>> Video Below: Bo Pelini and select players at the postgame press conference
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LINCOLN — Red pants. Red jerseys. Black hats. Who were these guys?
For a while, they looked all too familiar.
Nebraska stumbled out of the Big Ten gate Saturday night. Gave up a touchdown on Wisconsin's opening drive. Then gave up a fumble to set the Badgers up 14-0 before you could say “gaudy get-up.”
And, as the “W” lead extended to 20-3 and 27-10, a lot of the “N” fans had found an easy scapegoat.
Blame the alternate uniforms?
It might have been appropriate, if we hadn't seen this before in the traditional ensemble.
Two fumbles lost by Nebraska. Both set up short touchdown drives for the “W” team, one at the “N” 23 and the other at the 13.
Then there were six penalties, for 70 yards, that almost got in the way of victory.
Nebraska prevailed Saturday night, out-toughing the bully Badgers 30-27 in a game that was about guts and poise and timely play-calling and play-making.
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It's a little early for declarations or statements. But as the Huskers took a much-needed conference opener, one major theme stood out.
Just think what this offense could do if it would get out of its own way.
Clean up the turnovers, hold onto the pig a bit tighter, and this is a 30-13 game.
Clean up that holding call and the block-in-the-back and Nebraska might exchange a field goal for a touchdown. Erase the roughing the punter penalty and Wisconsin doesn't extend a second-quarter touchdown drive.
There was another pass interference call that didn't hurt NU, and another on the Blackshirts late that was iffy. There was a fumble by Ameer Abdullah that bounced up nicely to quarterback Taylor Martinez, who ran for 9 more yards.
It took the edge off a night when the Husker offense had an effective mix of 259 yards rushing and 181 yards passing, when Tim Beck's tempo seemed to wear down the big, bad Badgers up front — along with an NU offensive line that grew stronger as the game went longer.
You saw what Abdullah did to Wisconsin in open space. Same with Jamal Turner. And Martinez, dashing and darting off zone read fakes that were timed just right.
Wisconsin is not the Wisconsin of the last two years. One big reason threw the infamous Hail Mary pass in Seattle last Monday night.
But coach Bret Bielema's Badgers will always work as a litmus test for Big Ten football. And here's what we saw on Saturday night.
Bo Pelini has an offense with enough speed and weapons to drive Big Ten defensive coordinators crazy.
If they don't drive the Nebraska coach batty first.
“We did a lot of good things,” Pelini said afterward. “We did a lot of things that need to be corrected. It's the team who continues to get better.”
There was a lot to like here Saturday night, some things answered with the right answers.
Front and center was the Big Red pulling itself up after a flat start that reminded NU fans of either the 2010 Texas game (a loss), the 2011 Ohio State game (a win) or the 2011 Northwestern game (a loss).
With the result, it resembled the breathless rally against the Bucks last year. With one notable exception: NU wasn't stopping quarterback Braxton Miller in that one. That game turned when Miller left with an injury.
This one looked more like the Huskers waking up and realizing they were the superior team. This wasn't Mad Town and nobody was jumping around, unless it was Eric Martin at the end of the game when the Huskers stopped Montee Ball short on fourth-and-one.
The play-making in the skill area, we know about. What wasn't so obvious, and what would be on display last night, was the Huskers' ability to control the line of scrimmage.
That, they did.
The Badgers' defensive line had its moments, including forcing the fumble on Martinez with pressure from the corner in the third quarter. But Barney Cotton's line produced in an old-fashioned Big Ten brass-knuckle duel.
The only group more maligned by the coordinators in the stands and message boards was the group on the other side. The D-line. Baker Steinkuhler, so quiet on and off the field, awoke in Big Ten play. The big senior came alive, right on time.
Here was a surprising stat: Ball rushed 32 times for 90 yards (2.8). Did it seem like Ball rushed that many times? No, because he rarely hurt the Blackshirts. They were up to the brute task, including Will Compton and his 'backer mates. But it started up front. And in a league of weekly cage matches, NU's defensive line qualified as a very good sign.
“I thought we showed we are very capable of being physical up front,” Pelini said.
Capable. Physical. Fast. And still flawed.
If they can erase that last part, this will be a fun ride.
Contact the writer:
402-444-1025, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/tomshatelOWH
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>> Video: Bo Pelini at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: Taylor Martinez at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: Rex Burkhead at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: Will Compton at the postgame press conference:
>> Video: Postgame analysis:
>> Video: See the alternate uniforms close up at the NU-Wisconsin pregame warmups: