What a game Saturday!
It was Nebraska's own fault that they put themselves in that huge hole, but give them all the credit in the world for having the mental toughness and fortitude to stick with it and gut out the victory. The crowd and atmosphere were electric. It was a must win for the Cornhuskers if they wanted to keep their B1G hopes alive. A huge test looms this next Saturday as Nebraska travels to THE Ohio State University. But before we do that, let's look back on some plays we liked, and some we didn't like.
Three Good Plays
Offense: The 3rd and 6 pass to Kenny Bell and the subsequent 15 yard personal foul call was huge in the 3rd quarter down 27-10, and it was followed on the next play by the 38 yard touchdown off the quarterback draw. But I'm going with a play that wasn't quite as flashy. On Nebraska's next drive, Ameer Abdullah found a nice groove, Taylor Martinez hit Jamal Turner for a 27 yard pass, and Nebraska found itself with a 3rd and 1 at Wisconsin's 21. Nebraska came out in a two-tight end, power I-formation.
On the straight power dive, true freshman fullback Andy Janovich demolished their senior linebacker Mike Taylor, Spencer Long took out their best defender, linebacker Chris Borland, and the rest of the O-line got a nice push. Abdullah picked up five yards and the first down. This kept the drive and momentum going, and ended with the 10 yard touchdown bullet from Martinez to Kyle Reed.
Defense: The Blackshirts showed up, especially in the second half. Baker Steinkuhler, Will Compton, and Alonzo Whaley played fantastic. Sean Fisher looked much better. The D-line dominated Wisconsin's O-line in the second half, and in fact, played some inspired ball in the first half, too. In the second quarter, trailing 20-3, Nebraska was forced to punt. Wisconsin utilized play action pass again and completed a long pass to Nebraska's 45.
At that point the game could have gotten out of control. But on the 1st and 10 play, Josh Mitchell, who was just beaten on the previous said pass play, came on a corner blitz and tackled James White for a five yard loss. Wisconsin gained seven on the next play, setting up a crucial 3rd and 8. Nebraska blitzed six with Will Compton coming untouched directly up the middle and sacking Joel Stave at the Wisconsin 45, forcing a punt. This seemed to wake up the offense, too, as Nebraska took the ball from their own eight and drove down for a critical touchdown, making it 20-10.
Special Teams: I've gotta mention Ameer Abdullah's 83 yard kickoff return to Wisconsin's 16 yard line immediately following their second score that had made it 14-0, though it only led to a field goal. But I think Brett Maher's final field goal in the 4th quarter is the special teams' play of the game. That was the Maher we're used to seeing. Calm and cool under pressure. After a nice drive by the offense, Maher came in and drilled the 41 yarder, giving Nebraska the lead. Sure, it was "only" a 41 yarder, routine for most kickers, but the pressure was tense inside Memorial Stadium. A miss on that attempt could have cost Nebraska the game.
Offense: How about the fumble on the first snap of the game? Or Rex Burkhead's self-induced fumble on the second possession of the game? Nah, let's go with Nebraska's first possession of the second half. After the Blackshirts forced a punt, Nebraska received the ball at the 13 yard line. Rex Burkhead gains 10 on a run on the first play, then Tim Beck calls three straight pass plays, two incomplete passes and the sack and fumble.
I'm not sure how many times the past couple years Nebraska started the second half with a turnover, offense or special teams, but it's a concerning anomaly, especially so deep in their own territory. To make matters worse, the Badger who made the play was David Gilbert, the guy who was talking serious smack about Taylor Martinez last week. He beat Brent Qvale around the edge. This led to a touchdown and a 27-10 Wisconsin lead. Did I mention the three straight pass plays right after Burkhead had gained 10 yards on a run?
Defense: Wisconsin's second play of the game on second and eight from the 31. They used a double play action that sucked safety P.J. Smith up and Damian Stafford was covering the flat. This left Josh Mitchell one-on-one with Jared Abbrederis who ran a deep post and had Mitchell by a couple steps. Now, I didn't mind the Nebraska corners playing their receivers man-up, but this play set the tone for the entire first half, and Nebraska continued to have problems with Abbrederis, who is a crafty, sure-handed, reliable receiver. The gain of 54 yards set them up at Nebraska's 13 and led to their first touchdown of the game. Honorable mention goes to Will Compton's dropped interception in the second half deep in Nebraska's own territory. Those are plays the Blackshirts simply have to make in order to win a conference championship.
Special Teams: This one is a no-brainer, and occurred on the possession after Maher missed the 52 yard field goal attempt. At the 14:19 mark of the second quarter, the Blackshirts had just made an inspiring stop, forcing a 4th and 18. Momentum was starting to turn. Stanley Jean-Baptiste rushed from the end, wasn't even close to blocking the kick, in fact he didn't even dive to attempt the block and ran right into the kicker's leg resulting in a 15-yard roughing the punter call. Instead of Nebraska having it 1st and 10 on the 20, Wisconsin got a fresh set of downs and used it to propel them to a 20-3 lead. Stanley's reaction tells you he knew he just made a huge mistake. This type of error cannot happen Saturday at the Horseshoe.