Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, 10/7/17

Nebraska running back Devine Ozigbo (22) high-steps away from Wisconsin safety D'Cota Dixon (14) in second-quarter action at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017.

FRANCIS GARDLER, Journal Star

Welcome back to the HuskerExtra Mailbag. Thanks again for the good questions. 

Let's get to them. 

That's the $10 million question, Joel, and it's well above my pay grade. This is the question Chancellor Ronnie Green, system President Hank Bounds have been wrestling with and the question a new athletic director will be asked to answer early in his or her tenure. 

Let's begin with the stipulation that Riley's current record at Nebraska (18-14 overall, 11-9 Big Ten, 0-6 vs. Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa) isn't good enough. He and the leadership have both acknowledged that. 

The next part is direction. Is the program headed in a promising direction? Do Riley's recruiting classes and the development of those young players say definitively that brighter days are ahead? 

Grading wins and losses isn't quite black and white -- Green and Bounds said as much when they fired Shawn Eichorst -- but it's close. The rest of it is a whole lot of gray. 

Good question, DR. 

My sense is this question comes this week because Wisconsin ran the ball 30 of its last 32 snaps and put away a win against the Huskers. 

I've had a few people ask why Nebraska "abandoned the run" against the Badgers. They didn't. They just didn't have the ball very much in the second half. 

On NU's first drive of the third quarter, Devine Ozigbo picked up 11 yards, but then was stuffed for 1 on first-and-10. That's the "feast or famine" in the run game Riley lamented Monday. 

They threw on second-and-9 and third-and-9, both fair decisions, and punted. 

Second drive of the third quarter: Five runs and four passes. Four of those runs were for no gain. You just can't have that. 

Total in the second half, NU ran just 19 plays -- 11 passes and 8 rushes. 

I agree with the premise of the question. If you can run it every time, why not? On the first couple of drives, the Huskers ran it well. You can question the call on third-and-2 that led to the pick-six. I think they had a good look for the swing pass. I can also, of course, see the argument for a run play there. 

Remember: In wins against Rutgers and Illinois, NU went heavy run in the second half of both games. Clearly, Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf thought the situations against Wisconsin were different. 

Interesting observation, Cory. 

Wisconsin specializes in redshirting linemen and making a ton of progress in the weight room over that year. Take David Edwards as an example. He was recruited as a 6-foot-7, 240-pound tight end who played quarterback in high school. Now he's 315 pounds, made seven starts as a redshirt freshman and is a staple on the right side as a redshirt sophomore. 

On a related note, Riley was asked about this in a slightly different way this week. He admitted it might have been good for Brenden Jaimes to get a full year in the weight room without having to play. That was the stated plan when the season started. They just had too many injuries to avoid playing him.  

Development from offensive and defensive linemen usually takes time. There aren't very many Deontre Thomas-types out there, and even he could theoretically have benefited from a redshirt year. 

This is a critical year for several players up front, but that can be said every year. Without looking too far down the road, it's always interesting to see how those guys progress over an offseason. 

It's not about me believing in Tanner Lee. It's about the coaches and his teammates believing in him, and they pretty clearly do. 

Consider this: Over Lee's past two games, he's 33-of-56 (58.9 percent) for 508 yards (9.1 per attempt) with four touchdowns and one interception. That's against one bad defense and one good one. 

His only turnover hit a teammate in the helmet. He's made throws under pressure and on the run and he's thrown the ball away. He's also got away with a few mistakes without too much repercussion. 

And let's get one thing out of the way, just so we're all on the same page: Wins and losses are not a quarterback stat. 

The coaches asked for consistency from him. He looks like he's beginning to show some. Let's see if he can do it against Ohio State and beyond. He's certainly going to get the chance.  

Let's end on a controversial one. 

Joel, I'm typically a sugar or a glazed kind of guy. 

With this crisp weather and it finally feeling like fall, though, it's got to be apple donuts to go along with some cider. 

Thanks for the great questions again this week. Check out HuskerExtra.com for Chris Basnett's excellent Chris Jones story and all the latest news and information as the Huskers prepare for Ohio State. 

Contact the writer at pgabriel@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.

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Sports writer

Parker joined the Journal Star as the University of Nebraska football beat writer in August 2017. He previously covered Montana State athletics for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2012.

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