Game Rewind: Abdullah battled, but its not enough
MADISON, Wis. - On the third play of the second half, Nebraska was facing a third and 15. Imani Cross ran onto the field and motioned Ameer Abdullah to the sidelines. Abdullah ran about halfway off the field, madly gesturing that he wanted to stay in. The coaches obliged, sending Abdullah back to the huddle to retrieve Cross. The senior, playing on a bad wheel, then caught a screen pass and motored 26 yards for a first down.
But Abdullah's best efforts went for naught - Tommy Armstrong threw an interception on the next play, quickly stifling any belief that the Huskers were going to slow Wisconsin's momentum in the second half.
Just two weeks removed from spraining his MCL, Abdullah was clearly not 100 percent in the 59-24 loss. He didn't have quite the same burst, and his cuts weren't quite as crisp. But the senior gamely kept fighting and put together a decent performance, rushing for 69 yards and averaging 3.8 yards per carry.
His counterpart, Melvin Gordon, submitted a historic outing that put Abdullah's to shame. Gordon broke the NCAA record with 410 yards on the ground, routinely shredding the Blackshirts with long gains. On the rare occasions Nebraska was able to grab Gordon, wrestling him to the ground proved to be an onerous task.
Abdullah's injury robbed this game of seeing two of the nation's best backs facing off a full strength, but even at his best it's hard to believe Abdullah could have kept pace with Gordon. That didn't mean he wasn't going to try. Even as the Badgers piled on the points and built a massive lead, Abdullah refused to take himself out of the game. He did lose a fumble, but with the rest of the team crumbling all around him, his turnover hardly puts him at fault.
The effort was honorable, but it wasn't enough to keep Nebraska from another big-stage embarrassment. With a potential Big Ten West title on the line, the Huskers again came up ridiculously short. Abdullah may not be to blame, but he was powerless to help.
Unfortunately, this almost definitely means Abdullah's historic career will end without a conference title. I just hope that his time is remembered for his moments of brilliance, not his team's repeated missteps on the national stage.
Three defining moments
Gordon's long runs: Take your pick: Gordon had runs of 42, 62, 16, 39 and 44 yards in the first half alone to help the Badgers score 21 unanswered points and head into the half up 24-17. Nebraska's defense did an adequate job corralling him early, but it collapsed as Gordon picked up momentum in the second quarter. His bursts helped the Badgers recover from a sluggish start and take the game over.
Armstrong's interception: Tommy Armstrong's pick on the opening drive of the second half pretty much summed about everything about Nebraska's offensive performance. The sophomore play-faked to Abdullah, rolled right and heaved a deep ball to Kenny Bell, who was double-covered. The pass was easily intercepted, giving Wisconsin even more momentum. The play was more reminiscent of schoolchildren playing a game of "500" than a throw by a Division I quarterback.
Abdullah's fumble: The defense actually held after Armstrong's pick, but Abdullah fumbled on the first play of Nebraska's next drive. Wisconsin recovered at its own 42-yard line and proceeded to score in four plays, putting the game on ice.
Melvin Gordon: No further explanation necessary.
Punter Sam Foltz: The sophomore got plenty of work Saturday and did his part. He averaged 46.9 yards on his eight punts and ran for 14 yards to pick up a first down on one fake punt that ended up being one of the lone bright spots of the afternoon.
By the numbers
56: Unanswered points scored by the Badgers after NU took a 17-3 lead in the second quarter.
189: Rushing yards by Gordon in the second quarter, more than Nebraska had allowed in any other game this season.
5: Fumbles forced by Nebraska. The Huskers had forced just six fumbles in their first nine games.
3 Third-down conversions for Nebraska in 13 opportunities. The Huskers failed on five of their six third-down chances in the second half.
They said it
"They lost something. Mojo, I don't know what you want to call it. The intensity, the drive, somewhere along the game, they didn't have the crispness they did early."
Offensive coordinator Tim Beck on if the offense lost confidence as the game progressed
"There's a lot of concern. It's easy to draw parallels with the two games, but it's different players and different situations. It's the same staff, so we have to do a lot of figuring out to what we can do better."
Defensive coordinator John Papuchis on how similar this game was to Nebraska's loss to Wisconsin in the 2012 Big Ten Championship
Biggest question/concern: Can the Huskers ever get over the hump in a big showdown?
Unfortunately, large portions of this contest looked like a replay of Nebraska's past performances in big games. The same ingredients were there - turnovers, penalties, leaky defense - and the end result was the same. Maybe most worrisome is that the Huskers actually got off to a very good start. But once the momentum turned, NU was completely powerless to stop it. In a game with major consequences on the line, Nebraska again came up short, and both coaches and players were lacking answers after the game. The Huskers put up another stinker on the national stage and don't appear to be any closer to solving their big-game woes.