Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Defense holds strong, Gordon carries Badgers rest of way to statement win

Joey Reuteman

The Wisconsin football team has struggled in important games recently, but Saturday it found the right answers against No. 16 Nebraska.

However, the game didn’t start clean for the No. 20 Badgers (8-2 overall, 5-1 Big Ten), as they allowed three of the first four Cornhusker drives to start on their side of the field. UW wide receiver Kenzel Doe fumbled on the Badgers’ first offensive possession, and a short punt by Bart Houston put the ball on UW’s 43-yard line for the Huskers’ second drive. Wisconsin’s fourth drive resulted in another turnover, this time by Melvin Gordon, which put Nebraska deep in Badgers’ territory again at the UW 30-yard line.

Nebraska converted the good field position and turnovers into a 17-3 advantage with just 54 seconds gone in the second quarter. Coupled with a offense that had recorded just 82 yards up until that point—42 of which came on one run from Melvin Gordon— Wisconsin was in a tight spot.


But after allowing 93 total yards and 17 points through the first quarter and change, the Wisconsin defense buckled down and shut down the Nebraska offense the rest of the way to help spur the 59-24 shellacking.

“I’m really proud of how we responded to sudden change,” linebacker Derek Landisch said. “We got in some tough situations and that’s the game of football.”

The Badgers defensive unit went on to allow just 87 more yards throughout the rest of the game after the second Huskers’ touchdown. The stark change of play had a lot to do with Wisconsin’s perseverance, which has changed since the first game of the year.

“I think that says a lot about how we’ve developed throughout the year. LSU, I saw a lot of heads down, a lot of guys feeling sorry for themselves,” Landisch said. “But it was 17-3, we were all positive on the bench. We knew that once we could get good field position, we knew that we have a good shot of stopping them and that’s what happened.”

Although the matchup featured two highly lauded rushing attacks, the Huskers had the better of the success on the ground through the first quarter. Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah and quarterback Tommy Armstrong combined to run an efficient option attack that led to the two touchdowns and 74 rushing yards after the first 15 minutes.

But that’s when the Badgers’ defense began to clamp down, and the rushing duo managed just 12 more net yards in the final three quarters.

With Armstrong struggling in the passing attack, Wisconsin increased the pressure at the line of scrimmage, which allowed little running room and a more frequent Wisconsin presence in the Huskers’ backfield.

The pressure also resulted in one of the bigger plays in the game that helped shift the momentum toward Wisconsin. After UW had cut the lead to 17-10, Gordon fumbled near the midpoint of the second quarter to give the ball back to the Huskers near midfield. But this time Wisconsin defense didn’t allow the turnover to translate into any points.

And four plays later, the Badgers forced a turnover of their own when defensive lineman Warren Herring stripped the ball from Nebraska running back Terrell Newby. Linebacker Joe Schobert pounced on the loose ball, and the Wisconsin offense turned the miscue into a touchdown to tie the game.

The defense, which has helped the Badgers outscore opponents 139-37 in the second half this season, including 35-7 Saturday, again turned it on when Wisconsin needed it most.

“It really proves to people that as the game goes along and gets in the third and fourth quarter, that our defense actually gets stronger,” linebacker Marcus Trotter said. “I’m very proud of this defense but at the same time we got a lot of work to do. We got to start faster.”

Trotter and the other linebackers helped anchor a Wisconsin defense that sacked Armstrong four times throughout the contest, and more impressively forced five turnovers.

The Badgers came into Saturday as the top defense in the country in terms of total yards allowed, but had struggled to create turnovers. That changed in the second half when Wisconsin forced four of the five gaffes, which helped it bury the Huskers down the stretch.

According to Trotter, the defense’s performance, especially after the first quarter, was the signature performance it needed in the spotlight.

“Hopefully after this game we start getting more respect nationally for our defense,” Trotter said. “I think we may be the only number one total defense in the country that never really got respect. Just with how we performed, hopefully people realize that our defense is for real.”

With the defense firing on all cylinders in the final 45 minutes, it provided the necessary momentum to boost Wisconsin to an improbable turnaround. The defense also helped mask the early turnover woes from Gordon, as the Heisman hopeful rode the momentum created by the key turnover into one of the greatest single game performances in NCAA history, finishing with a NCAA major college record 408 rushing yards.

The combination of a stingy defense and a potent rushing attack helped the Badgers to their first win over a ranked team since a victory against Northwestern last October. The triumph also came in the thick of the Big Ten West Division race, and marked the first win for Wisconsin where both teams were ranked since 2011.

Wisconsin improved its winning streak to five games, but more importantly, the Badgers staked their claim as the front runner in the West in one of their biggest and most impressive wins in recent memory.

“From the beginning of the season, there’s going to be some point where you have to face adversity, and we understand that,” Gordon said. “That’s just how the game works. We’re coached to be ready for it. [If] we get to the Big Ten Championship, [this season would] be exactly what I thought it out to be.”

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