MADISON — For the third week in a row, the Huskers failed to secure bowl eligibility with each loss more devastating than the last.
This time around, Nebraska had a chance to beat Wisconsin for the first time since 2012 and earn a trophy it had never held while doing it. However, even with some of the best offense all season, it proved not enough in an overtime defeat.
The Huskers fell to the Badgers 24-17 after being outgained in total yards —183 to 94 — in the second half. Nebraska rolled with sophomore quarterback Chubba Purdy under center, which resulted in touchdowns on his first two possessions. The offense couldn’t maintain the momentum, fizzling out to near nonexistence until the final drive of the fourth quarter.
“The first two drives were awesome,” Purdy said postgame. “But I mean, we got to capitalize on those and just keep doing them the whole game.”
The opening drive of the game saw the Huskers only throw the ball once compared to five runs. On a third and two, Purdy took a scramble 55 yards to the house, giving Nebraska an early 7-0 lead.
After a Blackshirt stop, the Huskers continued to pound the rock before a trick play blew up in their face. While that looked to be the reality check for Nebraska, instead Purdy would hit freshman wide receiver Jaylen Lloyd on the next play, who turned on the jets for a 58-yard touchdown. Just like that, the Huskers were up two scores.
The Nebraska defense came out stronger than ever the following drive with senior linebacker Luke Reimer getting to senior quarterback Tanner Mordecai for a sack. Junior defensive lineman Ty Robinson continued his strong November, batting down a third down pass to force another Badger punt.
The Huskers were once again moving the ball downfield, but Wisconsin finally got the stop it needed as redshirt freshman running back Emmett Johnson was tackled for a loss on fourth down. This turned the tide towards the Badgers’ side as they capitalized by going on a nine-play, 66-yard drive ending with Mordecai finding sophomore running back Jackson Acker wide-open for six.
Nebraska followed the score with a four-play drive ending with junior punter Brian Buschini setting Wisconsin up with great field position due to a 19-yard punt. Two quick plays put the Blackshirts on their heels, but they stood their ground and forced a 35-yard field goal.
Purdy and the Huskers had a chance at the two-minute drill and nearly ran it to perfection even with multiple penalties setting the offense back. Purdy picked apart the Wisconsin secondary, leaving one second left for freshman kicker Tristan Alvano to attempt a 42-yard field goal. However, his kick sailed wide right as Nebraska went into the locker room up 14-10. The offense played its best half of the season but still managed to leave points on the board.
The Badgers had all the momentum coming out of halftime. After both teams traded a punt, they went on a surgical 10-play, 79-yard touchdown drive with junior running back Braelon Allen punching it in from two yards out. The Blackshirts looked vulnerable as Mordecai beat them on the ground and through the air.
“The defense prides itself on tackling and… a lot of guys had opportunities to make those plays,” head coach Matt Rhule said postgame. “When we talk about momentum, we talk about the offense and those things, but to me defense, you know, we could use a sack fumble.”
The Huskers continued to struggle in all assets of the game as they would go three and out the ensuing possession. Buschini had another gaffe, kicking a line drive to sophomore wide receiver Vinny Anthony II who returned it 25 yards.
With their backs against the wall, the Blackshirts came together to force a fourth down stop as Mordecai threw an incomplete pass. The Nebraska offense showed some promise with Purdy finding senior wide receiver Billy Kemp IV for 16 yards and Johnson converting a fourth down. But once the fourth quarter started with Wisconsin fans riled up from Jump Around, sophomore offensive lineman Teddy Prochazka moved early, creating a third and long. Purdy couldn’t make anything happen and the Huskers were forced to punt.
The Badgers looked to put the nail in the coffin with the trio of Mordecai, Allen and sophomore wide receiver Will Pauling each making plays against the defense. They moved all the way to the Nebraska 32-yard line, but it was the Blackshirts once again standing tall, stuffing Allen on a fourth and one.
Even with the massive stop, the Husker offense failed to make an impact, going three and out once again. A solid Wisconsin drive eventually stalled out with a punt leaving Purdy and company 3:37 to tie or win the game.
The drive started with a defensive holding on the Badgers while the run game started to get hot again with Johnson and Purdy picking up big gains on the ground. Nebraska made it all the way to the 12-yard line before Alvano drilled a 30-yard field goal to tie the game at 17-all with four seconds remaining. A Wisconsin kickoff return left no time left, sending the Huskers to overtime for the first time this season.
The Badgers got the ball first with Mordecai coming up big on multiple third and long plays — one with his arm and the other with his legs. However, Wisconsin still needed a yard with Allen picking it up on fourth down. The very next play Allen pushed his way into the endzone, giving the Badgers the 24-17 lead.
Nebraska couldn’t muster anything on offense when it mattered most, going backwards before Purdy threw an interception — the Huskers’ only turnover on the night — on fourth down to clinch the Wisconsin win. The loss added to a lengthy streak of overtime woes as Nebraska has now lost its last seven overtime games with the last time it even scored going back to 2014.
“These guys are pretty crushed right now,” Rhule said postgame. “But that’s okay. It shows that they care and it shows that they put a lot into it.”
Purdy played well, going 15-of-23 for 169 yards and a touchdown while also leading the Huskers with 105 yards and a score on the ground. While the offense was once again inconsistent, it looks like they have their guy going into a pivotal matchup next week.
Nebraska now finds its bowl chances on life support as it must beat No. 16 Iowa on Black Friday to earn the extra game. With the three-game losing skid spoiling what looked like an incredible first year under Rhule, a complete game by all three units could salvage that.
“Sometimes in life we give up on our dreams, but the dream never gives up on us,” Rhule said postgame. “I’d love nothing more than to go out there with them on senior day and go battle a great Iowa team… and try to go get a sixth win and go to a bowl game and extend this for these guys.”