are in their base defense. The left receiver runs a jet motion, drawing Michael Rose-Ivey up towards the line of scrimmage.
The quarterback fakes to the receiver and hands off to running back Dare Ogunbowale. Mick Stoltenberg appears to be responsible for the B gap and takes on the left guard. Linebacker Dedrick Young attacks the A gap, but the left tackle pulls around and washes him out of the play. For some reason, safety Nathan Gerry follows behind Stoltenberg into the B gap, taking himself out of position.
With Gerry out of position and the tackle blocking Young, the A gap is wide open for Ogunbowale and he shoots through it. The weak side safety Aaron Williams is blocked and the right side cornerback Joshua Kalu is the only one left who has a chance to make the play.
Unfortunately, Kalu can’t quite catch him as Ogunbowale win the race to the end zone to strike first for the Badgers.
The 21-yard touchdown and ensuing extra point put the Badgers up 7-0 early in the game and I’m sure many Nebraska fans were having flashbacks to past games against Wisconsin. In this case, Wisconsin made a great play call and executed it, but the bigger problem was poor gap integrity. Gerry has had a tremendous season, but on this play he guessed incorrectly and left the defense vulnerable.
Second Big Run, Second Quarter
The Nebraska defense tightened up after the last run an forced four straight three and outs before Wisconsin mustered a field goal drive. On their following possession, the Huskers had Wisconsin pinned inside its own 5-yard line.
On third and 10 at the 3-yard line, the Blackshirts have a chance to make a huge play.
This time they are in nickel with Dedrick Young and Marcus Newby. Wisconsin draws up a run, perhaps with the primary intention of giving their punter more room with which to operate. The center and left tackle both pull off the left side, while Young and Kieron Williams break on the play.
Ogunbowale takes the hand-off while the tackle cracks back on Young to set the edge. Williams is still free at this point, but Ogunbowale has his center out on front of him.
The center blocks Williams and Ogunbowale cuts up the field. Young tries to get off his block to make the tackle but can’t quite get there. The back has a lot of turf in front of him.
Ogunbowale picks up the first down and then some before Gerry can finally get him down.
Needing 10, the Badgers pick up 14. In this case, I’d say this was more a great play-call by Wisconsin than any individual mistake but the Huskers. The Badgers simply won the numbers game.
Wisconsin didn’t score on this drive, but the Huskers did miss out on a big opportunity to swing field position late in the first half.
Third Big Run, Third Quarter
Ogunbowale ripped off two nice runs on the Badgers’ first possession of the second half. On the first one, it’s second and 10 and the Huskers are in nickel.
Wisconsin runs a draw play. Carlos Davis gets some pressure, but just misses Ogunbowale. Ross Dzuris gets pushed outside a little bit, and because the linebackers are off the line, Kevin Maurice is left to plug both the A and B gaps by himself.
Ogunbowale gives a slight fake towards the A gap, so Maurice tries to fill that hole while dealing with his blocker. Ogunbowale cuts it back outside through the B gap an there’s no one there.
Ogunbowale gets to the second level and sprints toward the perimeter as Nebraska’s secondary tries to change direction.
Ogunbowale sees cornerback Chris Jones ahead of him, and instead of trying to win a race to the sideline he plants his foot and cuts it back up field.
A couple defenders finally get him to the turf, but not until he picked up 17 yards to move the chains.
Second and 10 is more often than not a passing down, and the Huskers sen out a pass defense package. Just like on the previous play, Wisconsin took advantage of that to attack the Huskers on the ground.
Fourth Big Run, Third Quarter
Later during that same drive, the Badgers face a third and 7 at the Nebraska 32-yard line. Get a stop here and force a field goal attempt to keep it a one score game.
The Huskers show blitz as Young, Newby and Gerry all crowd the line. Young ends up blitzing up the middle while the other two play down the line. The tight end takes on Dzuris, the right tackle slants in to block Carlos Davis and the the right guard pulls around to the edge.
Rather than trying to string out the play and taking on the right guard, Gerry tries to run wide around him, leaving a lane to cut up field as the guard gets Gerry anyway. Carlos Davis may or may not have been held on this play.
Either way, Ogunbowale picks up first down yardage before Kieron Williams makes the tackle
The run gains 15 yards and three plays later the Badgers score to extend their lead to 17-7. Gerry took a bad angle again on this play, but it was also another great call by Wisconsin.
Fifth Big Run, Fourth Quarter
The Huskers have managed to prevent the previous four runs from cracking 20 yards, but that isn’t the case on this one. Leading 17-14 early in the fourth, Wisconsin has a second and 6 at its own 14-yard line.
Both defensive tackles rush and/or get pushed outside here as Wisconsin runs another halfback draw.
Ogunbowale runs it right up the middle, and Wisconsin gets blockers to the second level to take out the linebackers. Josh Banderas gets held here with no call as Ogunbowale squeezes through a narrow hole untouched.
Gerry has a chance to make the play, but the official gives the Badgers an extra blocker. Ogunbowale cuts it outside.
Chris Jones takes a bad angle and can’t get turned around in time to stop Ogunbowale from getting to the edge.
30 yards later, Kalu – the cornerback from the other side of the field – finally forces him out of bounds.
Bad angles and the officials combine to produce a 39-yard run by Ogunbowale. Fortunately for the Huskers, Gerry makes up for it by grabbing an interception two plays later to keep Nebraska within a field goal.
Sixth Big Run, Fourth Quarter
Ogunbowale had a big day, but the Huskers did a pretty good job of keeping Wisconsin’s top running back, Corey Clement, in check. At least they did until this play.
Nebraska had just tied the game and they’re probably feeling good about their chances. After a touchback, Wisconsin started at the 25-yard line.
Wisconsin gets pretty complicated with its blocking scheme here, pulling both the right guard and the fullback and getting the left tackle to the second level.
The right guard blocks Josh Banderas while the fullback gets to Young, creating a hole for Clement to run through. Meanwhile, the tackle git down field to take on Rose-Ivey. All three linebackers are blocked.
Gerry originally dropped back to cover the deep middle, then turns around after he sees its a run. Kalu gets picked off by a receiver and Rose-Ivey probably gets held. Clement zig-zags through the hole.
Gerry has to make the play, but Cement is having non of it with a vicious stiff arm, putting Gerry into the turf while barely slowing down.
Rose-Ivey, who finally broke for from the tackle, out-races Kalu down the field and lunges at Clement, forcing him out of bounds.
The play wen for 41 yards, shifting momentum back to the Badgers. Nebraska tightened up and forced a 45-yard field goal, which Wisconsin missed. Even so, the play never should have picked up as many yards as it did. Gerry needs to make a better attempt at the tackle, although the hold on Rose-Ivey didn’t help. Credit to the senior linebacker for hustling his butt off to still make the play, though.
Seventh Big Run, Overtime
Wisconsin takes one last big shot on its final offensive play. On second and 8 from the 11-yard line. Nebraska lines up in nickel with Banderas and Newby. The center pulls, and Newby shoots through the gap the center leaves to try to make the play from behind. Kieron Williams attacks the line after he reads run.
Newby almost got there, getting a hand on Ogunbowale from behind, but the pulling center picks off Kieron Williams and the back shoots through the hole. Banderas gets blocked as well, allowing Ogunbowale to cut it outside.
Kalu is free but has no chance to make the play. Aaron Williams coming out of his coverage is the only Husker that has a chance to stop him…
But Ogunbowale has too much speed.
The Badgers strike from 11 yards out for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown. Once again, great play call by Wisconsin and Nebraska couldn’t win any of its one-on-one match-ups with blockers. Marcus Newby was about half a second shy of stopping the play in the back field.
Nebraska did get some bad luck with some missed holding calls on some of these runs, but that happen in every game and the Huskers have to improve both in their play calls, their individual effort against blockers and their decision-making mid-play. If Nebraska makes these same mistakes against Ohio State, it’s going to be a long night at the Shoe.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.