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3 things that stood out from Wisconsin football's win at Nebraska

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LINCOLN, Neb. — The University of Wisconsin football team appeared out of sorts on offense and on the way to an embarrassing loss to an opponent it has dominated.

But two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter lifted the Badgers to a crucial 15-14 win over Nebraska at Memorial Stadium. The victory was UW’s sixth of the year, meaning the Badgers are eligible to play in a bowl game for the 21st consecutive season, and it extended a win streak over the Cornhuskers to nine.

Sophomore running back Braelon Allen spent his day split between barreling over Nebraska defenders and being doubled over on the sideline. The Fond du Lac native is battling a left shoulder injury that forced him off the field in pain with his left arm hanging by his side and in obvious pain. He still contributed 18 carries for 92 yards, but senior Chez Mellusi — who was returning from a wrist injury that cost him four games — added season highs of 21 carries and 98 yards to help buoy the offense.

UW made the first big mistake when quarterback Graham Mertz tried to throw deep into the wind early in the second quarter. The ball hung in the air and was picked off by Malcolm Hartzog, who returned it to the UW 37. After missed tackles by Nick Herbig and Kamo’i Latu allowed the Huskers to convert a third-and-7 in the red zone, Thompson completed an eight-play drive with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Trey Palmer.

The Badgers (6-5, 4-4 Big Ten) were shut out in the second half last week against Iowa and didn’t score in the first half against Nebraska (3-8, 2-6). The Badgers finally broke that streak with a field-goal drive in the third quarter, but even those points were disappointing after a false start by fullback Jackson Acker pushed UW back from a third-and-goal from the 1.

Two personal fouls on the Badgers’ defense — including a targeting foul on outside linebacker Nick Herbig that will cost him the first half of next week’s game — allowed the Cornhuskers to move down the field and a busted coverage led to a wide-open touchdown for Palmer.

But UW used a bruising run game and a couple of chunk passing plays to score both fourth-quarter TDs and emerge with a win.

Here’s a game ball and three things that stood out:


Chez Mellusi, UW running back

Coming back from an injury, the senior led the Badgers in carries and rushing yards and helped UW avoid a costly loss.

Honorable mention: Trey Palmer, Nebraska WR

1. Limited passing game

Windy conditions at Memorial Stadium contributed to Mertz’s interception in the first half, but the Badgers signal-caller misread a number of plays and didn’t get much help from his receivers early. Three drops in the first half derailed drives. Junior Chimere Dike had a chance to save a red-zone drive in the third quarter after corralling a high throw from Mertz, but he couldn’t keep control through getting hit and going down out of bounds.

This was the third week in a row UW couldn’t find consistency in the passing game, though the Maryland game’s lack of passing was explainable due to the weather. UW got a few chunk plays in the second half off play-action, which hasn’t been a big part of the offense this year, but the aerial attack hasn’t held up its end of the bargain down the stretch.

2. UW stuffing the run

The Badgers continue to be stout against traditional runs. Nebraska only had 33 yards on 17 attempts from running backs, and had to rely on quarterback Casey Thompson to gain yards on the ground. Nebraska finished with 65 rushing yards.

UW senior defensive tackle Keeanu Benton controlled the line of scrimmage in the middle, and UW’s linebackers flowed well over the top. Defensive end Rodas Johnson had an important tackle for loss on a fourth-quarter possession that put Nebraska behind the sticks.

Iowa gained 52 yards rushing last week, and UW hasn’t allowed more than 112 in a game since Jim Leonhard took over as interim coach.

3. Mellusi brilliant in return

Leonhard made it sound like Mellusi was going to be on a snap count. Leonhard said at his news conference Thursday that the team had to be smart with Mellusi’s workload as he returned from a wrist injury suffered at Northwestern.

Mellusi showed early in the game that he could handle hits and carrying the ball, and he put together his best game of the season. He was decisive in his runs, particularly between the tackles, and forced Nebraska to tackle him.

His run of 5 yards to the right side set up Mertz’s winning QB sneak from Nebraska’s 1-yard line with 35 seconds left.

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