INDIANAPOLIS — The scene on the Nebraska sideline at the end of Saturday’s 70-31 loss to Wisconsin eerily resembled the picture of dejection the Huskers had in a 48-17 loss to the Badgers in Madison in 2011.
No talking, hung heads, looks of disbelief. A late touchdown run by Imani Cross brought a little life back to many of the players, but as the Badgers took the victory formation for the final two snaps, reality hit that there would be no return trip to Pasadena.
“There’s not a lot to be said,” Nebraska kicker Brett Maher said. “We came out not very sharp and not with a lot of energy, and it snowballed from there.”
Head coach Bo Pelini shouldered much of the blame for the performance, but Maher said that wasn’t something he needed to do.
“I think that’s classy of him, but he’s the last person any of us are going to blame,” Maher said. “We have complete trust in him.”
Early interception gets Huskers on wrong track
Troubled at different times by turnovers this season, few came at a more inopportune time than Nebraska’s interception on its first play from scrimmage Saturday night.
Already down 7-0, Taylor Martinez tried to hit Kenny Bell on a first-down play from the NU 25. Bell never quite got into position to catch the ball, it skipped off his hands, and Marcus Cromartie not only intercepted the football but returned it 29 yards for a Wisconsin touchdown.
“I think (Bell) slipped coming out (of his break),” NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “He kind of fell down, and unfortunately for us, he got enough of the ball to slow it down, and it went right into that guy’s hands.”
Martinez was intercepted twice and lost a fumble, while Wisconsin did not have a turnover. That left the NU turnover margin at minus-11 for the season, with only Illinois (minus-12) worse in the Big Ten.
Jackson, Steinkuhler get moment on tunnel walk
Nebraska’s entire team sprinted on to the field in customary fashion before Saturday’s Big Ten title game.
Coach Bo Pelini led the way, with senior Tim Marlowe carrying the American flag and dozens of hyped Huskers running behind them. Everything seemed ordinary.
But then a touching moment occurred.
Quarterbacks Taylor Martinez and Ron Kellogg emerged out of the tunnel. They were walking — right next to injured center Justin Jackson, who was on crutches as he made his way to the NU sideline.
Eric Martin also maintained a slow pace as he entered the field. He had his arm around Baker Steinkuhler, whose injured left knee has left him hobbled.
Both Jackson and Steinkuhler were injured in Nebraska’s 13-7 win over Iowa on Nov. 23. Neither senior suited up for Saturday’s game.