Stryker: Huskers can’t break through in Madison

Category: Football

Stryker: Huskers can’t break through in Madison

Talent-depth deficit, lack of precision by Armstrong prove costly

Grit and heart can carry you a long way, but as Nebraska found out Saturday night, eventually a lack of depth and talent catches up with you.

Whether by a little or by a lot, Wisconsin continues its advantage in the series. Its 23-17 overtime victory at Camp Randall Stadium was the fourth consecutive win for the Badgers over the Huskers.

The Cornhuskers made it interesting. They found another burst of fourth-quarter magic, coming from 10 points behind to tie the game at 17 with less than four minutes remaining, but seemed to run out of fuel at that point.

Staying within a touchdown is really the best result the Huskers could have achieved. The only place Nebraska has a clear talent edge over Wisconsin is at placekicker. Even at their strongest position — wide receiver — the Huskers did not have an advantage over the Wisconsin secondary. Jordan Westerkamp, Brandon Reilly, Stanley Morgan Jr. and De’Mornay Pierson-El struggled all night to get separation.

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Neither team got good quarterback play, but Wisconsin started a freshman and Nebraska started a senior. Tommy Armstrong missed an opportunity to be a difference-maker against the Badgers. He may yet get the Huskers to Indianapolis, but this was his best opportunity and he let it slip through his fingers. Wisconsin made Armstrong beat him with his arm, and (with very little support from his offensive line), Armstrong was not up to the challenge, hitting only 12 of 31 passes for 153 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. The picks were costly, but even costlier were several missed throws in tight windows, including the fourth-down pass to Morgan in the end zone in overtime. He’s by far the best quarterback the Huskers have right now, but he’s wasn’t enough to overcome Wisconsin’s overall talent edge.

The Huskers should have used Armstrong as a runner more, especially in overtime. He moved his career total offense figure above the 10,000-yard mark, but it was the Husker defense who shone brightest on this night, keeping NU in the game with a creditable effort.

The game illustrated a considerable advantage in depth enjoyed by Wisconsin, which had multiple key players out with injuries, yet clearly outclassed Nebraska at linebacker and in the offensive line. Nebraska has a lot of good players, but not not enough yet. The Huskers are thin at o-line, and they got thinner when Tanner Farmer was taken to the locker room with an injured left knee. But Wisconsin’s program also have had injury problems in the o-line, and they have the depth to overcome it.

Lack of creativity in the running game hurt NU. It would be good to see some counter dives or counter sweeps — something besides the slow-developing reverse by Westerkamp which Wisconsin smothered.

At the start of the season, I though the offense would be the strength of this Husker team, but it’s not the case. The Blackshirts are increasingly keeping this team competitive. The NU defensive line played its best game of the season – Carlos Davis is rapidly gaining momentum; he will be a force in the Big Ten for years to come — and the secondary was solid, as usual. But after keeping NU in the game all night, the defense finally failed late in the game.

At crunch time, Wisconsin used simple running plays to rub the Huskers’ noses in the turf. The Huskers held up well against the Badger running game for 56 minutes, but allowed 74 of Wisconsin’s 223 rushing yards in the final four minutes of regulation, plus overtime.

But overall, there was no shame in this loss. The Huskers now have to prepare for what likely will be an even tougher road trip to Columbus, Ohio, next Saturday night. They’ll put up a good fight, it’s almost certain, but you wonder if they’ve got enough in the tank to get to the next level.

Formerly the sports editor at the North Platte Bulletin and a sportswriter/columnist for the North Platte Telegraph, Tad Stryker started writing for this website in 2008. You can e-mail him at [email protected]. Stryker is a freelance writer, favoring topics related to Nebraska history or Christianity. You can buy his recent book at this link.