HOLSTEIN: NU’s clean, consistent second half against Wisconsin should set expectation for remainder of season

By Lanny Holstein on September 30th, 2012

It was a crucial weekend for Nebraska football.

After Saturday’s 30-27 comeback win against Wisconsin, Nebraska looked its best since the season’s opening game. As the Huskers stormed back to take the lead late in the second half, I couldn’t help but think back to last season’s Ohio State game. In both contests, the Huskers desperately needed wins to save face and keep their preseason goals alive, and in both contests they fell behind early only to pull ahead late.

The stage was eerily similar on Saturday. Everything was set up for an important clash of Big Ten titans. Nebraska had a lot at stake.

Lose to Wisconsin, and the schedule starts to look daunting. Beat Wisconsin, and with a Michigan State loss earlier in the day, you pull near the front of the Legends Division race.

Nebraska came through in the clutch with a 17-point comeback. The Huskers made mistakes early – a lot of them – but found a way to fight through the adversity and get the win.

In the second half, Nebraska’s defense looked like a whole new unit from the one we’ve seen through the season’s early going. They made tackles, penetrated the Wisconsin backfield, and stuck with Badger star Jared Abbrederis. It was a banner half for the berated bunch of Husker defenders.

Offensively, the Huskers moved the ball all night. NU quarterback Taylor Martinez and company averaged 5.9 yards per play when they had the ball and were only hindered by their own mistakes. Fumbles and a few key penalties shut down a handful of Husker drives in the first half, but those issues were cleaned up in the second.

As a team, Nebraska has to be feeling great about itself moving forward. Take away Stanley Jean-Baptiste’s roughing the punter and Daimion Stafford’s pass interference penalty – both extended Wisconsin drives – and the Nebraska defense actually played well in the first half. Take away fumbles by Rex Burkhead and Martinez, and the Husker offense would have scored more as well.

The Wisconsin lead was built as much on Nebraska mistakes as it was on Badger playmaking. After everything happened, the biggest difference between the first and second halves of the game was Nebraska’s mistakes (or lack thereof in the second half).

The Huskers have to feel like they control their own destiny going forward. The Badgers couldn’t do much of anything when the Huskers finally eliminated the mistakes in the second half. If they can continue that trend, this season looks promising again.

But that’s a big “if.”

Consistency hasn’t been Nebraska’s strong suit under coach Bo Pelini. The ups and downs have been sporadic.

Now is the time for an upswing if Nebraska wants to contend in the Big Ten this year.

The Huskers travel to Ohio State on Saturday to play a team fresh off a 17-16 win against Michigan State. The Buckeyes are a tough team, and Nebraska can’t afford to fall behind early again.

Judging by Saturday night, they won’t.

I saw the Huskers turn the corner against Wisconsin. The team was up against the wall, and it responded big time.

In those bleak moments of the early third quarter this team found its spark.

Lanny Holstein is a junior broadcasting and finance major. Reach him at sports@dailynebraskan.com

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