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Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson comes up big for Badgers in emotional final home game
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Wisconsin tight end Jake Ferguson comes up big for Badgers in emotional final home game

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University of Wisconsin seniors Jake Ferguson, Tyler Beach, Caesar Williams and Collin Wilder speak to the media after the Badgers defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers 35-28 on Senior Day, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.

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.”

University of Wisconsin freshman tailback Braelon Allen speaks to the media about meeting former UW running back Melvin Gordon after the Badgers defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers 35-28 on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.


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