Opinion by Steve Beideck
MADISON, Wisc. – Another team in disarray, another team Nebraska
could not put away.
The Huskers’ charity tour continued Saturday night in Wisconsin with
a 24-17 overtime loss to the Badgers.
For the third consecutive week Nebraska was the team that its
opponent used to end a long losing streak. After Michigan State ended
a six-game skid with a 20-17 win over the Huskers, Maryland came to
Lincoln and became bowl eligible by ending a four-game losing streak
with a last-second field goal for a 13-10 victory.
Wisconsin? It had lost three in a row and were a team in turmoil with
public airings of grievances after an embarrassing loss to
Northwestern. That was a loss that put the Badgers on the cusp of
seeing their streak of consecutive bowl game appearances ending at
Fear not, Wisconsin faithful. After seeing a 14-0 lead they impressively
built in the first nine minutes of the game disappear, the Huskers
appeared to believe the safer path was to play for overtime instead of
trying to win the game in regulation.
How Nebraska got that lead early made it look as if the Huskers were
serious about not having to wait until the last minute to see if they
could get that coveted sixth win.
The opening drive is one Husker fans have been dreaming of since
the beginning of fall camp. Three months ago most figured it would be
Jeff Sims leading those marches down the field.
That plan disappeared into the thin air of the Rocky Mountain front
range before halftime of Game 2 when Sims turned the ball over three
times against Colorado.
Heinrich Haarberg went 5-3 as NU’s starter and had his moments, but
never back-to-back jaw-dropping drives like the two Chubba Purdy
executed to stake Nebraska to a 14-0 lead.
Scoring on a 55-yard run on the sixth play of the game was impressive
enough. But to follow that drive with another six-play march that
produced another TD of 50-plus yards? That’s any given Saturday
from the good ol’ days of decades that are getting more difficult to
In just nine minutes Nebraska had topped its points-scored totals from
three of its four Big Ten losses – Minnesota (10), Michigan (seven)
and Maryland (10).
You don’t need to see the numbers to see how everything went south
following those two textbook drives that produced 151 yards of total
offense. After ringing up those two TDs, the Huskers went scoreless
for the next 50:56 until Tristan Alvano made a 30-yard field goal to tie
the game and force overtime.
It took the Huskers until midway through the fourth quarter to gain
their next 151 yards. Meanwhile, Wisconsin began an uncharacteristic
shoving around of Nebraska’s front seven, a development that helped
the Badgers rally for 17 points in the second and third quarters.
Nebraska finished with 364 total yards to 316 for Wisconsin. Purdy’s
two TD plays accounted for 113 of those 364 yards.
Trailing 17-14 and showing few signs of rediscovering the formula that
got them the early lead, the Huskers still had a chance to end their
bowl game drought that suddenly seems destined to grow to seven
Nebraska was 5-3 after an Oct. 28 victory over Purdue, needing just
one win in its final four games to become eligible for its first bowl
game since 2016. Now the Huskers are 5-6 and need a win over 9-2
Iowa in Lincoln Nov. 24 to reach that magic number of six after
whiffing on three chances that seemed ripe for the taking.
The Hawkeyes are riding high after a 15-12 win over Illinois that
clinched the Big Ten West Division title and a date Dec. 2 against
either Ohio State or Michigan in the Big Ten championship game in
Indianapolis. How Nebraska could have been in that spot instead of
the Hawkeyes is another column for another time.
With 3:37 remaining and the ball at their own 20-yard line following a
Wisconsin punt, the Huskers found a spark and began once again to
effectively move the ball. The Badgers gifted Nebraska a defensive
holding call on the first play to move the ball to the 30.
Purdy, who guided the Huskers to those first two touchdowns in his
first start as NU’s signal caller, then completed a 5-yard pass to tight
end Thomas Fidone before Emmett Johnson broke off an 18-yard gain
over the right side and another first down.
Following a 1-yard loss by Johnson, Purdy got loose for a 22-yard
gain to Wisconsin’s 26 with 1:35 remaining. Everything then seemed
to slow down, and the Huskers lost any sense of urgency they might
have had about trying to score a touchdown and not take a chance in
The Huskers ran only two plays in the next 1:15 that followed Purdy’s
run – rushing plays that gained seven yards and one yard,
respectively – before the NU coaches called timeout with 20 seconds
left. Purdy then scampered for six more yards and the Huskers took a
timeout with the ball at Wisconsin’s 12 with 13 seconds remaining.
One incomplete pass to Billy Kemp in the end zone was all the
Huskers had time for before Alvano’s field goal with four seconds left.
Settling for a field goal instead of at least trying to go for a touchdown
like they did the week before, and failed, against Maryland felt just like
that – settling.
That mindset carried into the overtime after Wisconsin clearly
demonstrated it wasn’t about to just try and get a field goal with its OT
possession. It was playing to win the game, and the Badgers did just
that to improve to 6-5.
Twice Wisconsin converted what seemed to be less-than-ideal third
down situations into first downs and more chances to reach the end
zone. Third-and-8 from the 23 became first-and-10 from the 14.
When the Badgers didn’t gain a yard on first or second down from the
14, quarterback Tanner Mordecai raced for nine yards on third down.
The Badgers had no trouble getting that last yard on fourth down
(Braelon Allen got two), and Allen was called upon again to get the final three on the next play for a touchdown against a tired Nebraska defense.
The Huskers went backwards on their OT possession before it
mercifully ended on fourth-and-16 when Purdy’s final pass was
Once again it’s Iowa or bust for a bowl bid, a formula that hasn’t
turned out well in recent seasons. Don’t forget that Iowa is looking to
avenge its loss to the Huskers that got Nebraska to 4-8 for the 2022
It’s starting to look like another one of those Black Friday’s.