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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, May 27, 2022
Offense

Wisconsin’s second-half meltdown at Nebraska overshadowed its strong offensive performance in the first half, during which senior running back Montee ball scored two of his three TDs.

Offense shows promise

LINCOLN, Neb.—Wisconsin (0-1 Big Ten, 3-2 overall) let an ugly offensive line and run game performance taint what was perhaps the best half of football the Badgers have played all season.

The offense was clicking on all cylinders in the first half. A healthy dose of run plays and play-action passes was the main reason the Badgers pulled ahead 14-3 after just one quarter of play.

But the Badgers couldn’t put together that nearly perfect offensive balance for a full 60 minutes yet again, as Nebraska overcame a 17-point deficit and won 30-27 at Memorial Stadium Saturday night.

“[The] offensive line was doing a great job, wide receivers were catching the ball, us running backs were making some great reads and running the football hard,” senior running back Montee Ball said of the first half. “So we’re gonna make sure we take what we did in the first half and build it into a four-quarter game.”

Ball finished with 90 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries. Redshirt freshman running back Melvin Gordon had five yards on a pair of carries, while junior running back James White lost five yards on his only carry.

The Badgers certainly wouldn’t have found themselves in a situation like the fourth-and-one from midfield with 1:44 remaining—which ended up being a botched play—if not for the virtually non-existent run game in the second half.

Obviously, a missed extra point and 41-yard field goal (with 29 seconds left in the first half) by true freshman kicker Jack Russell didn’t help Wisconsin’s cause, either. Wisconsin usually keeps its problems far away from an identity crisis on offense, but those issues crept in and were felt just as much as the kicking problems Saturday night.

For that reason alone, redshirt junior center Travis Frederick wasn’t hesitant to blame the offensive line for the second-half issues.

“We might as well take [the blame],” Frederick said. “We make up half the offense, so if we don’t play well the whole team doesn’t play well.

“It comes down to us playing well, and obviously that didn’t happen in the second half.”

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema was obviously pleased with the first-half play, but his team came out an entirely different squad after the intermission. Bielema thought the Memorial Stadium atmosphere got into the players’ head.

“It was a tale of two halves,” Bielema said. “You could feel that momentum change in the second half, something our guys could never really get a grasp of.”

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Wisconsin led or was tied for most of the second half, but the atmosphere suggested otherwise.

The balanced play calling that was so prevalent in the first half was nowhere to be found in the second, and Frederick thought the offense was as close as it has been to classic Wisconsin football when things got rolling in the first half.

“The way that we were running the ball, we were starting to get to the point where we were being efficient on our plays,” Frederick said. “It forced [Nebraska] to bring a couple guys down in there, and that’s when you saw a couple of the big play-action plays.”

But when a team like Wisconsin rushes for a dismal 12 yards in the second half, essentially nothing works out as planned, including the play-action plays.

“I think there were a couple times where they were bringing an extra guy into the box,” Frederick said. “It makes it really hard for us to do our job, but we obviously weren’t getting the push that we needed.”

“[Nebraska] got a big push,” Bielema said. “But also they were pretty heavy inside, I think they were playing a heavy technique with their defensive tackles and ends, which was making it pretty congested in there.”

Whatever the exact reasons for the ineffective rush attack—and there seemed to be many—the Badgers proved yet again Saturday that in order for them to win games this year, establishing the run game should be at the forefront of their approach.

Bielema once again said that a lot was learned from the nail-biter in Lincoln, despite the outcome.

“I’m not mad or upset at their effort or their intensity or preparation,” Bielema said. “Nothing is coming easy for us this year. We are a team that has gotten better every week, and I think we got better today.”

Wisconsin’s first half offensive outburst also instilled plenty of confidence in the team moving forward—especially for redshirt freshman quarterback Joel Stave—and reminded the team what it is capable of.

“It builds a lot of confidence when you’re moving the ball like [we did in the first half],” Stave said. “It did show that we can be good, we just have to keep working toward that [first half performance].”

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