Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

The Good, Bad and Unexpected: Nebraska Versus Wisconsin

November 20, 2022

What is there to say about that one?

Nebraska fell to Wisconsin, 15-14, on Saturday for the last home game of the season at Memorial Stadium. With a little more time to absorb what we saw, here is the good, bad and the unexpected from the Huskers’ loss.

The Good

Ernest Hausmann: The freshman linebacker keeps getting better and better. He had 12 tackles against Wisconsin, bettering his career high of 10 tackles from one week ago against Michigan. Of those 12 tackles on Saturday, eight of them came before halftime.

He topped the good list one week ago against Michigan and he’s back at the top once again. He certainly deserves to be.

Defensive lineman Ty Robinson credited the linebackers—like Hausmann and Luke Reimer—for allowing him to “cheat” into rushing lanes a bit against Wisconsin. He said that if he ran into a blocker, he knew that Hausmann and Reimer would be there to finish the play. Robinson was right.

Hausmann is definitely coming into his own as a player. Knowing he’s only a freshman makes it even more exciting to consider where he’ll be with more time and development.

Brian Buschini: Let’s just start with a tweet from Brady Oltmans.

The wind was not quiet on Saturday, but it didn’t seem to affect punter Brian Buschini much. After one tough punt to start the game, he adjusted, found his groove and never looked back.

In fact, Buschini had a career-long 74-yard punt for Nebraska in the the third quarter on Saturday. That bettered a 65-yard punt earlier in the season against Georgia Southern. As Nebraska pointed out in its post-game notes, that 74-yarder “was the seventh-longest punt in Nebraska history and longest since William Przystup had an 84-yard punt vs. Northwestern last season.”

Trey Palmer: On Saturday, Trey “Down There Somewhere” Palmer became Trey “Pissed Off” Palmer. The wide receiver said as much to start the morning.

He backed it up too against Wisconsin. He had an 11-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter and a 19-yard touchdown catch in the third, giving him a team-leading seven touchdown catches on the season. It was also his first touchdowns since the Purdue game.

Was it a perfect day for Palmer? No, but it’s clear he has a connected with quarterback Casey Thompson. The two showed that once again on Saturday and Palmer made the most of it.

The Bad

The run game: Wisconsin’s run defense is pretty good. In fact, the Badgers are No. 16 in the country, allowing just 107.6 rushing yards per game. The Huskers—who have struggled to find a consistent run game in 2022—had their work cut out for them.

Saturday was unfortunately more of the same for Nebraska.

Quarterback Casey Thompson returned from injury, but he bore the load of the rushing yards for the Huskers on Saturday. Nebraska finished the day with 65 rushing yards and Thompson had 33 of those on 11 caries. Running back Anthony Grant followed with 29 yards on 16 carries for 1.8 yards per carry.

With one game left, Nebraska is now down to 95.6 rushing yards per game.

“It just hasn’t been there,” interim head coach Mickey Joseph said about the run game (or lack thereof). “We’ve been having trouble with it. It’s been week in and week out. You have to play with the guys that we have, we can’t trade them. So, we have to figure that out.”

Thompson knows what a run game would mean. He hinted at the challenges Nebraska faced with Grant running more sideline-to-sideline. It wasn’t so much an indictment but more just a statement of where the Huskers are right ow. Nebraska needs a run game to be successful in the Big Ten, but Nebraska doesn’t have it right now.

“In the Big Ten especially, this conference has taught me a lot. It’s a lot different than the Big 12,” Thompson said. “There’s a lot of possessions in the Big 12. In the Big Ten, there’s good defenses and really good running backs and running games. Wisconsin, all they did was run the ball. I think they threw the ball one or two times in the whole first quarter. When you play against a team that is going to run the ball a lot, and that has a good running back and running game, it’s also important to be able to sustain drives.

“I’m not saying it has to be 100% on the ground, but we have to get first downs and move the chains. We did a good job of that, I think they doubled our plays, but we were still winning the whole game. That means we were more efficient with less plays. Especially throughout the third and fourth quarters, in the long game, it’s important for us to have a run game. It all starts and ends up front with the offensive line. We have to be able to sustain drives and whether it’s running or passing, we have to be able to get first downs and put more points on the board.”

The offensive line: Speaking of that offensive line . . .

“We’ve got to get some depth. We’ve got to put some competition up there,” Joseph said. “You heard me say before, we have to get a competitive roster. And we have to get some depth up there. You have to have 16 to 17 guys that are on scholarship to get some depth, to get them going. They rotate the defensive linemen; you have to be able to rotate those kids.

“But you know what, those kids come out here every practice and they practice hard, and they come out every game and give it their all.”

Regardless, this offensive line has allowed 31 sacks this season. That’s near the bottom of the Big Ten, and it’s a pretty glaring weakness for the Huskers.

Ultimately, the offensive line hasn’t made much improvement week-to-week for Nebraska. It’s disappointing too, because there isn’t much else to say at this point that hasn’t been addressed nearly every week before this one. Whatever the case, the offensive line is going to have to be a major priority for the Huskers’ new coach in 2023.

Marques Buford Jr.’s injury: Safety Marques Burford Jr. was carted off the field during the first half against Wisconsin after suffering a knee injury of some kind. Joseph didn’t have much of an update post-game—he didn’t personally see what happened—but he was informed it wasn’t good.

“Well, he’s seeing the doctor. We’ll know more tomorrow. We’ll know more tomorrow,” Joseph said. “They said it was ugly, though. I didn’t see what happened.”

Buford has been a top defender for Nebraska in 2022. He entered Saturday’s matchup with Wisconsin with 59 total tackles, tying him for third-most on the team, and two interceptions, tied for most on the team. He will be missed greatly by this defense against Iowa, but here’s hoping for a quick and full recovery.

The Unexpected

Casey Thompson’s recovery: Despite his return, Thompson is not 100% yet following the injury that kept him out for multiple games.

“It still goes numb and tingles a little bit, but I have full strength and motion back,” he said post-game. “It’s just something that’s going to take time. We played Illinois on Oct. 29 and at halftime, I didn’t have feeling in it. I didn’t have any movement. I think I got the movement back after four or five days and I started to be able to move my fingers.

“Then I actually had an elbow contusion. That took about a week to a week and a half to go away. This past week I went in there on Monday and said I’m practicing this week and I’m going to play. If I sit around and wait for my arm and my body to feel perfect, I think the season will be over at that point. I’m just gonna continue to rehab and get treatment and push through.”

It probably isn’t all that shocking—or unexpected—but it felt like it needed to be noted that Thompson returned to play while still working through his own health issues. Is anyone surprised by that?

Nick Herbig’s double ejection: This was just funny. Wisconsin linebacker Nick Herbig was ejected for targeting in the second half on Saturday—he’ll miss the first half for Wisconsin against Minnesota next weekend—but his day didn’t end there. He was also charged with unsportsmanlike conduct later in the game for coming on to the field to celebrate.

He was subsequently ejected again.

The reality is that the initial ejection for targeting didn’t require him to leave the field. The second one for unsportsmanlike conduct did. He watched the rest of the game from the locker room. Either way, it’s not every day a player is ejected twice in one game.

Brandt Rice: The temperature at kickoff was 28 degrees, which marked the fifth-coldest temperature at kickoff at Memorial Stadium since 1985. The windchill, however, was 15 degrees. Even with some sun, it was brutally cold. Brave fans arrived to the stadium bundled in layers upon layers, but not Brandt Rice. The 3-star offensive lineman recruit from Wausau, Wisconsin, showed up in a cutoff flannel shirt and stood on the sidelines all pre-game like that.

Some people are just built different.

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