MADISON — The No. 15 Wisconsin Badgers (8-3 overall, 6-2 Big Ten) outlasted the Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-8 overall, 1-7 Big Ten) 35-28 on Saturday afternoon, behind a defensive stand in the closing moments of the game.
Following the go-ahead score by Wisconsin, the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, setting up Adrian Martinez and Nebraska with good field position at their own 35-yard-line. The Huskers looked to tie the game with just under four minutes remaining in regulation.
Martinez and Nebraska worked their way downfield in a hurry, as they had throughout the game and eventually the Huskers got down to the Wisconsin 11-yard-line. The Cornhuskers were then hit with a holding penalty on first down and Martinez threw four-consecutive incomplete passes after that to secure the victory for the Badgers.
Despite his performance in the waning moments, Martinez recorded the best passing performance of the season by an opposing quarterback against UW. He finished the game 23-of-35, for 351 yards and one touchdown, but also threw two crucial interceptions.
“It was a huge challenge, I mean we knew it was going to be a huge challenge coming in, I guess with Nebraska’s offensive staff not being there anymore, we didn’t know what Scott Frost had up his sleeves and obviously he is an offensive genius,” said Collin Wilder, who intercepted Martinez twice in the game. “We knew it was going to be a challenge today, we knew that we were going to have to adjust throughout the game, I’m proud of the guys in the way we adjusted, it wasn’t pretty, but we found a way to win the game and at the end of the day that’s what matters.”
Wisconsin’s defense, while giving up a season-high 452 yards, has now pushed its overall turnover margin to plus one for the first time this season after picking Martinez off twice. Through Wisconsin’s 1-3 start, the Badgers had a minus eight turnover margin. However, they have turned it around over its seven-game win streak by forcing 19 turnovers during that span.
Just as with the first six games of their winning streak, the driving force for Wisconsin’s offense once again was running back Braelon Allen. With Wisconsin’s offense needing to come up big throughout the game, most of the pressure rest of the 17-year-old freshman’s shoulders.
Allen had an eventful night in the win, rushing 22 times for 228 yards and scoring three touchdowns. This was Allen’s first career 200-yard game and his seventh-consecutive game with 100-plus rushing yards, breaking Anthony Davis’s freshman record of six games (2001), that he tied last weekend.
With Allen’s 200-yard effort, it should come as no surprise that he covered a lot of real estate on his touchdown runs. Allen scored on a 71-yard rush in the first quarter and then later scored from 53 yards out to score the deciding touchdown in the game.
Allen’s performance also allowed Wisconsin to continue its dominance over Nebraska in the rushing game as Wisconsin has averaged just over 300 yards on the ground in the 10 games against Nebraska since the Cornhuskers joined the Big Ten.
However, Allen’s long runs were not the only long scoring plays of the game for the Badgers as Stephan Bracey, who suited up for the first time this season after going through a long rehab from a quad injury suffered last season at Northwestern, returned the opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown. It was the first time that the Badgers had returned an opening kickoff for a score since David Gilreath did so in 2010 against Ohio State.
Stephan Bracey suffered a torn quad last year and had surgery in March. Wasn’t cleared until last Sunday to play. Didn’t know until Thursday he’d be the kick returner. First touch is a 91-yard touchdown.— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) November 21, 2021
Bracey fielded the ball off of a bounce, bounced off one defender and was gone.
“It was just keep my speed, increase my speed, don’t get caught,” Bracey said. “I know I’m fast enough, but you know, it was very exciting once I crossed the finish line, or should I say the touchdown, it was just a very exciting moment for me, seeing my hard work pay off in the best way.”
Graham Mertz also continued his stretch of solid play under center for the Badgers, finishing 12-of-18, with 145 yards and one touchdown pass. Mertz found wideout Kendric Pryor in the endzone for his only touchdown pass of the game in the third quarter, following Collin Wilder’s first interception.
“Nebraska’s record does not reflect the team that they have, and I will say that over and over, that team is so close to being undefeated. I’m proud of the way we responded tonight, it wasn’t a pretty win, but we found a way,” Wilder said.
Wisconsin now begins preparation for the Minnesota Golden Gophers (7-4 overall, 5-3 Big Ten) and the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, as the Badgers travel to Minnesota next weekend to try and secure another Big Ten West title.