In his postgame press conference after Nebraska's second biggest comeback in Memorial Stadium history, Bo Pelinimade sure that he complimented Big Red fans for their contributions to the Huskers' 30-27 win over Wisconsin. "I thought that twelfth man was alive and well in the second half," Pelini said. "I appreciate the way the fans got after it in that second half. That's what home-field advantage is all about."
Saturday night's atmosphere was a reflection of what Husker fans were seeing on the field - a remarkable turnabout that showed an offensive line pushing back a stout Wisconsin defense and a defensive line stopping a Badger offense in its second-half tracks. Remember, Wisconsin features a running back that shares the NCAA single-season record of 39 touchdowns with Barry Sanders and, barring injury, he easily will break the NCAA career record for touchdowns this season.
Offensive, Defensive Players Share Awards
A great team effort means Pelini and his staff had multiple choice candidates for Nebraska's Players of the Game against Wisconsin, but after exhaustive film study, Husker coaches selected senior tackle Baker Steinkuhlerand senior linebacker Will Comptonas Co-Defensive Players of the Game; junior right tackle Jeremiah Sirlesand sophomore I-back Ameer Abdullah as Co-Offensive Players of the Game; and senior punter/place-kicker Brett Maher as Special Teams Player of the Game.
Compton led the Blackshirts with 10 tackles, including three solo stops. He had a pivotal 11-yard blitz sack that ended a second-quarter drive when Nebraska trailed 20-3 in the second quarter. His sack was the trigger for Nebraska's 93-yard touchdown drive that allowed the Huskers to stay within 20-10 at half. Compton also recorded three tackles that resulted in 12 more lost yards. In addition, he broke up two passes and forced a quarterback hurry.
Steinkuhler may have played the best game of his career. His 5-tackle total does not measure how disruptive he was for Wisconsin. Two of his tackles were for losses, and he did a great job of leading his team by example. "Baker has played a lot of football around here," Pelini said Monday. "I thought he played really well the other night and did some good things. I don't know how vocal Baker is, but people respect him. They respect what he does and what he represents."
Sirles Leads Resurgent Offensive Line
Nebraska's offensive line has paved the way for the No. 4-ranked rushing offense in college football, and Sirles helped lead Nebraska to a 259-yard net rushing night against Wisconsin. "Judging from the play calling, they put a lot of trust in the guys up front," Sirles said at Monday's press conference. "I think we came out and wanted it on our shoulders. We wanted people to know that this is how things are done around here. We like to run the ball, and we want to run the ball. If that's going to be the key to victory, then that's what we're going to do."
Abdullah energized Nebraska's offense at several critical points in the game. He finished the night with 252 explosive all-purpose yards, including 142 on kickoff returns, 18 more on punt returns, 70 yards on only 10 rushing attempts and 22 yards on three receptions during Nebraska's only first-half touchdown drive that pulled the Huskers into contention at half.
Maher was his usual productive self, kicking a 26-yard field goal in the first quarter, a 38-yard field goal to pull Nebraska even at 27-27 with 1:45 left in the third quarter and the game-winning 41-yard field goal with 4:22 left in the fourth quarter. He also boomed his kickoffs to un-returnable status and averaged 46.7 yards on three sky-rocketing punts.
Scout Team Helped Emulate Wisconsin
As well as Steinkuhler, Compton, Abdullah, Sirles and Maher played, Saturday night's win was a team effort on both sides of the ball. The only thing matching Nebraska's second-half performance was its unity, and that helped the Huskers take the first step to meet their team goal, a Big Ten championship that would become their first conference title in 13 seasons.
Nebraska's coaches are expecting a great week of practice leading up to Saturday night's nationally televised showdown ht at The Horseshoe in Columbus. Nebraska's performance will be based on daily preparation, and the Husker staff will be counting on this week's Scout Team efforts matching last week's. In addition to naming five Players of the Game, Pelini and his staff honored three Scout Team players for their contributions to the win over Wisconsin.
Trey Foster, a freshman tight end from Lincoln Southeast, was the Scout Team Offensive Player of the Game. Thomas Brown, a freshman linebacker from Gardena, Calif., was the Scout Team Defensive Player of the Game, and Matt Manninger, a senior linebacker from Omaha Creighton Prep, was the Scout Team Special Teams Player of the Week.
To Win, Everyone Has to Pull Together
Some Scout Teamers develop into all-conference players, like Maher and junior offensive guard Spencer Long. Some become All-Americans, like Alex Henery, Maher's predecessor. Others, like Manninger, do whatever they can to help the team, and in the minds of Nebraska's coaching staff, that's really all that matters.