After another remarkable comeback (didn’t we see this game last year against Ohio State?) it’s not really what we learned this week, it’s what we will learn about this team from this point forward. Can Nebraska carry this momentum all the way to the Rose Bowl? Next week is going to be fun, mostly because the Huskers can play fast and loose in a game they aren’t supposed to win.
After you exhale, you have to give the Huskers a lot of credit for stepping up when things looked bleak and delivering in crunch time against Wisconsin. Taylor Martinez ran like the Taylor Martinez from two years ago. He threw the ball well. The backs ran with authority because the offensive line began to wear down the Wisconsin defense in the second half, just like the good ol’ days. Much like the home win over the Buckeyes last season, the Huskers dug themselves a huge hole and then fought out of it. That’s the good part.
“Our guys showed the toughness, the character and the heart,” Head coach Bo Pelini said after the game. They needed to because they tried hard to completely self destruct in the first half. “A lot of the position we were in all night was self imposed,” Pelini added. “It didn’t cost us, but down the road it will.” Amen.
The bad part: This was not a pretty game – three bad turnovers and a handful of dumb mistakes early that championship teams don’t make. And for whatever reason, the Husker defense still can’t seem to force turnovers…until the final Wisconsin fourth down play. Nebraska remains in negative territory in turnover margin. That’s got to change if they want to win a title.
Moving forward? Nebraska is now the favorite to reach the Rose Bowl, and the schedule shows why. Next week the Huskers go to Ohio State, where they’ll be playing with house money. They won’t be expected to win, so they can play looser and with a bit more reckless abandon. A win would be fantastic, but a loss is not that damaging. After the Buckeyes road win over Michigan State, Nebraska can now afford to lose a road game that’s not a division game. The far bigger games lie ahead. They still have to hold serve at home, and that means beating Michigan, Penn State and Minnesota. Those are must win games. So are the road games at Northwestern and the finale at Iowa. A win at Ohio State would be a great bonus. A win at Michigan State on November 3rd would be better.
If Nebraska went 6-2 in Big Ten play, falling only at Ohio State and at Michigan State let’s say, they would likely be headed to Indy for the conference title game – probably a rematch with Wisconsin. Michigan State, now 0-1 in the Legends Division, still has to play at Michigan and at Wisconsin. The Spartans have not exactly looked like world beaters to this point. They will have their hands full with Iowa and Northwestern as well. Even if they beat Nebraska, they can’t lose more than one more league game. A 5-3 conference record probably won’t be good enough.
Michigan still has to meet Ohio State in Columbus and to travel to Lincoln, too. Northwestern? Look for that bubble to burst this week at Penn State. This is still a three-team race, and now Nebraska has the inside track, win or lose in Columbus.