Badgers can’t hold on in Lincoln

Nebraska rallies from mistake-prone first half
Badgers can’t hold on in Lincoln

The Nebraska Cornhuskers rallied from a 17-point deficit in the second half and defeated the Wisconsin Badgers 30-27 on Saturday night in the Big Ten Conference opener for both teams.

No. 22 Nebraska (4-1, 1-0) overcame a sluggish start — a 14-0 hole midway through the first quarter — and avenged last year’s 48-17 loss in Madison.

Taylor Martinez ran for 107 yards and threw for 181, and the Huskers’ two-headed running back monster of Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah combined for 156 rushing yards and speared the second-half comeback.

Nebraska’s defense did its part too, holding Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1) to 90 yards of total offense in the second half after the Badgers had amassed 205 in the first half.

Nebraska took a 30-27 lead on Brett Maher’s 41-yard field goal with 9:41 remaining in the game. Consecutive runs of 4, 11 and 21 yards by Burkhead, who sat most of the third quarter, keyed the drive, which stalled in part because of a holding penalty.

Wisconsin took over at its 10-yard line with 2:55 remaining, and drove to midfield. But the Badgers came up short on a fourth-and-1 play at midfield, with Montee Ball fumbling and Harvey Jackson recovering with 1:11 remaining.

Nebraska scored 17 unanswered points to end the third quarter after Wisconsin had taken a 27-10 lead.

The Badgers, who had converted a fumble deep in Nebraska territory for a touchdown, seemed in control.

But Martinez sparked the Huskers with two big plays on the Huskers’ ensuing drive — a 20-yard pass to Kenny Bell, and a 36-yard touchdown run off a draw play that cut Wisconsin’s lead to 27-17.

Nebraska forced a three-and-out, igniting the sellout crowd of 85,962. Abdullah then led a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, running five times to help set up Martinez’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Kyler Reed.

After another three-and-out, Nebraska drove from its 32 to the Wisconsin 21, and then settled on Maher’s 38-yard field goal to force a 27-27 tie.

Wisconsin led 20-10 at halftime thanks to its big start.

Nebraska won the opening coin flip but elected to receive. Wisconsin smothered Abdullah at the 11-yard line on the opening kickoff, and then forced a three-and-out.

Maher boomed a 55-yard punt to help switch the field, but on Wisconsin’s second play from scrimmage, Joel Stave hit Jared Abbrederis on a 54-yard play-action pass.

Three plays later, Ball scored on a 2-yard run to give the Badgers a 7-0 lead.

Nebraska fumbled on three of its first six plays from scrimmage, the second one when Burkhead ran into his blocker and lost the football. Chris Borland recovered for Wisconsin, setting the Badgers up at the Nebraska 23-yard line.

It took seven plays, but Wisconsin turned the turnover into a touchdown when Ball again scored, this time from the 1-yard line on fourth down for a 14-0 lead with 7:20 remaining in the first quarter.

Abdullah returned the ensuing kickoff 83 yards, but Nebraska couldn’t get a first down and settled for Maher’s 26-yard field goal, cutting the lead to 14-3. The Huskers forced a three-and-out and drove to the Wisconsin 34, but Maher was wide left on a 52-yard attempt.

Wisconsin then drove 65 yards in 10 plays, with Abbrederis catching a 29-yard touchdown pass from Stave. A roughing-the-punter penalty, after Nebraska had forced fourth-and-18, was the key play in the drive that put Wisconsin up 20-3, as Jack Russell missed the PAT.

Nebraska cut the lead to 20-10 after a 12-play, 93-yard drive that Martinez capped with a 3-yard pass to Burkhead.

Wisconsin, with the help of a third-down pass-interference penalty, drove to the Nebraska 23, but Russell missed a 41-yard field goal near the end of the half.

NOTES: Taylor Martinez gained 20 yards on a second-quarter draw play, the first rush of 20 yards or more allowed by Wisconsin this season. … Jack Russell’s 41-yard field-goal attempt at the end of the first half was the longest attempt by a Badger kicker this season. His kick was wide left.