LINCOLN, Neb. -- Wisconsin ended its five-year skid in Big Ten road openers -- and just in time to keep its bid alive for a second straight West Division title.
In what amounted to an elimination match Saturday at Memorial Stadium between two of the favorites to reach the Big Ten title game, the Badgers beat Nebraska 23-21 as sophomore place-kicker Rafael Gaglianone drilled a 46-yard field goal with four seconds to play -- barely a minute after he clanked a 39-yard attempt off the right upright.
Nebraska lost in the final seconds for the fourth time in six games. It went nowhere after Gaglianone's miss with 1:26 to play, and Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) took possession for the winning drive with 63 seconds left at its 30-yard line. Quarterback Joel Stave hit Troy Fumagalli for a gain of 7, Jazz Peavy for 12 and Fumagalli for 23 to set up Gaglianone, the big Brazilian who split the uprights this time.
The Badgers got a clutch performance from Stave, the senior quarterback who threw for 322 yards without the consistent threat of a running game.
After Wisconsin gouged Nebraska for 1,120 yards on the ground in the past two meetings -- including 581 last year in a 35-point win -- the Badgers rushed for 147 yards on Saturday as top back Corey Clement remained out with injury and redshirt freshman Taiwan Deal followed him to the bench in the first quarter.
Nebraska (2-4, 0-2) took a one-point lead on a 55-yard burst by fullback Andy Janovich with 3:38 to play. Starting at their 9-yard line, the Badgers then got a 31-yard reception by Alex Erickson, a 16-yard Stave-to-Robert Wheelwright connection and a 12-yard run by Dare Ogunbowale to set up the kicker for his first attempt of the fourth quarter.
What the win means for Wisconsin: The Badgers stay alive in the race for the West. But Wisconsin needs Iowa to lose twice, barring a tie at the top of more than two teams. That's way down the road for this team, which added Deal on Saturday to its long list of injured offensive players. Fortunately for the Badgers, a manageable stretch of the schedule has arrived, with upcoming games against Purdue, Illinois, Rutgers and Maryland. It affords time for back Clement and a patchwork offensive line to get healthy.
What the loss means for Nebraska: Oh, boy. The Huskers are 2-4. At least, there's no need to dig deeper into history to find the last time Nebraska started this poorly. It's still 1959. That team, coached by Bill Jennings, finished 4-6. This team may struggle to do better, considering its upcoming schedule against Minnesota and Northwestern before November games against Michigan State and Iowa. The Huskers can brace for a dose of panic from the fan base as the potential for discord within the locker room grows.
Stat of the game: Nebraska answered Wisconsin's second-quarter touchdown with a 14-play, 77-yard march that ate 6 minutes, 56 seconds. Wisconsin last allowed a drive of longer elapsed time in 2011 against Minnesota, when the Gophers used 7:13 of clock for 60-yard touchdown march in a 42-13 loss. For Nebraska, meanwhile, the drive marked its longest scoring march since it took 8:09 to get a field goal against Iowa in 2012.
Uh, what? Nebraska coach Mike Riley argued a third-down no-call on Wisconsin cornerback Derrick Tindal, who was defending Brandon Reilly on a deep route in the third quarter. The crowd screamed for pass interference -- and Riley was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. On the next play, Nebraska went back to the same play. This time, tight end Cethan Carter traded contact with Tindal. It appeared more incidental than on the previous play, but Riley got his flag to earn the Huskers a first down.