MADISON, Wisconsin — They met at midfield, right on the red W, just before halftime. Wisconsin’s 41-24 win over Nebraska wasn’t decided the moment Badger running back Garrett Groshek collided with Husker safety Antonio Reed, but the game was clearly defined.
Reed crouched down a bit, like a loaded spring and put his whole upper body into Groshek for a blow-up shot. Reed landed his shot and spun around, as if to admire his work. Only Groshek hadn’t gone down. He staggered for a half second and kept running for several more yards — 24 in all. Reed’s big swing was a missed tackle, and when No. 16 UW finished that drive with a touchdown and 20-3 halftime lead, all the offensive fireworks in the second half — and there were plenty — merely adorned the bold truth of this one-sided Big Ten West series.
For the sixth-straight game and the fifth-straight year, Wisconsin is still the hammer. Nebraska is still the nail.
“It still hurts a lot,” said captain and outside linebacker Luke Gifford, a fifth-year senior who never beat the Badgers. “I know this is one I really wanted.”
“Right now, they’re just better than we are,” coach Scott Frost said.
Both teams amassed more than 500 yards on offense, but it was how, and when, they got those yards that underlined the gap between the two programs.
The Badgers (4-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten) racked up 370 yards on the ground. Early probes into Nebraska’s defense became forceful strikes by the time Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor — improving his Heisman Trophy candidacy — ripped off an 88-yard touchdown with Husker defenders trying, and failing, to wrap him up.
“It was real nice to get out into that open field and stretch my legs a little bit,” Taylor said.
NU quarterback Adrian Martinez threw for 384 yards. Martinez threw short and long, bought time, scrambled, took two sacks, risked multiple interceptions, and kept throwing anyway. He led Nebraska to three touchdowns in the second half, repeatedly targeting receiver JD Spielman, who hauled in nine catches for a school-record 209 yards.
“You just kinda take it like every other game that we lost,” Spielman said.
Upbeat and pragmatic as his team fell to 0-5 overall and 0-3 in the Big Ten, Frost found positives in the loss. He liked his team’s fight and, during the week of preparation, its togetherness in the face of two recent starters — Tyjon Lindsey and Greg Bell — suddenly transferring from the program.
NU’s defense, Frost said, got stops early and held Wisconsin to two red-zone field goals in the first half. The Husker offense, choosing to attack Wisconsin’s inexperienced, banged up secondary, had a “great plan,” and, at times, executed it effectively.
But, in front of 80,051 fans at Camp Randall Stadium, Nebraska had to play from ahead, Frost said, to pull off the upset. And it never did.
“This whole game was the type of game they wanted to be in,” Frost said. “They’re built for that with their size and physical nature.”
Wisconsin won the opening coin toss, took the ball, ground out a game-opening field goal and just kept pounding. Slowly. Surely. Until the dam broke. Like it usually does when it’s Wisconsin-Nebraska.
“For awhile we were OK,” Gifford said. “And then tackling. Tackling kind of added up. Missed tackles, especially later in the game. That’s where they get you. That’s what Wisconsin does. That’s their M.O.”
NU threatened to make it dramatic in the third quarter as Martinez and Nebraska’s offense caught fire through the air. Martinez first hit Spielman for a 75-yard touchdown on the second play of the third quarter, cutting UW’s lead to 20-10.
The Huskers then put Wisconsin in a third-and-7 situation on the Badgers’ ensuing drive. NU defensive tackle Carlos Davis had a clean look at a sack. UW quarterback Alex Hornibrook — as immobile a quarterback as Nebraska will face — got away and completed a 12-yard pass for a first down. Taylor scored on a 21-yard run two plays later, then added another touchdown after the badgers recovered a Martinez fumble.
Martinez answered, floating an across-the-field pass to Spielman for a 38-yard gain that later set up a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jack Stoll, who plucked the ball away from Wisconsin safety D’Cota Dixon. That cut UW’s lead to 34-17. Taylor’s long run gave Wisconsin a 41-17 lead early in the fourth quarter and slammed the door shut on a longshot Nebraska comeback.
“We just made mistakes that definitely came back to haunt us,” Martinez said, referring to misreads of Wisconsin’s defense, especially in the sluggish first half. The Badgers don’t make a lot of mistakes, Martinez said, and he needed to be “more precise” with his decision-making.
Martinez still cleared 400 yards of total offense for a second straight week.
“Man, is he going to be a special player,” Frost said.
Unlike last week, when Frost was emotional and frustrated with his team after a 42-28 loss to Purdue, he made a point to smile and praise his team during the press conference. NU yet again struggled with penalties — 10 for 100 yards — but none of them, Frost said, were “dumb” or selfish. The Huskers once again were awful in both its own third-down conversions (3 of 10) and stopping Wisconsin on third down (6 of 12), but Frost said this loss indicated that Nebraska is not far off from where it wants to be.
“The boys are close,” Frost said. “They’re close. We’ve just got to make the plays.”
Not yet this season. And not for the last five years against Wisconsin.
|Yards per carry||7.9||5.3|
Nebraska is 4-9 all-time against Wisconsin.
|Troy (formerly Troy State)||Sept. 15|
|Ohio State||Nov. 3|
|Michigan State||Nov. 17|
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