Wisconsin really hadn’t had late-game adversity since the opening tilt of the season. The difference this time is the Badgers had Braelon Allen in the backfield.
Unlike the 16-10 loss to Penn State at Camp Randall Stadium on Sept. 4, Wisconsin was able to finish strong and get a 35-28 victory over its usual Big Ten doormat, Nebraska.
Allen was merely a special teams player against the Nittany Lions. He was a special player against the Cornhuskers.
After Nebraska tied the game at 28 following Wisconsin coming up short on a fourth-and-1, Wisconsin got the ball on its own 25 with around 6 1/2 minutes to play and put the ball in the hands of Allen. He ran three times for 15 yards then, after a 7-yard completion to Jake Ferguson, Allen busted through the line and down the right sideline, throwing aside a Nebraska defender like he was shooing a gnat, on the way to a 53-yard touchdown.
The game, however, wasn’t over. Nebraska had moved the ball up and down the field all game on the Badgers’ vaunted defense and did it again. The Cornhuskers got to the 11-yard line before a holding penalty move them back 10 yards. Four incomplete passes followed and Wisconsin escaped with a win (Nebraska head coach Scott Frost said he would have gone for two if the Huskers scored, which would have set up a very exciting and stressful play).
The win continued Wisconsin on its improbable path to the Big Ten West title and the conference championship game.
It also was the end of the road for many seniors, at least at Camp Randall Stadium, and it was good to see several come up with big games, including Jake Ferguson, who had eight catches for a career-high 92 yards, and Kendric Pryor, who atoned for a bad early drop with a nice catch in the end zone for a 17-yard score.
The day, though, largely belonged (once again) to the freshman in the backfield who is largely responsible for Wisconsin’s travels on its road to Indianapolis.
Here's a recap of Saturday’s game:
PLAYER OF THE GAME
This might be getting boring, but Braelon Allen is that good – and that important to this team. He finished with 22 carries for 228 yards – the most rushing yards Nebraska had allowed in a game was 204 – with three touchdowns, including a season-long 71-yarder.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME
One senior we didn’t mention above played on the defensive side of the ball – Collin Wilder. The safety had two interceptions, the first one coming on Nebraska’s opening drive of the third quarter, with Wisconsin converting into a touchdown (thanks in part to Wilder’s 40-yard return to the Huskers 33). He’s the first Badgers player with two picks in a game since Joe Ferguson on Nov. 4, 2017 and the first at home since Natrell Jamerson on Sept. 30, 2017. A tip of the cap – the Grit Factory hat? – to Wilder.
Stephan Bracey hadn’t played since Wisconsin’s third game last year as he rehabbed an injury. On his first touch of 2021 – the opening kickoff of the game – the redshirt sophomore wide receiver took a short kick and broke free for a 91-yard touchdown. It was the Badgers’ first kickoff return for a TD since Aron Cruickshank against Oregon on Jan. 1, 2020 and the first in a regular-season game since Cruickshank on Nov. 16, 2019 vs. … Nebraska. The last time Wisconsin had a kick return for a score at home was, coincidentally, on the opening kickoff against Ohio State on Oct. 16, 2010 by David Gilreath. This one didn’t have Camp Randall as electric as Gilreath’s, but it made for a nice start and a score that the Badgers obviously needed.
Yes, Nebraska once again raked up big yards against Wisconsin. If you want, you can read more about that here. Instead, let’s talk more about Allen. He had his seventh consecutive 100-yard rushing game. That’s the fourth-longest streak in Badgers history (tying Jonathan Taylor in 2018). The only ones longer: Ron Dayne (8 in 1998), Melvin Gordon (10 in 2014) and Brent Moss (11 in 1993). No freshman has had a longer streak and only three backs (Davis, Taylor and P.J. Hill in 2006) have more 100-yard games in a season. Allen also has six straight 100-yard games against Big Ten foes, tying Dayne, Davis and Hill for the longest such streak in Wisconsin history. Only Moss and Gordon have a longer streak, eight, which Allen can tie next week.
THEY SAID IT
"I always thought, if you're going to win, it takes a team. And there's a lot of good our defense did do. We knew going in this was a really good offense. And so I don't look at it as, like — there was some tremendous efforts and some plays being made. But you knew going in there — you didn't know, but you had an idea going into it, it was going to be one of those games where you're going to have to score some points and it was going to take everyone, and then having your special teams kind of push it over the edge and be a contributing factor. And that's really what it ended up being." -- head coach Paul Chryst
"Today was a big day for him, getting a chance to meet Melvin (Gordon). That's his hero. And I thought it was pretty good just seeing those two together. But he just — he's got a good mix like JT [Jonathan Taylor], in that he's humble and yet he's an unbelievable worker. And I think along with that, he's got confidence that he can contribute. And he's still learning the position. And I think he's learning at a pretty good pace. You've seen the growth. Everyone's seen it, right? I mean, earlier he was going to run a little high, and now he's running — great patience on that last one. You could see it. And then all of sudden, hit it. And he had some big time plays for us today." -- Chryst on running back Braelon Allen
"All week I heard about the yards and touchdowns that we have put up on Nebraska every year. It’s cool to kind of continue the tradition.” -- Allen. Wisconsin has seven 200-yard rushers against Nebraska since 2012.
"He’s a special guy. He’s going to be a problem for the Big Ten for a long time.” -- Nebraska defensive end Garrett Nelson on Allen
“It was just keep my speed, increase my speed, don’t get caught. I know I’m fast enough, but you know, it was very exciting once I crossed the finish line, or should I say the touchdown, it was just a very exciting moment for me, seeing my hard work pay off in the best way.” -- kick returner Stephan Bracey
The rivalry game against Minnesota has a little more on the line than Paul Bunyan’s Axe as Wisconsin will take the Big Ten West with a victory. The Gophers were once in the driver’s seat for the division but back-to-back losses to Illinois and Iowa ended that. Minnesota rebounded Saturday with a win over Indiana. The Gophers are 3-3 at home this season and are 0-2 against teams currently in the top 25.