In a relentless effort, the Wisconsin Badgers football team knocked off the rival Nebraska Cornhuskers Saturday night, winning 24-17 and clinching their spot in a postseason bowl game for the 22nd-straight season.
The Cornhuskers came out firing in the first quarter. On just their sixth play of the game, quarterback Chubba Purdy dropped back, scrambled right to avoid a cornerback blitz and darted diagonally across the field for the touchdown. Purdy, making his first start in the 2023 season, went untouched on the 55-yard rush, putting Nebraska up seven to start the night.
Wisconsin’s first drive of the game stalled and Purdy was able to orchestrate another successful drive for Nebraska. On their own 45, Purdy delivered a bullet down the right seam to Jalen Lloyd, who shook off a defender and juked another on his way to the house for a 58-yard score. The touchdown put the Cornhuskers up 14-0 with six minutes to go in the first quarter.
The Badgers offense struggled early, with an untimely penalty setting them behind the chains and forcing another punt. After Nebraska took possession, a timely fourth-down stop by C.J. Goetz gave the ball back to Wisconsin. Tanner Mordecai quickly worked the offense into Nebraska territory, moving into a hurry-up offense and ravaging a tired Cornhuskers defense with short completions.
Twenty-six yards from the end zone, Mordecai fired a dot to a Jackson Acker on a wheel route. The pass narrowly missed the hands of a diving defender, and Acker secured it into the end zone to cut the Cornhusker lead to 14-7.
The Badgers defense channeled the momentum, forcing a three-and-out on the Cornhuskers’ next possession. After a short punt set Wisconsin up on their own 48, big plays from Mordercai and Will Pauling set them up in field goal range. Unable to convert on their next series of possessions, Fickell elected to get the three points instead of going for a 4th-and-2 conversion.
With Nebraska leading 14-10, Purdy again worked his magic with just two minutes to play in the half, moving the Cornhuskers swiftly downfield. But even after a 26-yard seam pass to Coleman put them in field goal range, Nebraska was unable to come up with points as the field goal sailed wide right to end the half.
Both teams struggled to start the second half, posting 3-and-outs. Getting the ball after a Nebraska punt, Mordecai led the Badgers downfield in a methodical and balanced drive. After a play-action slot fade intended for Pauling put the Badgers on the Nebraska 2 yard line, Braelon Allen put his head down and barrelled into the end zone, giving the Badgers the 17-14 lead.
Both teams hunkered down to battle out the remaining 20 minutes of the match. Although the Badgers offense was unable to score, the defense continued to shut the Cornhuskers down, forcing punts on three straight drives.
Nebraska regained control with just three minutes to play and down three points. Purdy and Emmett Johnson ran right at the Badger defense, working quickly to chip away at a unit that had bottled them up throughout the second half. After working to the Badger 12-yard line, Tristan Alvano drilled a 30-yard field goal to send the game to overtime.
Nebraska won the coin toss, electing to defer the ball to the Badgers. On an early 3rd-and-8, Mordecai stepped up when Wisconsin needed him most, delivering a bullet across the middle to Vinny Anthony to move the chains.
After two incompletions gave the Badgers another 3rd-and-long, Mordecai activated his clutch gene and scrambled for a nine-yard pickup, bringing up a crucial 4th-and-1. Fickell turned to Allen with the game on the line as the back bulldozed his way to the first down. With the ball on the Nebraska 3-yard line, Allen carried the ball again, plowing his way into the endzone.
Needing a touchdown to tie the game at 24, the Nebraska offense struggled at the hands of the Wisconsin defense yet again. After linebacker Darryl Peterson made a key tackle for loss on an option play, two incompletions and a false start set up 4th-and-long. Purdy threw up a prayer that fell short of the end zone and into the hands of Wisconsin’s Preston Zachman, who iced the game for the Badgers with an interception.
Mordecai completed 18 of his 28 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown, and as a team the Badgers rushed for 156 yards, with Allen compiling two scores. Pauling continued to shine for the offense, posting eight catches for 79 yards. Although he exited late in the fourth quarter with an unknown injury, his presence will be key as the Badgers look toward their game against Minnesota.
Once again, the defense started slow for Wisconsin, and big plays and a lack of tackling continued to burn them early. However, once they settled in, they were able to make an impact, with two sacks and timely tackles for loss.
After securing the Freedom Trophy, Wisconsin can now safely look ahead to the postseason as they clinched a spot in a bowl game.
Next Saturday, the Badgers look to end the Minnesota Golden Gophers’ two-game win streak in the teams’ storied series and win back Paul Bunyan’s Axe at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn.