Nebraska overcame a sloppy start against Wisconsin and rallied from a 17 point deficit to pull out a 30-27 win. Six fumbles - most unforced - by the Huskers made this game much closer than it should have been. Meanwhile, the defense played their best game of the year against a struggling Badger offense to bail out the offensive miscues.
What led to the sloppy start and the unforced fumbles? Bo Pelini seemed to indicate in his postgame interviews that the players might have been too tight. Too much focus on revenge, perhaps? It certainly didn't work the last time Nebraska tried to make a revenge game bigger than it probably should have; the "Red Out Around the World" turned in to a big Texas party. Against Wisconsin, it was the "Unrivaled" game with the "Techfit" specially designed uniforms. Was it the uniforms? Maybe a little; no doubt that the Huskers were a little too tight especially at the start, so anything that contributed to being too amped up has to be considered partly to blame.
I'm not against alternate uniforms (I loved the 2009 "300th Sellout" uniforms), but hopefully tonight is the only time we'll see the Huskers wearing these pajamas. At CornNation, Salt Creek labeled this game the Pajama Party with these awful uniforms, and it fits. Recruits and players may like them, and that's probably most important. But for fans in the end zones, it was nearly impossible to tell who was on the field when they were facing you with the big "N" or "W". So in the first and fourth quarters, I really couldn't tell who was on the field most of the time for the Huskers; all I saw was 11 N's on the field. And in the second and third quarters, I really couldn't tell who was on the field for Wisconsin from my south end zone seats.
With the number of times Nebraska put the ball on the turf today, it's amazing that the Huskers managed to only lose two of them. But those bobbles killed early drives and gave Wisconsin an opening to seize the game. Early in the second quarter, Nebraska had two first downs with three fumbles - and trailed 20-3. Shades of Texas 2009...or Southern Cal 2007. Nebraska was laying an egg like they did last October against Ohio State.
Except this time, nobody left early. Nebraska's offense got rolling in the second quarter to cut the lead to 20-10. The defense makes a nice stand and forces Wisconsin to punt when disaster hits. On third and long, Wisconsin sends the house, and Taylor Martinez doesn't recognize it. David Gilbert backs up his smack talk and strips the ball from Martinez. Boom...Wiscy's up 27-10 on the Big Red.
But Martinez fights back even though he's not playing his best game. Hits Kenny Bell for a 20 yard gain on third-and-six, and then sprints into the end zone on a 38 yard touchdown run. Boom...Martinez bounces back and the Huskers are back in it.
Last year against Ohio State, it was Lavonte David forcing a Braxton Miller fumble that fueled the comeback. In this game, it was Sean Fisher making the big play, nailing Montee Ball for a loss on third and one. 10 plays later, Martinez fires a touchdown pass to Kyler Reed, and the Huskers are within three points. The Blackshirts are just getting started; another three and out leads to a game tying field goal from Brett Maher. Wisconsin can't build on yet another Jared Abbrederis catch and punts again. The Huskers are now pounding Wisconsin deep into Badger territory, but another penalty stalls the drive. Brett Maher kicks the game winner, and the Blackshirts finish the game out.
Baker Steinkuhler gets more penetration against the Badger offensive line than we've seen all season. One of the goats of the UCLA game, linebacker Alonzo Whaley, makes the game-sealing play by tackling Ball for a loss on fourth and one.
It wasn't Nebraska's best game of the season. Martinez didn't play great, but made enough plays to win. His receivers made tough catches that didn't allow them to get many yards after the catch. Martinez's legs made up for his arm inaccuracy, including a nifty recovery of an Ameer Abdullah fumble to gain nine more yards and get the first down to start the game-winning field goal drive.
The Blackshirts struggled early to cover Abbrederis, but smothered Ball - especially down the stretch. Pelini answered his critics that thought that Pelini had lost his touch on defense tonight. That doesn't mean the Huskers necessarily earned their Blackshirts tonight. What worked against Wisconsin probably won't work against Braxton Miller and Ohio State.
But it's a win, and it's a win when Nebraska made more than enough mistakes to lose the game. In the end, Nebraska found a way to win. They dominated Wisconsin on both sides of the ball in the second half; clean those up and every game is winnable for the Huskers. But if they don't, every game is losable down the stretch.