Nebraska vs. Wisconsin, 12.1.12

Wisconsin's Montee Ball dives into the end zone to score during the Badgers' 70-31 against Nebraska in the 2012 Big Ten championship game.

ERIC GREGORY/Journal Star file photo

INDIANAPOLIS -- Ever taken a test where you keep going from question to question hoping you'll run into one where you know the answer? You realize soon enough you're in a world of hurt. You're guessing. You're toast.

That's how the Nebraska football team looked Saturday night in a game that was equal parts stunning and embarrassing for the Huskers.

Burnt toast. The kind that leaves a smell in the kitchen that won't leave for a while.

Open the windows if you want. The stench of this one will be tough to shake: Wisconsin 70, Nebraska 31.

"We failed," Husker coach Bo Pelini said. "We failed to win the championship. That was the goal coming in and we didn't get it done. I apologize to the football team, I apologize to the coaches, I apologize to the fans, and everybody associated with it. At the end of the day, it falls on me. I'm on the one responsible for it."

When the final gun mercifully sounded, it was one of the most depressing walks to a locker room you'll ever see a team make.

Pelini walked off hand-in-hand with his wife, Mary Pat. Dazed expressions were on all who passed. Senior safety P.J. Smith stood at the entry way of the tunnel, teammates passing by, staring out at Wisconsin's celebration.

The seniors had seen this as a potential legacy moment for their class -- Pelini's first recruiting class. Instead, a thud.

"Just as a team, what we sacrificed to get here, that's what hurts the most. I mean, that's what hurts the most," said senior linebacker Will Compton, his eyes red. "This was our championship game. This was it for us. And we blew it."

In the postgame interview room, a tear streaked down the cheek of sophomore defensive tackle Chase Rome, his voice quivering with emotion.

"Eerily reminiscent to Ohio State, where they weren't doing anything magical at all," Rome said. "We got outplayed. They had a few tricks up their sleeve, but it wasn't anything we shouldn't have been able to handle. We just got ... beat."

The Huskers had envisioned this as being a breakthrough game for a program that had gone 13 years without a conference championship.

They were playing a 7-5 team that finished third in its division. They were playing a team they beat in September in a game where they held the Badgers to just 56 rushing yards. They were playing a team with the 84th-ranked offense in the country.

Eighty four. That's how many the Badgers could have probably scored if they wanted.

By game's end, Wisconsin had 539 rushing yards, the most ever allowed on the ground by Nebraska. The Badgers ended up with 640 total yards.

Wisconsin had two players rush for more than 200 yards -- Melvin Gordon (216) and Montee Ball (202). And James White piled on 109.

The Badgers continually burned the Huskers on a jet-sweep play, effortlessly getting outside the hash marks and making Nebraska's defenders look like they had lead in their cleats. But Wisconsin ran the ball up the gut with success, too. It ran the wildcat with success. It ran playground-style tricks with success.

Whatever, wherever, success.

"We practiced 99 percent of what they showed us today," Pelini said. "For whatever reason, we didn't execute. We didn't make tackles. We didn't make plays. Obviously, we didn't coach them well enough."

Wisconsin won the opening toss, requested the football first, and promptly went 75 yards in four plays, a 56-yard touchdown by the speedy Gordon on one of those jet-sweep plays.

The Badgers had another touchdown on the game's next play -- Nebraska's first offensive play. Taylor Martinez's pass bouncing off the hands of Kenny Bell and and into the hands of Wisconsin's Marcus Cromartie, who returned it 29 yards for a score.

It was 14-0. The game was barely 2 minutes old.

The Huskers bounced back -- and rather quickly.

Ironically, one of the worst defeats in Husker history also featured one of the greatest single individual plays Nebraska has ever had.

It was made by Martinez, who scored on a sensational 76-yard run where he backtracked all the way to the NU 6-yard line, before zigging and zagging his way down the field until he was in the end zone.

The Huskers had momentarily balanced themselves, getting the ball back and cutting it to 14-10.

But the game quickly turned into a cruel joke, with Wisconsin scoring the next 35 points. Nebraska's defense was baffled. The Husker offense bungled, turning the ball over three times.

The game was more or less decided at halftime, with NU trailing 42-10.

"Shock doesn't even begin to explain it," Pelini said. "It was like a leaking boat. It was one thing after another. ... There were some things we corrected and it never happened again. I've never been a part of a game like that as a coach. Like I said, at the end of the day it falls on me. It falls directly on my shoulders."

The Huskers had hoped they'd go home holding roses. Now, they'll wait to see which SEC team they'll face in either the Capital One Bowl or Outback Bowl.

Another tough test, but not the one anyone even wished to think about on this night.

"It's just life, especially life in football," said Rome, trying to fight back those tears. "We're still a 10-win football team. We can't say our season's a total loss because we didn't get this done. It sucks bad. It's terrible. But at the same time I refuse to say this group of guys isn't a great group of guys."

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