INDIANAPOLIS — People started to file out of the Nebraska section of the north end zone at Lucas Oil Stadium with one second remaining in the first half of the Big Ten championship game. They, like the Huskers themselves, didn’t look like they were coming back.
The early departure may not have saved those Nebraska fans much grief. The first half of the Badgers’ 70-31 win on Saturday had enough humbling moments to last for months as Wisconsin rolled to 640 yards of offense and punched its ticket to Pasadena for the third straight year.
“Shock doesn’t even begin to explain that,” coach Bo Pelini said following the game.
The shock started early. The first play was a 7-yard Montee Ball rush to the weak side of Nebraska’s defense. It was clearly a weakness the Badgers’ staff had seen on film and came in prepared to exploit. And they did, rushing and throwing swing passes to the edge, repeatedly.
How big of weakness was it? Exactly 391 yards and 42 points in the first half big. The Badgers had 290 yards rushing at the half on just 27 carries (10.74 yards per carry). Melvin Gordon led the way with 152 yards and he did it on four carries. When the Badgers wanted to pass, they did that too using quarterback Curt Phillips, wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and running back James White to go 8-for-10 over the opening two quarters.
“There was nothing taking us off guard,” Pelini said. “We practiced 99-percent of what they showed us today. For whatever reason we didn’t execute.”
In short, Wisconsin did what Wisconsin wanted. The only respite for Nebraska fans was a dazzling 76-yard scramble from Taylor Martinez that resulted in the Huskers’ only touchdown of the first half. It was an individual bit of brilliance – legitimately one of the best runs in Nebraska history – but it wasn’t nearly enough to overshadow the stunning lack of execution.
“What is defensive football? It’s play your gaps, handle your responsibility, be where you’re supposed to be, and make tackles when you’re there. We did none of the above,” Pelini said.
Any ideas of a comeback – a Nebraska specialty this year – were extinguished less than 60 seconds into the second half. On third-and-7 from the Huskers 28-yard line, Martinez was intercepted by Devin Smith who returned it down to the 9. Ball scored a touchdown on the next play, making it 49-10.
But the ugliness wasn’t quite over. Jamal Turner had a 55-yard touchdown called back after Kenny Bell was flagged for unnecessary roughness on a crushing block on Smith. Five plays later, Wisconsin defensive tackle Ethan Hemer dove into Martinez’s legs – “late and low” according to the official who forgot to turn his microphone off – and was flagged for roughing the passer.
Wisconsin kept its foot on the gas, putting up 14 more points in the third quarter and another touchdown in the fourth, all on the ground. Everything was on the ground, actually. In perhaps the most telling statistic of the night, Wisconsin didn’t attempt a single pass in the second half.
Didn’t need to. The 552 yards rushing Nebraska allowed were the most in school history. The 70 points were the most of the Pelini era. Nebraska’s had its embarrassing losses over the past decade, but never one on a stage as big as this.
“I apologize to everybody associated with Nebraska football for how we coached, how we played,” Pelini said. “It’s not acceptable.”