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The Morning After: Wisconsin

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A lot was said after yesterday's nightmare. Here's what we found.

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Steve Sipple/Lincoln Journal-Star: Pelini's program should be past such embarrassments.

As snow fell around dinner time, turning Camp Randall Stadium into a gorgeous snow globe, Nebraska fans had to be crestfallen, angry, confused, disillusioned.

Or maybe they're getting used to this stuff.

I hope that never becomes the case.

There's a cumulative effect of the body blows Nebraska has withstood dating to, really, a stunning 62-36 loss at Colorado in 2001. The repeated humiliations on national television sap the spirit. It's difficult to quantify the impact of the losses, but every time they occur, it diminishes the "N" brand.

A loss such as Saturday's gives you pause. I'm guessing it will give Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst plenty to think about on the long ride home — none of it pleasant.

Nebraska, at 8-2 overall and 4-2 in the Big Ten, is now an extreme long shot to win even the West Division. Another year likely will pass without a conference crown.

The latest embarrassment is frankly inexplicable for a program with Nebraska's wide array of resources and energy poured into the program. The coaching staff is stabilized. There are no good excuses.

Tom Shatel/Omaha World-Herald: Latest embarrassment adds to the suspicion that Bo doesn't know.

There are no more words. There are no more excuses. There’s only a Nebraska football program that can’t stop spinning its wheels, keeps driving itself into the same ditch.

Bo Pelini was supposed to be the tow truck. But seven years later, NU is still stuck, maybe more than ever. And it’s obvious Pelini doesn’t know how to get it out.

This ridiculous 59-24 loss to Wisconsin was proof. So was the way NU players let it happen. So was Pelini’s postgame comment when asked why these meltdowns keep happening.

"I have no idea," Pelini said.

Seven years ago, this sort of performance helped get Steve Pederson and Bill Callahan fired. You saw it. I wrote it. After a 45-14 loss to Oklahoma State on Oct. 13, 2007, I wondered if Howard Hawks and some of the big money people in the state would come to the rescue.

Last year, Pelini dared someone to fire him and nobody did. What are the big cigars talking about today?

It’s not the losing. It’s the embarrassing losses. Nebraskans want to win, but these kinds of losses just rip out their hearts.

The narrative now will be that Pelini’s days are numbered, that the hot seat is on fire. You know now that the athletic director won’t be commenting on that, and in fact, he’ll now be harder to find.

There’s one giant hurdle there. It’s hard to know how the Huskers will respond to this one, but if they beat Minnesota and Iowa they would post a 10-2 regular-season record.

The thought of dismissing a coach who goes 10-2 is crazy, even in today’s instagram world.

But the definition of insanity would be to do this another year and expect different results.

Jason Galloway/Wisconsin State Journal:Melvin Gordon sets major college rushing record as UW rallies to rout Nebraska

Melvin Gordon claims he was just running to win.

But for a stretch of time late in the University of Wisconsin football team’s 59-24 victory over Nebraska on Saturday, the result was only secondary.

The Camp Randall Stadium crowd yelled Gordon’s name in unison throughout the second half and chanted "Heisman" as he ran off the field afterward.

The Badgers’ three early fumbles, their early deficit, their 56 consecutive points, their now-unmatched advantage in the Big Ten Conference’s Western Division — none of it mattered as much as UW’s star running back.

Gordon broke an NCAA FBS record with 408 rushing yards and scored four touchdowns against the Cornhuskers, vaulting himself to the top of the Heisman Trophy race.

"You never know when a special day is going to come," Gordon said. "I didn’t even know I was close to a record like that. … I was trying to hold back a little bit, but after they told me, I felt so good."

It took Gordon only three quarters and 25 carries to go where no other major college football running back has ever ventured.

His final carry of the day came on the final play of the third quarter, when he broke a tackle near the line of scrimmage, cut inside a defender and high-stepped over another tackle attempt to score from 26 yards out.

It put him two yards ahead of the NCAA record set by TCU’s LaDainian Tomlinson against UTEP in 1999.

Neal Olson/Bucky's 5th Quarter: Wisconsin just scored again

Saturday's first half was an exercise in everything that could go wrong for the Badgers. Three fumbles, including two by Heisman Trophy hopeful Melvin Gordon, helped set up all of Nebraska's first-half points and an early 17-3 lead.

The turnovers certainly did not help, but the stout Badger defense had its back to the wall for much of the first quarter. UW looked out of sorts and unsure of its assignments; the first Huskers touchdown was the direct result of a blown coverage by Michael Caputo and Joe Schobert.

Enter the hero of the afternoon, Melvin Gordon. Despite the two first-half fumbles, Gordon was a monster, rushing for 238 first-half yards on 16 carries. The highlight was a 62-yard run and hurdle of a Nebraska defender along the Wisconsin sideline. In a season of Heisman-worthy plays, that long scamper is unmatched in regard to game situation and necessity.

Tom Gordon/Wisconsin State Journal: Melvin Gordon's record-setting day reminiscent of The Dayne Game in 1999

In its first 22 games under Andersen, UW had beaten only one ranked team — No. 19 Northwestern last year. And even that was somewhat tainted because it was the second of seven straight losses for the Wildcats.

But there are no asterisks attached to Nebraska, which had lost only at Michigan State and had been performing extremely well on offense, defense and special teams. The Badgers outplayed the Cornhuskers in all three phases and probably a few more, too.

"We needed a big win to make a statement," quarterback Tanner McEvoy said. "I think we did that today. It was a great overall team win. The defense played great. We tasted adversity and we came back to win it."

The way UW stormed back to win was the most special — and encouraging — aspect of the game. The Badgers lost three potentially demoralizing fumbles, including two by Gordon, and had an 18-yard punt to literally hand Nebraska 17 points, but never veered from their game plan or lost their resolve.

"They stayed well-grounded and fought through it," Andersen said. "It was an amazing day to watch."

At least as amazing as that game 15 years ago when Dayne and the Badgers made history. Quarterback Joel Stave, like many of his teammates, was just starting grade school back then and his memories of that game are a bit vague.

"I remember the papers and everyone talking about Ron Dayne and how he just absolutely blew up," Stave said. "But I think this game and the season that Melvin’s having is right up there with anything that any running back has realistically ever done. He’s having a special year."

Because he is, the Badgers still have a chance to do the same.

Dirk Chatelain/Omaha World-Herald: As snow falls, so does the Huskers image

Bo Pelini’s team didn’t just lose the biggest game of the season by 35 points. It didn’t just lose any realistic shot at a Big Ten West title. It lost all credibility and dignity. Friday the Huskers were still considered a candidate for the college football playoff. Saturday they were a laughingstock.

Two years ago after Wisconsin beat NU 70-31 in the Big Ten championship game, Pelini downplayed the long-term meaning: "We just won six straight. We went 10-2 in the regular season. ... It’s not indicative of the foundation of this program."

Saturday he echoed that statement: "I don’t get into all these big-picture talks. That’s one football game. This program has won a lot of football games."

Indeed. Nebraska will almost certainly win nine games for the seventh consecutive year — only Alabama and Oregon can say the same. Maybe that’s enough for a majority of fans. Maybe that’s enough for the NU administration.

But it’s crystal clear that Nebraska isn’t winning championships anytime soon. What happened in Indy in 2012, when the Badgers trounced the Huskers from the opening kickoff, was stunning. This was even harder to believe.

How does an 8-1 football team jump out to a 17-3 lead, then get outscored 49-0 in the next 30 minutes? How does a team’s coaching staff demonstrate no ability to stop momentum? Have you ever seen a program more emotionally fragile?

At 3:21 p.m., I posted this comment on Twitter: "Nebraska is playing beautiful, fundamental football. How ’bout that."

The Huskers were up 17-3, winning the field-position battle, winning the turnover battle, stuffing Melvin Gordon (six of his first eight carries produced 3 yards or fewer), doing the simple things that great teams do. Nebraska seemed more talented than Wisconsin. More explosive. More disciplined.

It really was beautiful.

On the ensuing drive, Wisconsin faced third-and-6 at its 27-yard line. Exactly the passing situation Nebraska wanted. Joel Stave converted to his tight end. OK, no big deal, right?

Next play, cornerback Daniel Davie appeared to blow his edge containment, allowing Gordon to dash down the sideline, hurdling safety Corey Cooper en route to the end zone.

And in the snap of a finger, Nebraska’s season fell apart. Not the quarter. Not the game. The season. Everything changed. In the second and third quarters, Wisconsin had 476 yards and seven touchdowns in 34 snaps. Read that again.

"When it flipped, it flipped," Pelini said. "Somewhere along the way, it was like our guys totally lost their confidence."