Montee Ball bobbled the hand off from quarterback Danny O’Brien.
This was it. The clocked ticked past one minute and 20 seconds to go in the game. Wisconsin trailed No. 22 Nebraska 30-27. Ball followed his blockers right, still trying to get a grip on the ball. Nebraska’s Alonzo Whaley met him in the gap.
Whaley knocked Ball to the ground, popping the football free. Harvey Jackson recovered it for Nebraska. The Huskers did it again.
“They motioned the guy over and they ran a double lead,” said senior linebacker Will Compton. “The D-line got a big push. Zo (Whaley) came in and just dove and next thing I see is Harvey picking it up and it was nuts after that.”
The Huskers knocked off the Badgers 30-27, coming back from a 17-point, third quarter Wisconsin lead. This marks the second straight year Nebraska came back from a multiple touchdown deficit in the Big Ten season opener.
Last year Nebraska knocked off Ohio State after trailing by as many as 21 points in the third quarter, the largest comeback in school history.
This game may be not quite as impressive, but it was still the second largest comeback in school history.
“We made it hard on ourselves … but we got a ‘W,’ and we stayed the course as a football team,” NU coach Bo Pelini said. “Our guys showed the character, the toughness, the perseverance to overcome not playing our best football.”
Things weren’t looking good for the Huskers early in the third quarter when a Wisconsin defensive lineman stripped NU quarterback Taylor Martinez at the Nebraska 23-yard line. The Badgers responded with a touchdown run by Ball to lead 27-10.
The Nebraska defense would not surrender another point. The fifth-largest crowd in Nebraska history of 85,962 cheered the Blackshirts on to their best performance of the season.
Ball, a preseason Heisman trophy candidate after scoring 41 total touchdowns last season, rushed for 90 yards with 2.8 average yards per carry. The Wisconsin offense recorded 295 yards of offense.
Compton said the crowd’s performance Saturday night ranks as high as when the Huskers upset then No. 20 Oklahoma in 2009, when Compton was a freshman.
“It’s up there, (a couple of seniors and I) were comparing it to the Oklahoma game when it was 10-3,” Compton said. “It was hard to remember that. This is definitely the highlight for me. I didn’t get to play much in the Oklahoma one. Doing it with these guys and the environment we were in and the fans, man it was awesome.”
Every time the Husker defense came onto the field, the roars began. The student section waved black towels as seniors Daimion Stafford and Eric Martin jumped up and down, pumping their arms in the air.
Even Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said the crowd made a difference in the game.
“This is a very good environment here in the world of college football,” Bielema said.
As the Blackshirts gave the Badger offense fits, the Husker offense, led by Martinez, clicked in rhythm. The junior compiled 288 total yards and three touchdowns, throwing for 181 yards and rushing for another 107.
He led the Husker offense to almost 300 yards of offense in the second half after recording just 143 yards in the first half.
“I think we just started and couldn’t get a rhythm going,” Martinez said. “Their defense played great. We put them in tough situations. We knew if they couldn’t get any stops that we wouldn’t be stopped.”
Nebraska now moves on to play the team it came back from a 21-point deficit last year, Ohio State. Pelini said the Huskers will enjoy the Wisconsin win, but the Buckeyes won’t let them enjoy it for long.
“We did enough to win the football game tonight,” Pelini said. “I’m happy about that. I’ll have joy tonight, but the way I’m wired, I’ll go back and look at what we have to do to get better going forward.”