LINCOLN, Neb. -- The Nebraska Cornhuskers, down 17 points to the Wisconsin Badgers in the third quarter, had been in this position before.
They trailed by 24 points in the second half of last year's Big Ten Conference home opener, against Ohio State, and rallied for the biggest comeback in school history.
So their 30-27 victory in Saturday night's Big Ten opener against Wisconsin wasn't all that surprising
to coach Bo Pelini.
"We've been in tougher positions than that before," Pelini said. "The situation we were in, a lot of it
was self-imposed. If we do our thing and we're not our own worst enemy -- we did some things that were out of character for us in that first half. It could have cost us. It didn't."
No. 22 Nebraska (4-1, 1-0) overcame a sluggish start -- a 14-0 hole midway through the first quarter --
and avenged last year's 48-17 loss in Madison.
Taylor Martinez ran for 107 yards and threw for 181, and the Huskers' two-headed running back monster of Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah combined for 156 rushing yards and speared the second-half comeback.
Nebraska's defense did its part too, holding Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1) to 90 yards of total offense in the
second half after the Badgers had amassed 205 in the first half.
"It was a tale of two halves," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "You could feel that momentum move in the second half, and their offense did a nice job. They converted a couple play-action passes.
Nebraska took a 30-27 lead on Brett Maher's 41-yard field goal with 9:41 remaining in the game.
Consecutive runs of 4, 11 and 21 yards by Burkhead, who sat most of the third quarter, keyed the drive,
which stalled in part because of a holding penalty.
Wisconsin took over at its 10-yard line with 2:55 remaining, and drove to midfield. But the Badgers came up short on a fourth-and-1 play at midfield, with Montee Ball fumbling and Harvey Jackson recovering with 1:11 remaining.
"We made it hard on ourselves, but as a football team, we made a lot of mistakes in that game," Pelini
said. "We didn't play our best football, we didn't play nearly as well as we are capable of playing. But we got a 'W,' and we stayed the course as a football team."
Nebraska scored 17 unanswered points to end the third quarter after Wisconsin had taken a 27-10 lead.
The Badgers, who had converted a fumble deep in Nebraska territory for a touchdown, seemed in control.
But Martinez sparked the Huskers with two big plays on the Huskers' ensuing drive -- a 20-yard pass to
Kenny Bell, and a 36-yard touchdown run off a draw play that cut Wisconsin's lead to 27-17.
Nebraska forced a three-and-out, igniting the sellout crowd of 85,962. Abdullah then led a 10-play, 75-
yard touchdown drive, running five times to help set up Martinez's 10-yard touchdown pass to Kyler Reed.
"That is the way we should normally play," Martinez said.
After another three-and-out, Nebraska drove from its 32 to the Wisconsin 21, and then settled on Maher's 38-yard field goal to force a 27-27 tie.
Wisconsin led 20-10 at halftime thanks to its big start.
Nebraska won the opening coin flip but elected to receive. Wisconsin smothered Abdullah at the 11-yard line on the opening kickoff, and then forced a three-and-out.
Maher boomed a 55-yard punt to help switch the field, but on Wisconsin's second play from scrimmage, Joel Stave hit Jared Abbrederis on a 54-yard play-action pass.
Three plays later, Ball scored on a 2-yard run to give the Badgers a 7-0 lead.
Nebraska fumbled on three of its first six plays from scrimmage, the second one when Burkhead ran into his blocker and lost the football. Chris Borland recovered for Wisconsin, setting the Badgers up at the Nebraska 23-yard line.
It took seven plays, but Wisconsin turned the turnover into a touchdown when Ball again scored, this
time from the 1-yard line on fourth down for a 14-0 lead with 7:20 remaining in the first quarter.
Abdullah returned the ensuing kickoff 83 yards, but Nebraska couldn't get a first down and settled for
Maher's 26-yard field goal, cutting the lead to 14-3. The Huskers forced a three-and-out and drove to the
Wisconsin 34, but Maher was wide left on a 52-yard attempt.
Wisconsin then drove 65 yards in 10 plays, with Abbrederis catching a 29-yard touchdown pass from Stave. A roughing-the-punter penalty, after Nebraska had forced fourth-and-18, was the key play in the drive that put Wisconsin up 20-3, as Jack Russell missed the PAT.
Nebraska cut the lead to 20-10 after a 12-play, 93-yard drive that Martinez capped with a 3-yard pass to Burkhead.
Wisconsin, with the help of a third-down pass-interference penalty, drove to the Nebraska 23, but
Russell missed a 41-yard field goal near the end of the half.
NOTES: Taylor Martinez gained 20 yards on a second-quarter draw play, the first rush of 20 yards or more allowed by Wisconsin this season. ... Jack Russell's 41-yard field-goal attempt at the end of the first half was the longest attempt by a Badger kicker this season. His kick was wide left.