Wisconsin vs. Nebraska, 9.29.12

Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez (3) reaches for a ball fumbled by Ameer Abdullah in the fourth quarter on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2012, at Memorial Stadium.

FRANCIS GARDLER/Lincoln Journal Star

The first snap was a clue.

Taylor Martinez fumbled, diving on the football just in time to prevent Wisconsin from getting it at the Nebraska 10-yard line.

The fourth snap led to mounting evidence of how slippery the ball  would be for Nebraska on this night, with Rex Burkhead losing the handle as he bumped into his own lineman.

Those Husker fans shaking their heads should know offensive coordinator Tim Beck was right there with them.

Four Husker snaps, two fumbles, down two touchdowns.

Without question, Beck could find his share of things to praise — “Great resolve,” he said — in Nebraska’s 30-27 win against Wisconsin on Saturday night.

But … there was a but.

With eyes on the bigger prize, he knows some cleaning up is  necessary.

“Not happy with it at all. I don’t know why it was,” Beck said. "Even in some routine things, the ball was on the ground, which is unheard of from us. I don’t know. I can’t put a finger on it.”

By game’s end, his team had left the football on the turf six times, fortunate to lose just two fumbles, and extremely lucky when one fumble by Ameer Abdullah bounced right into the hands of  Martinez.

That bizarre play came with the score tied at 27 early in the fourth quarter. Had Wisconsin recovered, it would have started with the ball inside the Husker 25 for a third time because of a fumble. Instead, Martinez gobbled it up and ran another 9 yards for a first down.

The Huskers ultimately kicked the game-winning field goal on the drive.

“Usually when we don’t fumble we have a pretty good chance of scoring,” Beck said.

Nebraska had 440 yards of offense and 24 first downs. Getting out of its own way was often the biggest issue, the coach felt.

“Guys are able to come back and battle through it, but you can’t be digging holes like that," he said. "No way.”

Despite the sloppiness, Beck said he was “really proud” of the way his offense, which dominated the line of scrimmage in the second half, rallied for the win.

Nebraska ended up with 259 yards rushing against a defense that came in giving up only 80 a game.

“It’s obviously a big one,” Beck said. “It’s a conference win. It’s against the defending Big Ten champions two years running. And it’s just the start of things to come. But we have to play better on offense, I think.”

* Ready for anything: Most people in the stadium were surely guessing Wisconsin would run the ball on fourth-and-1 in the game’s final minutes.

But defensive coordinator John Papuchis had his defense on the lookout for the possibility of Wisconsin trying to catch the Huskers off-guard by airing it out.

“We called a base defense because we didn’t want to give a play-action shot,” Papuchis said. “I didn’t want to give up a one-on-fade route with (Jared) Abbrederis on one of our corners. So we played a little bit more of a conservative call.

“At the end of the day, sometimes it comes down to getting off blocks and making plays.”

Husker linebacker Alonzo Whaley did just that, getting in the backfield quickly and helping cause a game-sealing fumble.

It also helped that Wisconsin suffered from miscommunication on the play. Running back Montee Ball wasn’t expecting the handoff.

“It was designed so the quarterback is supposed to pull it and run on the other side,” Ball said. “I wasn’t expecting the ball at all.”

* About those linebackers: Papuchis seemed aware of those skeptics who wondered how Nebraska would perform in a base defense it hadn’t used much this season.

Some critics wondered if Nebraska was sacrificing too much speed by going to a traditional defense and playing three linebackers — Will Compton, Sean Fisher and Whaley.

“I appreciate people's concern for that,” Papuchis said. “But the reality is, I’m not that excited seeing Ciante Evans take on the fullback in the A gap, either. We play our base versus base personnel, we play dime versus dime personnel and nickel versus nickel personnel. With our three linebackers, that’s their style of game and they work hard.”

Those linebackers came up in a big way against the Badgers.

Compton led NU with 10 tackles, including a sack, three tackles for loss, two pass breakups and a quarterback hurry.

Whaley had nine tackles, a sack, two tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and the key play on the game’s biggest play.

Fisher, making his first prolonged appearance this season, had seven tackles and a tackle for loss on a crucial third-and-1 in the third quarter.

“They are good linebackers in our base defense,” Papuchis said. “Are they perfect to play spread offense against 10 or 11 personnel? No. But Big Ten play gives them an opportunity and we need to put them in situations where they can be successful.”

* Glad for the smack: Martinez smiled when asked in the postgame about Wisconsin defensive end David Gilbert’s trash talk.

Did the quarterback talk to the Badger after the win? "No, I didn't. I wish I did."

Gilbert did make a big sack on Martinez, forcing the fumble that led to the score that made it 27-10.

But Martinez responded, including a 10-yard laser touchdown pass to Kyler Reed that looked nothing like a guy skipping rocks.

And Martinez had the last laugh with a win in his pocket.

Did Gilbert's talk motivate?

"That's football. Anybody can talk smack …" Martinez said. "I'm glad he did."

Today’s special number -- 2

That’s how many sacks Nebraska needs to equal its sack total from last season.

The Huskers currently have 19 — an average of 3.8 per game. Nebraska had three sacks Saturday.

Ranked eighth nationally in the category heading into Week 6, Nebraska was 84th in sacks in 2011.

QUOTES ON THE RUN

“Yeah, that guy. That guy needs to do something. That was a gift from God. Yeah, oh, yeah, I give myself the hardest time. That was right there. That was right there in my hands. Or my chest. Man. That was … yeah, yeah. We work on that stuff all the time. I don’t know. I don’t know if I was just caught off-guard or not. I knew he was going to miss the field goal. I wanted to keep it entertaining, I guess.” — A sheepish Will Compton on dropping a possible  interception in the second quarter

 

“I was happy, because I know we sealed the game. For me to be the person that scooped (it) felt great.” — Harvey Jackson on his recovered fumble on the final fourth down

“That (Harvey) should have scored that touchdown.” — A joking Martinez what he thought when the defense made that fourth-down stop

“Summer conditioning is hard, and it’s not for everybody. So you build that mental toughness to persevere. Fall camp is hard that way. Everything we do is structured to create a mental toughness. And I really don’t think sometimes people outside of … this family know how hard it is, what these guys are asked to do. So today was just like every other day. It’s just in front of more people.” — Papuchis

Reach Brian Christopherson at bchristopherson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. You can follow him on Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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