Wisconsin vs. Nebraska: Huskers' Resiliency Saves Chance at Special Season
First it was 20-3 in the first half. Then 27-10 early in the third quarter. Nebraska didn't panic. You saw adjustments, but you didn't see any wholesale changes. All you saw was Nebraska staying Nebraska.
And you saw one heck of a comeback as a result.
Nebraska scored the last 20 points of the game in a 30-27 comeback stunner as Wisconsin stumbled down the stretch in both teams' Big Ten openers. Taylor Martinez led the resurgence with 181 yards and two touchdowns on 17-of-29 passing, and he was the game's top rusher with 116 yards and another score on just 13 carries.
Montee Ball, meanwhile, appeared to be leading the Badger attack with 91 yards and three touchdowns, but he managed just 34 yards after the half and he fumbled on Wisconsin's final play of the evening—an apparent miscommunication, in fact, as Ball never appeared to try to control the ball after Danny O'Brien handed it to him.
The game bore an eerie similarity to Nebraska's home conference opener of 2011, as a matter of fact, one that saw Nebraska erase a 21-point deficit against Ohio State for the program's biggest comeback win ever. This wasn't as big—only 17 points—but just as the 2011 comeback reinvigorated a program that was on the brink of self-doubt after losing its first Big Ten game by 31 points, so too will Saturday's game buoy Nebraska's conference title hopes.
The Legends Division remains the most closely competitive division in the Big Ten, if not all of FBS. Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska are the favorites to push for the division title, but all of a sudden, Northwestern's in the mix with its 5-0 start, and Iowa's division title hopes have been upgraded from "laughable" to "moderately implausible" with a 31-13 smothering of previously undefeated Minnesota.
The key for each of these teams, then, is simple: Take care of business at home and beat the teams a champion would beat. Michigan State's conference title hopes took a hit when Ohio State came to town and left with a 17-16 victory, but the Buckeyes are quite possibly the toughest team MSU will face all year. Losing to the best team on the conference schedule by one point sounds a lot like something 7-1 teams do. And 7-1 teams also win the division quite often.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, is not the toughest team on Nebraska's schedule. Not this Wisconsin team, the one that can't decide between Joel Stave and Danny O'Brien at quarterback and can't spring Montee Ball for his trademark huge runs (see: the 151 yards and four touchdowns Ball dropped on Nebraska at Camp Randall last year).
No, Wisconsin has some talent on defense and Jared Abbrederis is the Big Ten's best wide receiver, but this Wisconsin team is not very good. It is a team that champions should beat.
As we pointed out earlier in the week, Nebraska is set up to put together a massive year and get to the Rose Bowl. That ground game is a snarling beast, and it came through again on Saturday: 44 rushes for 263 yards, a near-exact 6.0 yards-per-carry average. If Nebraska can run for six yards a pop against the rest of the Big Ten, big things are in store for this Husker team.
And with this 30-27 comeback, Nebraska has shown the resilient heart of a winner—the heart of a champion. There are still seven games to go and Nebraska's still got plenty to work on (don't think for a second that Bo Pelini will forget about those 17-point deficits), but now the bar's set a little higher for the rest of a division where wins will be hard to come by to begin with.
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