• Video: >See Monday's Husker press conference
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LINCOLN — Forget the score, the bad interceptions, the coverage breakdowns and the sight of Russell Wilson freezing defenders to a spot. Forget even that raucous, mocking crowd yelling “Big Ten Football!” into an early autumn night.
Focus on this image from Wisconsin's 48-17 thrashing of Nebraska last year: the Badgers' big, vaunted offensive line knocking back NU's equally touted, NFL-player-at-each-level defense. Focus on the toes of UW's linemen — and the heels of the Huskers. Focus on the physicality. The rude, brute awakening to a slower league that still packs a punch.
“They controlled the line of scrimmage,” linebacker Will Compton said at Monday's press conference. “They were able to pound the ball against us. They were able to throw the ball.
“We didn't have a good day that day. We didn't execute well. Offensively and defensively we weren't clicking, and when they got rolling, we let the snowball effect take its course on us.”
In a little more than a half, Wisconsin turned a 14-13 deficit into an unsettling rout, a funk from which NU didn't recover until the third quarter of a school-record comeback over Ohio State. The Badgers, not the Huskers, played in the Rose Bowl. They also spoiled NU's debut in the league.
Quarterback Taylor Martinez — whose three interceptions turned into three UW touchdowns — called the game the low point of his career. He's watched the loss on film more than once to identify mistakes he made against Wisconsin's coverage, which he now concedes confused him. Apparently NU prepared for something other than the Badgers' typical zone defense.
“It was an interesting experience for some of our guys,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “I think some of the uniqueness has worn off, so to speak. Now we've just got to play.”
Husker coach Bo Pelini on Monday declined a stroll down memory lane.
“I'm not talking about that game anymore,” Pelini said. “I've moved past that game. When you're in my position and you're a competitor, every loss hurts about the same.”
Players were more pointed in their recollections.
“It was embarrassing,” safety P.J. Smith said. “We were embarrassed.”
“It stings,” defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler said.
“It's not going to take a lot for us to get awake for this one,” Compton said.
While reporters, pundits and fans have focused on 3-1 Wisconsin's uncharacteristic struggles on offense — the Badgers are 110th nationally in total offense and 100th in scoring offense after finishing 14th and sixth last year — Nebraska coaches and players saw things differently.
To them, the Badgers are a test of toughness, an imposition of will that NU has to confront. “Down-your-throat football,” as Steinkuhler called it.
“I like playing that way,” Steinkuhler said. “It's one guy playing against another guy, and it's that way for four quarters.”
Compton played two years in the Big 12 before moving to the Big Ten, and he said he couldn't recall a league team — perhaps Kansas State — that relied so much on physically imposing itself against a defense. Big 12 teams specialized in running around and through defenses. Wisconsin's goal is to run over defenses, then throw over them when an opponent commits an extra player to stop the running game.
That's why, Compton said, Nebraska has to “take it to” the Badgers. Win the line of scrimmage. Stop the run. For motivation, Compton said the Husker defense is still using its 36-30 loss to UCLA as a needling reminder. Compton called the game “week two.”
“Something to put in the back of your mind, to keep that scene right there,” he said.
Since the loss to the Bruins, the NU defense has given up just one touchdown in two games.
On offense, the Huskers' focus is to avoid mistakes made last year. For all its firepower, NU's offense still makes too many mistakes, Beck said. He, Martinez and I-back Rex Burkhead hailed Wisconsin's defense as solid, physical and well-coached.
Did Beck learn any lessons from the offense's collapse last year? Yes, he said. What? He smiled.
“I'll tell you about it one day,” he said.
Maybe it'll be a better memory than 2011.
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