In a 60-minute game, Nebraska led for 59:25 but all that matters is who leads at the end. That was Wisconsin, which mounted a 50-yard touchdown drive on its last possession to beat Nebraska for the 11th-consecutive game in the series. The Huskers (3-8, 2-6) last beat the Badgers in 2012, one year after joining the Big Ten. The win moved Wisconsin (6-5, 4-4) to bowl eligible under interim head coach Jim Leonhard.
On a cold and windy day, the teams exchanged punts on each of their first two possessions before Nebraska struck first off a turnover. Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz was intercepted on a third-and-8 pass. Cornerback Malcolm Hartzog picked the pass at the Huskers’ 40-yard line and returned it 23 yards to the Wisconsin 37.
After a pair of first downs, Nebraska faced a third-and-7 from the Badger 12, with quarterback Casey Thompson finding tight end Travis Vokolek short over the middle, but the senior fought forward for a key first down pick up. Two plays later, Thompson found wide receiver Trey Palmer over the middle for a touchdown to make it 7-0. It was Palmer’s sixth touchdown reception of the season and his first since finding the end zone twice through the air against Purdue on Oct. 15.
Wisconsin kept things conservative on its next drive, rushing on 10-of-13 plays to drive to the Huskers’ 21-yard line. The Badgers’ 38-yard field goal attempt, however, was knocked down by the wind to keep things at 7-0 entering halftime.
The early deficit was relatively new territory for the Badgers. Wisconsin had outscored opponents 90-24 in the first half in five games under interim head coach Jim Leonhard.
Nebraska’s defense opened the second half by forcing a Wisconsin punt, the Badgers answered in kind and Husker punter Brian Buschini booted the ball 74 yards four a touchback. Wisconsin again kept things straightforward, leaning heavily on the run to advance to the Nebraska 1-yard line. A false start on third-and-goal moved the Badgers back to the 6 when Mertz found a leaping Chimere Dike in the end zone. Dike came down with the ball, and got a foot in, but a late shove from cornerback Quinton Newsome jarred the ball lose as Dike went to the turf for an incompletion, preserving a Husker lead at 7-3.
The Huskers took advantage, marching 79 yards on nine plays for Palmer’s second touchdown catch of the game to make it 14-3. The drive was aided by two 15-yard penalties on Wisconsin, the first of which cost the Badgers’ their best defensive player, linebacker Nick Herbig, who was ejected following a targeting call.
Wisconsin wasn’t done yet. After struggling to finish drives all day, the Badgers found the end zone on a 10-yard pass from Mertz to Skyler Bell. The two-point try was incomplete to keep the Huskers’ edge at two scores, 14-9, with 10:07 remaining.
The teams traded punts, giving Nebraska an opportunity to salt the game away with the ball at its own 25 with 4:58 remaining. The Huskers couldn’t, going three-and-out, with the resulting punt setting the Badgers up at the 50 with 3:11 remaining. Wisconsin advanced to the Nebraska 7 on a 27-yard pass and punched it in three plays later on a Mertz quarterback sneak to make it 15-14 with 35 seconds left.
Nebraska’s last-ditch effort never gained momentum. The Huskers picked up a first down, but had to spend its last two timeouts to do it, as Wisconsin held on for the win.
- Temperature at kickoff was 28 degrees, tying for the fifth-coldest temperature at kickoff at Memorial Stadium since 1985.
- Hartzog’s interception was his third of the season, putting him in the team lead, and his 23-yard return was the longest of the season. A true freshman, Hartzog entered the starting lineup against Indiana on Oct. 1. All three interceptions have come since Hartzog became a starter.
- Entering Saturday, Wisconsin was 1-5 this season when Mertz threw an interception.
- The Badgers out-gained Nebraska 318-171. It was the second straight game for the Huskers under 200 yards of total offense, and the fourth consecutive game under 300.
- Wisconsin had a 47-22% edge in success rate. The two offenses entered the day nearly even, Nebraska averaging 42.1% (68th nationally) and Wisconsin averaging 41.6% (75th).
- Nebraska gave up just five explosive plays (rushes of 10-plus yards, passes of 15-plus) on the day, including zero in the first half, but managed just four of their own (three of which were in the first half).
- Wisconsin ran the ball on 74.3% of plays, despite trailing until the final minute. Nebraska’s inability to stop the run––the Badgers averaged 4.5 yards per carry––had a cumulative effect.
- A week after setting a career high with 10 tackles against Michigan, true freshman linebacker Ernest Hausmann rest it with 12 tackles against the Badgers. He remains a bright spot as another Nebraska football seasons reaches a sad end.
- If you’re scoring at home, Joesph dropped to 1-3 in one-score games as the interim head coach at Nebraska.