They weren’t supposed to be here. They were told they didn’t belong. Accordingly, they threw caution to the wind.
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Wisconsin, playing in the Big Ten championship game because Leaders Division champion Ohio State was ineligible, rode some creative play calling and an awesome rushing performance to a 70-31 rout of 14th-ranked Nebraska Saturday night at Indianapolis’ Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Badgers avenged a 30-27 loss at Nebraska from Sept. 29, one of five painful losses the Badgers had endured by a combined 19 points. In the process, Wisconsin (8-5) won its third straight Big Ten championship and won the right to go to the Rose Bowl for the third year in a row. The Badgers will face Pac-12 champion Stanford (11-2) Jan. 1 in Pasadena.
“We lost two heartbreakers to two good teams – Ohio State and Penn State,” said UW coach Bret Bielema. “We knew they couldn’t be here so we took advantage of the opportunity. Our team is resilient, full of character and we have a room full of men who really know how to persevere. “
It was a bitter defeat for Nebraska (10-3), which was seeking a Big Ten title in its second year in the conference. The Huskers helped Wisconsin’s cause with three turnovers, including an early pick-six that staked the Badgers to a quick 14-0 lead just over three minutes into the game.
“I apologize to everybody associated with Nebraska football with how we coached, how we played, and it's not acceptable,” said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. “There was nothing taking us off guard. We practiced 99 percent of what they showed us today. For whatever reason we didn't execute. We didn't make tackles. We didn't make plays, obviously. We didn't coach it well enough.”
With nothing to lose, Wisconsin pulled out all the stops. The Badgers gashed the Huskers repeatedly with the end around and also hit them with a throwback pass to quarterback Curt Phillips and also with direct snaps to running back James White out of the Barge package.
When this rout finally ended, Wisconsin had rolled up 640 yards total offense including 539 yards rushing. The Badgers had three 100-yard rushers. The 539-yard total is the most allowed in a game by Nebraska in its program history. Wisconsin’s eight rushing touchdowns are a school single-game record for the Badgers.
Melvin Gordon led the way with nine carries on end around plays for 216 yards and a touchdown. Montee Ball had 21 carries for 201 yards and three touchdowns. And White came through with 109 yards and four touchdowns on 15 totes. White also threw a touchdown pass out of the Barge.
The Badgers got to NU's Taylor Martinez for six sacks
“We kind of set our minds before the game that this is our game,” Ball said. “The running backs were going to set the tempo. We’ve been practicing real hard so I’m really glad to see that.
“We all felt like we had to make a big statement on a big stage. We just wanted to make sure that we executed.”
Phillips was 6 for 8 passing for 71 yards and also caught a 27-yard pass from receiver Jared Abbrederis. UW corner Marcus Cromartie returned an interception 29 yards for a touchdown as well.
It was a difficult night for Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez. He was 17 of 33 passing for 184 yards, but had two interceptions and also lost a fumble. Martinez did net 140 yards rushing and had two touchdowns on 19 carries. But he was also sacked six times by the Badgers.
“I mean, it was like a leaking boat,” Pelini said. “It was one thing after another. One problem after another. You get one fixed and you talk about it. There were some things that we corrected and it happened again. Like I said, I don't know if I've ever I've never been a part of a game like that as a coach.
“Like I said, at the end of the day, it falls on me. It falls directly on my shoulders because I'm responsible for how those kids play.”
As It Happened
Wisconsin won the coin toss and opted to take the ball. The Badgers went 75 yards in a quick four plays for the game’s first points. Ball had gains of 7 and 3 yards before Phillips found Jacob Pedersen for a 9-yard gain.
On second-and-1 from the 44, Phillips took the snap and handed off to Melvin Gordon, who had come in motion. Gordon outran NU’s Daimion Stafford to the edge. He then juked NU’s P.J. Smith, picked up a block downfield from receiver Jared Abbrederis and was gone on the 56-yard touchdown run that staked UW to a 7-0 lead with 13:01 left in the first quarter.
On the first play from the 25 after the ensuing kickoff, NU’s Martinez tried to hit receiver Kenny Bell in the right flat. But the pass went off Bell’s hands and right to UW’s Cromartie, who easily returned the pick 29 yards for a touchdown. The game was barely three minutes old and Wisconsin already had a 14-0 lead.
Nebraska needed an answer and came back with a quick touchdown. Facing third-and-11 at the NU 24, Martinez took a shotgun snap and started rolling to his right. He felt pressure from UW’s Brendan Kelly and reversed his field to the left. He cut outside and somehow also eluded UW’s Mike Taylor and David Gilbert. He then cut back against the grain and outran everybody down the middle of the field, picking up a block inside the 10 from Bell on his way to a breathtaking 76-yard touchdown run that cut the UW lead to 14-7 with 10:58 left in the first quarter.
After Wisconsin went three-and-out, Nebraska drove from its own 10 to inside the UW 20-yard line. This series included an 18-yard run by Martinez and a 21-yard scamper by Burkhead. But on first down at the UW 19, Martinez was sacked by UW’s Taylor. The Huskers had to settle for Brett Maher’s 32-yard field goal, trimming the Badgers lead to 14-10 with 4:46 left in the first quarter.
The Badgers roared back with an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. It got rolling with gains of 21 yards by Ball and 24 by Gordon. Phillips then hit Derek Watt for a 10-yard gain down to the 19. On third-and-2 from the 11, White took a direct snap out of UW’s Barge package and picked up 2 yards and a first down. Wisconsin went right back to White on the direct snap on first down and he rolled around right end for the 9-yard touchdown that made it 21-10 with 1:01 left in the first quarter.
“We had to play an aggressive game and let it all out,” White said. “Whatever coach called, we we’re going to try and execute.”
Nebraska drove to midfield, but could go no farther. UW took over after a 19-yard punt at its own 33. The Badgers moved 67 yards in six plays to another touchdown, even overcoming a holding penalty along the way. Phillips hit Abbrederis for a 16-yard gain and found White for a 22-yard gain on a swing pass. On first down at the NU 28, Phillips took the snap and handed off to the motion man Abbrederis. Phillips came around left end and was wide open for the throwback pass for a 27-yard gain down to the 1.
On first down there, Wisconsin came out with the Barge look with a nine-man line. White took the direct snap and scored the 1-yard touchdown to make it 28-10 with 11:11 left in the first half.
Needing a score, Nebraska went three-and-out with Tyler Dippel sacking Martinez on third down. The Badgers got it back on their own 31 and needed six plays to go 69 yards. Phillips hit Abbrederis for a 13-yard gain with a 15-yard personal foul tacked on against NU’s Stafford. Finally on first down at the NU 24, Ball took a give and went around left end. He got down the sideline and dove at the pylon for the 24-yard touchdown that made it 35-10 with 7:15 left in the first half.
Again, needing a score, it seemed like Martinez and the Huskers were gaining some momentum. But he was hit by UW’s Gilbert and fumbled with UW’s Taylor making the recovery. But the Badgers came away empty as Kyle French’s 45-yard field goal was wide right.
Nebraska picked up a first down on its ensuing possession before being forced to punt again. Wisconsin took over on its own 21 with 1:01 left. White had gains of 4 and 12 yards on the first two plays and, with a first down on their own 37, UW’s Bielema called a timeout with 20 seconds left. Once again, Wisconsin went to Gordon on the end around. He broke free for a 60-yard gain down to the Huskers’ 3-yard line. UW called timeout with six seconds left.
Once again, Wisconsin went into its bag of tricks. White took a direct snap and looked like he was going on a sweep to the left. But he stopped and threw to a wide open tight end Sam Arneson for the touchdown and a commanding 42-10 lead at the break.
The Wisconsin juggernaut was swift and absolute in posting 391 first-half yards, including 290 on the ground.
Nebraska had the ball to start the second half, but disaster struck again on the Huskers’ third play. On third-and-7 at the NU 28, Martinez was flushed by Wisconsin’s Gilbert and just threw it up for grabs. Wisconsin’s Devin Smith was the beneficiary as he made the easy interception and returned it 22 yards down to the 9.
On first down there, Ball went over the left tackle and scored basically untouched on the 9-yard touchdown that pushed the Wisconsin lead to 49-10 with 14:13 left in the third quarter.
Nebraska came back with a seven-play, 75-yard scoring march. The key play was Martinez’s 32-yard toss to Jamal Turner. NU’s Bell was flagged on the play for a block in the back on UW’s Smith, who left the game with a head injury. But Nebraska benefitted from a roughing the passer call to get the ball down to the 11. Martinez did the rest on an 11-yard touchdown run to trim the UW lead to 49-17 with 10:47 left in the third quarter.
Wisconsin and Bell were not done, though, as they went 75 yards in three plays. Ball had runs of 5 and 13 yards to get the ball out to the UW 43. There on first down, he took a give and went up the middle. He broke two tackles and then cut out to the left and was on his way. He stiff-armed Nebraska’s Ciante Evans at the 15 on his way to the 57-yard touchdown run that made it 56-17 with 9:27 left in the third.
The Badgers were not done as White broke loose for a 68-yard touchdown to make it 63-17 with 6:42 left in the third quarter.
Nebraska’s Braylon Heard ran 9 yards for a score to make it 63-24 with 12:14 left in the game.
But Gordon ripped off another long run – this one a 46-yarder – to set up White’s 10-yard touchdown that made it 70-24 with 8:57 left in the game.
NU’s Imani Cross had a 26-yard touchdown run with 51 seconds left to cap the scoring.
* UW linebacker Chris Borland returned to action after missing the last two games due to a hamstring injury. He forced a fumble, the 13th in his career. That ties him with former Purdue star Ryan Kerrigan for the all-time Big Ten lead in that category.
* With his three touchdowns, Ball upped his NCAA career touchdown record to 82. On the year, he has now rushed for 1,729 yards and scored 21 touchdowns.
* Ball, Martinez and Ohio State’s Braxton Miller are the three finalists for the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football award, given annually to the conference MVP. That award will be announced on Friday.
* Wisconsin avenged its Sept. 29 loss at Nebraska. Nebraska rallied from down 17 in the second half for a 30-27 win in Lincoln.
The all-time series between the schools is now tied at 4-4.
* Wisconsin won its 14th Big Ten championship and also won a league title for the third year in a row for the first time in school history.
* Wisconsin improves to 2-0 in Big Ten championship games. The Badgers defeated Michigan State 42-39 in last year’s inaugural title game.
* Wisconsin advances to the Rose Bowl for the ninth time in school history and the third year in a row. The Badgers are 3-5 all-time in Rose Bowl games with losses to TCU (21-19) and Oregon (45-38) the last two years.
They will face Stanford. The Cardinal (11-2), ranked eighth, defeated UCLA 27-24 in the Pac-12 title game Friday night.
This will be Wisconsin’s fifth BCS bowl in the 15 years of this format.
“It’s okay to get there, but you need to win it,” Bielema said. “We’re going out there on a mission to play a great team in Stanford. We know we have work to do. We played to win the game today to go to the Rose Bowl. We have unbelievable respect for Stanford, so we’ll enjoy this and get ready for Pasadena.”
Wisconsin will be the first Big Ten team to play in three straight Rose Bowls since Michigan did it in 1977-79.
* Nebraska was looking to end a 12-year conference championship drought.
“We failed,” Pelini said. “We failed to win a championship. That was the goal coming in and didn't get it done. I apologize for it. I apologize to the football team. I apologize to the coaches, the fans, like I said, everybody associated with it. Because at the end of the day, it falls on me. I'm the one responsible for it. We didn't get it done.”
* Nebraska will await its bowl assignment. The prevailing wisdom is Nebraska could be in the Capital One Bowl or Outback Bowl Jan. 1 against an SEC opponent, possibly Texas A&M or LSU.
* Last year’s Big Ten championship game drew 64,152 fans as Wisconsin defeated Michigan State. But just 41,260 attended this game.
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