Nebraska running backs got “too bouncy” running the football in the first half Saturday night, according to their position coach, Ron Brown.
That changed when sophomore Ameer Abdullah found some creases in the Wisconsin defense in the second half.
Abdullah had consecutive runs of 5 and 12 yards to start off a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter, helping spark the Huskers in their 30-27 come-from-behind victory against the Badgers at Memorial Stadium.
“There were some small creases here and there, and Ameer started to get a feel for it in the third quarter,” Brown said.
“Ameer came in and did a great job. He was seeing things really well. He and Rex (Burkhead) both had their spurts. It was tough. Wisconsin had an outstanding rush defense. They know how to play us. They know what they’re doing. They’re gap-assigned but, also, they shed blockers. They don’t stay on blockers for a long period of time.”
Abdullah, running both out of the I-formation and the zone-read, had five carries in that touchdown drive that pulled Nebraska within 27-24. He also was the main ball carrier on the next drive that resulted in a field goal that forged a 27-27 tie.
And on the next series, in the fourth quarter, coaches turned to a fresh Burkhead, who steamrolled Wisconsin for consecutive runs of 4, 11 and 21 yards on a drive that led to Brett Maher’s go-ahead (and game-winning) field goal.
“I just felt like Ameer was seeing some things and making people miss,” NU offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “He’s hard to tackle and he’s shifty and he’s strong, and he was giving us some big plays in the running game.
“Once we were able to creep back in there, found a couple of things to go at them, take advantage of them, and Rex came in and started plowing away at them.”
Nebraska had only 68 rushing yards at halftime but finished with 259. Combined, Abdullah and Burkhead rushed for 156 yards on 28 carries – Burkhead had 18 for 86, and Abdullah 10 for 70.
“Those guys did a great job,” Beck said. “I mean, God dang, we tried to give the game away on offense, didn’t we? Just turning the ball over and giving them the short field and letting them score points.
“I mean, we dug as deep a hole as we could in the first half. When we didn’t fumble, we usually moved the ball pretty good, for the most part.”
Quarterback Taylor Martinez led Nebraska with 107 rushing yards and 181 passing yards. His 38-yard touchdown run off a draw play started the Huskers’ comeback when they trailed 27-10. Earlier in that drive, he delivered a 20-yard pass to Kenny Bell.
“It was big,” Beck said of the pass, on which Bell was hit high, drawing a 15-yard penalty. “Taylor would be the first to tell you he didn’t have a great game, but good quarterbacks find ways to win when they don’t have great games. And he did some really good things with his feet and he made some big plays when we needed him to make some big plays. That throw to Kyler Reed for a touchdown, he put that right in there.”
Nebraska fumbled six times, losing two, both of which led to Wisconsin touchdowns after short fields.
“We’ve got to be who we are and just not panic and just keep plowing away,” Becks said. “Our defense did an outstanding job keeping us at bay, giving us a chance to come back and close the gap.”