Call it Big Red redemption times two.
The No. 22/20 Nebraska football team (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) made amends for a series of first-half miscues to match the second-biggest comeback in school history by rallying from a 17-point third-quarter deficit to notch a 30-27 victory over defending Big Ten champion No. NR/23 Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1 Big Ten) on Saturday night.
Playing in front of 85,962 fans and an ABC prime-time television audience in the NCAA-record 322nd consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium, the Huskers rallied from a 27-10 deficit with 10:29 left in the third quarter.
The win also avenged Nebraska's 48-17 loss to the Badgers in the Huskers' first-ever Big Ten Conference game last season at Madison, Wis.
Senior place-kicker Brett Maher produced the winning margin with his 41-yard field goal field goal with 9:41 left. Maher's kick - his third field goal of the game - capped a stretch of 20 unanswered points for the Huskers in a span of 14:37.
Husker quarterback Taylor Martinez played a starring role in the comeback, producing the 10th 100-yard rushing performance of his career. The junior from Corona, Calif., rushed 13 times for 107 yards, including a 38-yard scoring sprint to start NU's third-quarter rally.
Martinez also completed 17-of-29 passes for 181 yards with two more scoring strikes, including a 10-yard connection with tight end Kyler Reed to pull NU within 27-24 with 3:47 left in the third quarter.
Maher's second field goal of the night, a 38-yarder with 55 seconds left in the third quarter tied the score at 27, before his decisive kick sealed Nebraska's 10th straight home night win and 850th victory in program history.
Nebraska's Blackshirt defense also played a major role. Will Compton, Alonzo Whaley and the rest of the Blackshirts all but shut down the Badgers in the second half. The Husker defense limited Wisconsin to just 84 yards of total offense after halftime, including just 16 on the ground. UW amassed 205 of its 289 total yards for the game in jumping to a 20-10 halftime lead.
In a battle of All-Big Ten running backs, Wisconsin's Montee Ball scored three touchdowns for the Badgers, but the Blackshirts held UW's big back to 89 yards on 30 carries. For the game, Wisconsin managed just 60 rushing yards on 38 carries. Last season, Ball notched four scores and 151 yards on 30 totes.
While the Blackshirts bottled up Ball for just 27 second-half yards, Nebraska's All-Big Ten back Rex Burkhead rumbled and juked for 63 yards after halftime to help the Huskers amass 259 yards on the ground for the game. It was NU's fifth straight game with 250 or more rushing yards to open the season. Burkhead finished with 86 yards on 18 carries.
But Burkhead's winning day to start so rosy.
A series of Husker miscues early in the first eight minutes led to a 14-0 Wisconsin lead. NU won the toss and chose to receive but the Huskers only returned the opening kickoff to the 10. A fumbled opening snap handcuffed the Husker offense and led to a three-and-out.
Maher helped the Huskers flip the field with a 55-yard punt, but a 54-yard pass from Joel Stave to Abbrederis put the Badgers in the NU red zone. Ball capped a 71-yard drive with a three-yard scoring run to give Wisconsin a 7-0 lead less than four minutes into the game.
On Nebraska's ensuing drive, Burkhead had a potential big play on a toss to the left end in misfortune when he ran into offensive lineman Spencer Long and fumbled after a six-yard gain. Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland recovered the fumble.
The Badgers capitalized seven plays later on Ball's second short scoring run, this time from one yard out on 4th-and-Goal to give UW a 14-0 lead.
Sophomore Ameer Abdullah sparked the Huskers with an 83-yard kickoff return, but NU was unable to punch it in the end zone after starting the drive at the Wisconsin 13. Maher's 26-yard field goal trimmed the Badger lead to 14-3 with 5:29 left in the first quarter.
Abdullah finished the night with 252 all-purpose yards, including 142 on kickoff returns, 18 more on punt returns, 70 rushing yards and 22 yards on three receptions on NU's first touchdown drive.
Wisconsin answered NU's field goal with its third touchdown of the half early in the second quarter, as Stave connected with Abbrederis on a 29-yard touchdown strike. The pass play capped a 10-play, 65-yard drive for the Badgers that was extended by a roughing the punter penalty of the Huskers. Abbrederis had five receptions for 107 yards in the first half, but NU kept in check with just two catches in the second half. Abbrederis finished the night with seven receptions for 142 yards.
After the two defenses exchanged three-and-outs, Nebraska put together its best drive of the half by marching 93 yards on 12 plays in 5:13 capped by Martinez's three-yard touchdown pass to Burkhead. Martinez went 7-for-7 for 53 yards on the drive, while adding 32 yards rushing to cut Wisconsin's lead to 20-10 at the half. Martinez completed 10-of-13 passes for 75 yards, while adding 42 yards rushing on six carries to account for 117 of NU's 143 total yards in the half.
Nebraska's second half started much like the first. After a defensive stop on Wisconsin's opening drive, the Huskers picked up a quick first down on their opening offensive play. But after a pair of incomplete passes, UW's David Gilbert forced a fumble just before Martinez started his throwing motion. The Badgers recovered at the NU 13, and Ball notched his third short touchdown run of the day four plays later to take a 27-10 lead with 10:29 left in the third quarter.
Martinez made amends on NU's next drive, connecting with Kenny Bell on a 20-yard pass with a 15-yard UW personal foul tacked on at the end of the play. Bell finished with four catches for 57 yards on the night. On the next play, Martinez split the Badger defense and raced 38 yards up the middle to a touchdown to cut the lead back to 27-17 with 8:56 left in the third.
The Huskers built momentum with another defensive stop, as linebacker Sean Fisher threw Ball for a loss on 3rd-and-1 to force a another Badger punt. Martinez led Nebraska on another march, covering 75 yards in 10 plays capped by a 10-yard scoring strike to Reed on 3rd-and-4 to cut Wisconsin's edge to 27-24 with 3:47 left in the quarter.
The Memorial Stadium crowd roared to life for the Blackshirts on UW's ensuing possession, and the defense answered the bell again. NU forced a punt, and the Huskers raced back into scoring position, this time settling for a 38-yard Maher field goal to tie the score for the first time at 27 with 55 seconds left in the quarter.
Nebraska's winning drive covered 12 plays and 60 yards before Maher's 41-yard boot. The Huskers mounted one more promising drive that stalled in Wisconsin territory before the defense sealed the victory when Alonzo Whaley stripped the ball from Ball. Harvey Jackson recovered to lock up the victory and send the Husker faithful into a frenzy.
Whaley finished with a career-high eight tackles, including his first career sack and his first forced fumble. The recovery was also the first of Jackson's career. Will Compton led the Blackshirts with 10 tackles on the night, including an 11-yard sack and the first two breakups of his career.
Nebraska hits the road for the first time in Big Ten play to take on Ohio State in Columbus next Saturday. The game will be televised by ABC in primetime at 7 p.m. Last season, the Huskers posted the biggest comeback in school history, rallying from 21 points down in the third quarter to beat the Buckeyes.
Courtesy: Nebraska Media Relations