Nebraska’s Ernest Haussmann (15) prepares to tackle Wisconsin’s Braylon Allen (0) during the game against the Badgers at Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, in Lincoln, NE.

Nebraska finished its last home game of 2022 in fitting fashion, tallying its 13th one-score loss between the last two seasons. 

Here are three takeaways and a question from the game:

A painful drawback to a year ago

This contest played out a lot like Nebraska’s senior day last year in which the Huskers led by double digits, 21-9, entering the fourth quarter, before managing to lose. This time, the home team carried a 14-3 edge heading into the final frame. Wisconsin’s only two touchdowns both came in the fourth, giving the Badgers the edge and their ninth-straight win in the series. 

The loss was Nebraska’s fifth by one possession this season, a considerable amount by any conventional measure, but still trailing last year’s historic mark of eight. This time, the Huskers lost by just a single point, their closest margin of defeat in a 15-month stretch full of them. 

The trend of close losses has long since been more than a coincidence. It’s a fundamental flaw this team and program was unable to shed despite reshaping its roster through the transfer portal and firing its head coach. That’ll be a trend the next leader of this program will be expected to reverse. A couple close games actually broke right for Nebraska this year as it notched two conference wins. Still, it’s hard to consider that progress when the Huskers will likely finish with the same 3-9 record they held last season as they head to Iowa as a likely double-digit underdog

Nebraska may have found a couple long-term defensive tentpoles 

The Husker defense was the more impressive unit for much of Saturday as it held Wisconsin without big plays or virtually any success in the passing game. But the points eventually came late as the rushing yards piled up. The Badgers’ offense is hardly a dynamic one, but holding a competent Big Ten team to under 320 total yards is a vast improvement from where the Huskers were at the start of the season, regularly allowing over 500. 

Notably, a pair of true freshmen have continued to shine in the second half of the season. Linebacker Ernest Hausmann struggled in spelling sophomore linebacker Nick Henrich early in the season and fell down the depth chart. He has been thrust back into action in recent weeks as Henrich suffered a season-ending injury and has mostly thrived in spite of his youth.   

Hausmann notched 12 tackles, 10 of them solo, on Saturday to bring his season total to 48. Meanwhile, cornerback Malcolm Hartzog has also started over half the games after opening the season as a backup. The undersized Mississippi native has been picked on early and often in coverage but has flashed an ability to make game-changing plays, including the only turnover of the game against Wisconsin. He now has a team-leading three interceptions and a special teams touchdown. 

Assuming they stick around through the coaching change and another roster overhaul, this pair could see many more productive days in Memorial Stadium. 

Thompson displays toughness 

The game’s outlook changed significantly when it was announced junior quarterback Casey Thompson was expected to play against the Badgers after being sidelined with an injury for the previous two-and-a-half games. The conditions were working against him, but he nearly willed the Huskers to victory. He completed 60% of his passes for just over 100 yards, found junior receiver Trey Palmer for two scores and amassed over 50 rush yards before accounting for sacks. 

His numbers were hardly gaudy, but he outplayed Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz while protecting the ball and taking a number of big hits. Thompson was sacked three times but was also hit on two major penalties that sparked Nebraska’s second touchdown drive. He even took some shots while scrambling, boldly refusing to slide early on. 

It wasn’t the gunslinging performance many expected from a version of Thompson who looked mostly healthy but probably wasn’t. But it’s difficult not to commend the fifth-year junior for his toughness and wonder what could have been if he was playing behind a better offensive line in a more cohesive period for the Nebraska program. 

Did senior day celebration provide any clue for returners and departures?

Thompson walked on senior day, as did 30 other Huskers, but is unsure of his future past next week. 

“This doesn’t mean I’m 100% leaving,” Thompson said postgame. “It doesn’t mean I’m 100% staying. I’m just going to postpone it until the end of the season and make my decision then.”

There are a few other key Huskers in a similar boat. Two of his fellow juniors, edge rusher Garrett Nelson and Palmer, chose not to walk. That doesn’t guarantee their return but implies they’ll play collegiately next season, when either could have hedged their bets and walked as Thompson did. We’ll likely learn in the coming weeks and months what the future holds for them and a number of senior teammates with remaining eligibility. 

This team could look a lot different in a matter of weeks as the season nears its end, athletic director Trev Alberts names his next coach and whoever that is dives into the transfer portal frenzy.