Badgers, No. 14 Huskers know all about close games
MADISON, Wis. (AP)
The courses for the Big Ten championship game opponents were set when they met in late September.
The 14th-ranked Cornhuskers continued to win close games. The Badgers kept losing them.
Another tight game is expected when Nebraska (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten) and Wisconsin (7-5, 4-4) get together again Saturday night in Indianapolis. The winner goes to the Rose Bowl to play Stanford or UCLA.
Wisconsin, trying for a third straight trip to Pasadena, is coming off overtime losses in three of its past four games. The Badgers finished third in the Leaders Division but go to the championship game because of NCAA sanctions against Ohio State and Penn State.
Four of the Badgers' losses this season have been by three points and the other by seven.
''You hate to go down that way, but you like to see the fight that we've had,'' linebacker Chris Borland said Monday. ''I think as far as the reason for the close losses - I think we've done things well, and maybe haven't executed in the clutch like we could. All the things you need to win are there. It's just a matter of sealing the deal, which I think we've gotten better at despite it not showing in the games.''
Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said Wisconsin has proved to be dangerous and could easily have a better record.
''I don't put any stock into anything that's happened up to this point,'' Pelini said. ''It's going to be 60 minutes of football, and the team that earns it on Saturday is going to come away with the win. It's going to be a tough game, no question.''
Wisconsin led or was tied going into the fourth quarter in three of its losses. Since the 2010 Rose Bowl, Wisconsin has lost nine games by a touchdown or less.
Badgers coach Bret Bielema said his team has struggled late in games because several key players have been missing or limited. He said Monday his team needed to capitalize on opportunities.
A little luck might have helped, too.
''I do think there's a certain amount of, does the ball bounce the right way?'' Bielema said. ''Do you get a call? Do you not get a call? I got done with the Ohio State game and was very, very upset with the way things unfolded in overtime. You need a break here or there. I do think good things happen to good people - not that people that we've been playing aren't good people. I want to make sure our guys understand that perseverance will prevail.''
Running back Montee Ball said he could have done more to help. Ball fumbled late in the fourth quarter against Ohio State when he attempted to jump over a pile to extend the ball on the goal line on a fourth-and-1 play when the Badgers trailed 14-7.
''A couple times we had penalties where we started behind the chains and that really hurt us,'' Ball said. ''A couple plays that, myself, I could have done better on, probably could have done better on. And the same for every other player.
''I guess what the team will learn for next year and from (the Penn State loss) and our bowl game is that every play matters. You never know if the first play is going to decide the game or the last play. You've got to approach every play like it's the deciding factor of the game.''
Nebraska came from behind in the second half to post five of its seven Big Ten wins. The Huskers made up double-digit deficits in four of those games on their way to the Legends Division title.
While the Badgers struggled to finish, the Huskers closed strong. In the seven Big Ten wins, the Huskers outgained their opponent 112-47 in the fourth quarter. The Huskers outgained Wisconsin 113-33 the final 15 minutes of their Sept. 29 meeting.
''It was definitely a good start for the comebacks we had down the road this year,'' Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead said. ''It helped us out in some tight games with Northwestern, Michigan State, Penn State and Iowa.''
Pelini struggled to explain why Nebraska has come out on the right side of the close games this year. He said team chemistry and experience help, and so does having a third-year starting quarterback in Taylor Martinez.
Pelini said another ingredient - the one Bielema wishes his team had more of - played a role, too.
''Let's face it,'' Pelini said, ''there is some luck involved.''
AP Sports Writer Eric Olson in Lincoln, Neb., contributed to this report.