For the first time this season, the Badgers played a truly dominant offensive game in their 41-24 win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
The Badgers’ offensive line received a massive push. On the two touchdowns over 20 yards, UW’s linemen achieved an unheard of 4-yard push down field.
Wisconsin’s aggressive play calling on the first and second downs, where they threw the ball on the start of drives often in the first quarter, spread Nebraska out. That early success passing meant that Nebraska couldn’t just stack the box, and Alex Hornibrook was effective in getting the ball to his receivers on crucial third downs.
The defense, however, couldn’t stop the Husker offense, especially quarterback Adrian Martinez.
Wisconsin’s inability to apply pressure on Martinez allowed the Huskers to move the ball through the air at will. The Badgers felt no pressure from their interior defensive lineman, while outside linebackers Andrew Van Ginkel and Zack Baun failed to flush Martinez out of the pocket. Martinez had eight seconds at most to throw the ball each play, and on both touchdown passes, Martinez faced no pass rush, allowing him to pick apart the secondary.
Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard tried to put pressure on Martinez by blitzing linebackers, but this strategy had little effect.
UW’s struggles might be partly down to the size of its linemen. While having big linemen is good for stopping the run, it’s much harder for the three down linemen — who all weigh over 300 pounds — to have the same quickness as Baun or Van Ginkel which matters while rushing the passer.
Against Michigan, Wisconsin has to put more pressure on quarterback Shea Patterson. Patterson and Michigan’s receivers will tear apart Wisconsin’s secondary if he has as much time as Martinez did.
With three cornerbacks questionable to play and starting safety Scott Nelson out for the first half after he received a targeting penalty and ejection in the second half, a consistent pass rush is a necessity if the Badgers stand any chance.
While Wisconsin’s offense exploded, bailing out a poor defensive showing, it’s less likely the offense performs as well against the Wolverines’ top-ranked defense. Still, if the UW offensive line can keep up its dominant play as they did against Nebraska, the Badgers can sustain drives and give the defense a break against Michigan’s passing attack.