MADISON, Wis. — Midway through the fourth quarter, the outcome beyond doubt, the Wisconsin student section at Camp Randall Stadium started a three-word chant, apt for Nebraska football’s first night in a new league.
“Big Ten Football.” Clap, clap, clap, clap, clap. “Big Ten Football.”
Simple. Blunt. And revealing to a national, prime time TV audience.
Taylor Martinez lost his touch, the Badgers’ adopted senior leader — Russell Wilson — stole the show, and the Huskers’ already-maligned defense got the rudest possible awakening to a new league.
The result: A 14-13 second-quarter NU lead careened off track into the full-on Big Ten beating fans feared might happen, a 48-17 Wisconsin win that’s bound to send Nebraska dropping like a pond stone in the polls.
“I’m embarrassed how we played,” head coach Bo Pelini said. “I apologize to the fans of Nebraska. That was a joke.”
Said Martinez: “This is one of the tough ones.”
In front of 81,384 festive-but-unforgiving fans, all the ghosts of Huskers’ recent past — turnovers and penalties especially — came back to haunt them.
“We got away from ourselves,” left tackle Yoshi Hardrick said. “Turnovers and penalties killed us, and I don’t think we fought back in the end. But something had to wake us up.”
Here are the most painful smelling salts:
>> Nine flags for 80 yards. Many of those first-half penalties got NU “off schedule,” Pelini said, and forced the Huskers into passing downs — and Martinez into mistakes.
“Penalties killed us again and again,” said freshman wide receiver Jamal Turner, who caught five passes for 84 yards.
Pelini said he didn’t know why Nebraska, which had committed only 4.5 penalties per game in the non-conference season, suddenly doubled that amount Saturday night.
“If I did — they wouldn’t have happened, right?” he said.
>> Three Martinez interceptions — two in the second quarter and one to start the third — that all led to UW touchdowns. The first Taylor turnover — the Huskers led 14-13 and were near midfield — was a leaping, across-the-body throw right into the arms of Wisconsin linebacker Mike Taylor.
“I made a bad read,” said Martinez, who thought “the whole game” turned on that play.
Martinez didn’t get rattled, Pelini said, “but he did make some bad decisions.”
Wilson, thrusting himself into the thick of the Heisman Trophy race, turned those turnovers into three touchdowns: A 36-yard pass to Jared Abbrederis with two minutes left in the first half; an NFL-caliber, 46-yard laser to Nick Toon 30 seconds before halftime; and a 10-yard naked bootleg early in the third quarter. After that score, UW led 34-14 and Pelini waved his hand in frustration at the field.
>> A pass defense, Pelini said, that rarely made a good play on the ball, as Wilson completed 14 of 20 passes for 255 yards and two scores. He also converted 8 of 12 third-down chances.
Though Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David sacked Wilson twice, the North Carolina State transfer otherwise bedeviled NU defenders with his scrambles and play-action fakes. On his 36-yarder to Abbrederis, Wilson’s run fake froze junior safety P.J. Smith to a spot just five yards away. Smith didn’t move until after Wilson had uncorked the pass.
>> Flimsy tackling that allowed the Badgers to rush for 171 yards in the second half.
>> A sheer lack of second-half fire and discipline after Martinez opened the second half with his third interception. Wisconsin lined up in power sets for all but a few plays and ran right at the Huskers, who caught the massive Badger blocks, and lurched backward.
“Wisconsin came ready to play,” defensive tackle Terrence Moore said. “And we didn’t.”
Pelini was more to the point: “Guys have to make plays. Guys gotta compete. I’m not going to sit here and name names. We’ve got to coach them better and they’ve got to play better. And I’m going to keep looking for the right combination, because right now we haven’t found it.”
For the night, Wisconsin outgained Nebraska 486-335, but the Huskers held the yardage and momentum edge early, when Martinez completed long passes to Quincy Enunwa (29 yards), Ben Cotton (28) and Turner (26) and made some timely option runs to give Nebraska the 14-13 lead.
In the second half, though, NU had just 112 yards on 24 plays. And half of that total came on a mop-up duty drive, when Martinez was stuffed at the goal-line by a bevy of Badgers. The Camp Randall crowd was still singing the last bars of Neal Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” as the play unfolded.
Welcome to the Big Ten, Nebraska. Now here comes Pelini’s alma mater — Ohio State — a team licking its own wounds after a 10-7 loss at home to Michigan State.
“It’s not about bouncing back,” Pelini said. “We need to fight back. We need to get some guys to step up, man up and play some football.”
|Yards per carry||4.6||3.7|
Nebraska is 4-10 all-time against Wisconsin.
|Fresno State||Sept. 10|
|Ohio State||Oct. 8|
|Michigan State||Oct. 29|
|Penn State||Nov. 12|
|South Carolina||Jan. 2|
Nebraska has played 18 games on Oct. 1. See them all »
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