This game was supposed to be a testament to what Nebraska could do — or rather what it couldn’t.
The Huskers were allegedly destined to be exposed Saturday night in Madison, Wisconsin. It was rowdy in Camp Randall Stadium and the crowd jumped around to begin the fourth quarter, but the Big Red didn’t get the message that it was supposed to fold like a cheap tent.
Plenty of Camp Randall PTSD flowed over my Twitter timeline when Wisconsin running back Bradrick Shaw broke free for a 21-yard touchdown run with 9:38 left to go in the first quarter. Surely this was it. The dam was going to break and the World Series would look like a better viewing option.
Thanks to an incredible night by the Blackshirts to keep Nebraska in the game, Wisconsin didn’t score again until midway through the third quarter, when a nine-yard pass from Alex Hornibrook to Robert Wheelwright put the Badgers up 17-7.
It was at this point that the Huskers could’ve slowly imploded, maybe given up another score and allowed the exposure narrative to run wild: Nebraska was never any good, this team didn’t have talent or got lucky.
Badger fans made noise to start the game’s final stanza, but the Huskers have shown that they do through the entire fourth quarter. True to form, they did so yet again. Credit the Blackshirts — more specifically senior safety Nate Gerry — for bringing the turnover margin back to an even playing field when the Huskers gave two away earlier in the evening.
Despite a night full of “Bad Tommy” moments and awkward footwork, Tommy Armstrong, Jr. led the Big Red offense down the field and ran in a touchdown to turn that 17-7 deficit to three (17-14). A 35-yard Drew Brown field goal later in the period gave Nebraska its first taste of free football this year.
The way overtime played out, it almost seemed like a storybook win was being written for Mike Riley’s crew. The Badgers used a commemorative coin that celebrated the lives of former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler and the lost Husker brother, Sam Foltz.
Gerry made his call for the flip. “Foltzy,” he said. Goosebumps.
Wisconsin, on its overtime possession, did what it had to do. Dare Ogunbowale eventually found 11 yards worth of green that put the Badgers ahead by six.
As though Foltz was standing behind Wisconsin kicker Andrew Endicott yelling “Shank it!”, Endicott did just that. His PAT went wide, and the Huskers had a chance not just to tie, but to seal win No. 8.
Unfortunately, the Big Red couldn’t turn its opportunity into points and the storybook ending wasn’t written.
That said, this was a different experience in Madison than Husker fans have been used to. There was no unveiling of a fraud team, but rather a display of resilience. Fans learned that Nebraska could hang against a very good squad in an environment where plenty of others would lose big. We’ll see where Nebraska falls in the polls, but the Huskers made a case to say the dip shouldn’t be a large one.
Now it’s time to see how the Huskers can bounce back from a loss, and their opponent is no scrub. They travel to Columbus, Ohio, to meet the Buckeyes in a week’s time. They’ll be given less of a chance there than they were in Wisconsin.
After seeing this Nebraska team go blow-for-blow with one that was supposed to send the Huskers back to Lincoln with a lopsided loss, maybe that’s not the best idea.