The emotions of Senior Day were tough to tamp down for University of Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson.
He’s been a fixture in the UW lineup since 2018, and he’s got his own catchphrase, repeated on nearly every broadcast of a Badgers game since he started playing. You know what it is, but because it’s a special occasion, we’ll break it out here: He’s former UW athletic director Barry Alvarez’s grandson.
Ferguson said he was able to put the pregame festivities behind and focus on the task of beating Nebraska because he’d made a promise to his teammates.
“It’s definitely tough, you can kind of get clouded by that,” he said. “I think a lot of us, the seniors as a group, we reinforced the fact that we still had a job to do, still have a game to play. Those 10 minutes or whatever they were of us getting introduced, kind of our sign off, let that be emotional. Then once we’re done, it’s go time, it’s game time.”
Ferguson caught all eight of his targets for 92 yards, leading the Badgers (8-3, 6-2 Big Ten) in both categories in their 35-28 victory over the Huskers (3-8, 1-7) despite seeing the double teams that have become regular throughout his career. He was particularly effective on screens, taking one for 35 yards to get UW into Nebraska territory to open a second-quarter drive, and another for 10 yards to continue a drive that eventually ended with a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.
Ferguson leads UW with 39 catches and has the second-most receiving yards with 390 with one game left in the regular season.
UW coach Paul Chryst told reporters Thursday that Ferguson’s ability to adjust to defenses’ attempts to take him away is one of his best attributes. He also said that it’s up to UW’s coaches to find ways for him to impact the game and be effective.
“Really getting with coach Chryst, coach (Mickey) Turner about what I can do to beat (double teams) and then letting the receivers know it’s your time,” Ferguson said about how he handles multiple defenders. “If I’m getting double-teamed, that means you guys are open. I love when they’re one-on-one because I’m pretty confident in them.”
Pryor bounces back
Senior receiver Kendric Pryor narrowly missed a big completion down the Nebraska sideline in the first quarter, dropping a pass from quarterback Graham Mertz that hit him in the chest.
But the sixth-year player was able to make up for it in the second half. He ran a skinny post route into the end zone and walled off cornerback Braxton Clark to haul in a 17-yard touchdown on UW’s first possession of the half, then he made a catch-and-run of 28 yards to convert a third-and-3 on a go-ahead drive later in the third quarter.
He said the touchdown didn’t do much to soften the blow of the error.
“I’m more mad, I care more about the drop than me scoring a touchdown,” Pryor said. “It comes down to fundamentals, me (being) too eager and thirsty to try to score on Senior Day. … As soon as it hit my hands, I tried to look upfield and tried to get in the end zone and just let it slip through.”
Pryor said he was glad Mertz showed faith in him by targeting him again after the costly drop.
Wilder makes memory
Safety Collin Wilder became the first Badgers defensive back with two interceptions in a game since Joe Ferguson — Jake’s older brother — had two against Indiana on Nov. 4, 2017.
Wilder’s first pick took the ball away from Nebraska on the opening possession of the third quarter when Wilder grabbed the ball from receiver Oliver Martin. Wilder’s 40-yard return set up the drive that ended in Pryor’s touchdown. Wilder got a second pick early in the fourth quarter when Nebraska’s Adrian Martinez heaved a ball down the Badgers sideline well beyond any receiver and Wilder settled under it.
“He gives you energy,” Chryst said about Wilder. “We've talked about that all year, it is contagious. That's been consistent, that’s who he’s been all year. … I thought the first one was a heck of a pick, he truly made that play. Those were big plays for us.”
Badgers fans on Twitter have mixed feelings after Wisconsin barely passes Nebraska's test
Passing the practice exam
Nebraska was a great test for the Badgers should they play Ohio State in two weeks. Martinez was effective throughout the game on crossing patterns, and Wisconsin didn’t have an answer. Braelon Allen is going to be among the great running backs in Badgers history. Huge win!— Jeff Ostach (@jeff_ostach) November 20, 2021
Like a fine wine ...
I think everyone except Braelon Allen aged about 50 years after that one! Not sure if you heard, but he's only 17. Still. 😜😂😂🏈— Rob Hernandez (@RobHernandezGLF) November 20, 2021
Just sneaking through
It was a TIGHT ENDing. But the good guys got just what they needed to win.— Chris Davis (@cdavis20000) November 21, 2021
A fitting farewell
Obvious take is that Huskers are much better than their record. Good test for the offense on a day when the defense was subpar. Happy for the seniors to get a win on Senior Day. Now on to the Ground Squirrels and the Battle for the Axe!— Russ Evansen (@waunaruss) November 21, 2021
Battle to the buzzer
Hats off to NB. They played a great game. Admire their no quit. Badger O was good and carried the D for the first time this season. Fantastic home ender— BadgerFan (@divot516) November 20, 2021
Keeping it rolling
7 in a row!— Sean Stephenson (@sgstephenson) November 20, 2021
Still room to improve
Did just enough to beat a scrappy Husker team. Defense will make adjustments and offensive line getting better each week.— Jon Ahlgrim (@JonAhlgrim) November 21, 2021
Offense returns the favor
This was a very good win. Nebraska was dangerous and way better than their record. Offense did what it had to. Not Leonhard’s best day, though. If we’re being honest Frost prepared his offense better than Leonhard coached his D.— ryebadger (@ryebadger1) November 21, 2021
Nebraska will beat Iowa...best 3-8 team I've ever seen— OnWisconsin (@jgraf36) November 20, 2021
NB should have called time out without losing valuable minutes. NB could have scored, gone for two so a PI and two receptions from a Uw loss. The PI the refs did call was uncatchable, so poor grade for refs. Badgers should beat Gophers for West title.— Steve Kazan (@skazan) November 21, 2021
Up for the challenge
I hope to find out— Dennis Whitehead (@Badgerden1) November 20, 2021
A win's a win
Not a clean game on either side of the ball…but ugly wins are still wins.— Todd (@pilprin) November 21, 2021
Enjoy the show!
1) B. Allen will be on Heisman watch next year.— Cat Lady Darcy (@CatLadyDarcy) November 21, 2021
2) Hopes that Chryst cld attract WRs are dead.
3) I live near Indy. Not looking forward to watching my Badgers get drubbed by Ohio St. Again.
Flaws on full display
Badgers were exposed again in the secondary. If opposing QBs get any time we can’t cover WR. Pass blocking and WR play needs big improvements for the Big Ten Championship game should we beat Minnesota next week— Bill Schroeder (@BigBill021) November 21, 2021
All too real
Nebraska fans must see Wisconsin running backs in their nightmares.— Andrew Zimdars (@andrew_zimdars) November 20, 2021
Picking up the slack
Stay with it
Need to focus on the secondary not breaking coverage when the QB starts to scramble.— Tyler Chesmore (@TylerChesmore) November 20, 2021
Narrowly dodging disaster
Too close! Nebraska was playing with house money and it needed every bit of effort to win this. On to Minnesota.— Kurt Sagendorph (@ksagendo) November 21, 2021
Finding another gear
Huskers played really well. These games happen. And the team dug down and won. Also our running back is 17 years old. 😌— Hannah Mott (@TheEverydayMath) November 20, 2021
It takes a team
The defense wasn't great. Allen is a stud.— Brian Hipp (@Brianhipp) November 20, 2021
Living on the edge
Scary relying on the offense when the D struggles.— Ryan (@RyanBrown812) November 20, 2021
Back to the drawing board
For once, the Offense bailed out the Defense. Leonard and team have work to do this week…— Mike T (@badger2k) November 21, 2021
Bubble burst on the great defense. Ohio St. will kill them if they get that far.— Ken Rasmussen (@KenRasmussen2) November 21, 2021
Priority No. 1
They won, that's all that matters.— Dickie P (@dpedder10) November 21, 2021