Seniors Faion Hicks and Kendric Pryor get redemption after early miscues to help Badgers topple Nebraska
Both sides of the ball were treated to some sweet Senior Day redemption in the Wisconsin Badgers’ 35-28 win over Nebraska on Saturday.
For the offense, it was senior Kendric Pryor, who dropped a perfectly spotted pass from Graham Mertz in the first quarter that would have given UW the ball inside the Nebraska 5-yard line. That drive ended in a turnover on downs, but Pryor was back for a third-quarter touchdown catch for 17 yards that spotted the Badgers a 21-14 lead.
“Not looking the ball in, thinking about scoring before actually securing the catch,” Pryor said afterward. “Too thirsty, eager, just let one getting away from me. I’m going to be thinking about it for the whole week. But I kind of got another chance.”
For the defense, it was Faion Hicks, who was matched up with Nebraska's Samori Toure for two long pass plays on Nebraska’s first drive, catches of 42 and 27 yards that helped the Huskers answer Wisconsin’s touchdown on the opening kickoff.
But Hicks was there in the end zone on the last play of the game, breaking up a fourth-down pass intended for Zavier Betts in the end zone that could have tied the game in the final seconds … or allowed Nebraska a chance to go for a winning two-point conversion.
Was it pass interference, though? Nebraska coach Scott Frost was whistled for an unsportanlike conduct penalty arguing the final play and even the ABC announcers thought Hicks could have drawn a flag.
“How many announcers have played defensive back?” joked Hicks’ fellow cornerback, Caesar Williams, after the win.
Tight ends feast for Nebraska
The game was all about one Allen for Wisconsin in running back Braelon, but Nebraska tight end Austin Allen was constantly open and catching passes.
The senior finished with seven catches for 143 yards, career-best marks, and Travis Vokolek added two catches for 33 yards, giving Nebraska tight ends 176 yards receiving overall on nine receptions.
“They’ve always had success against us in the past few years,” Badgers safety Scott Nelson said. “They make you identify so many different things and communicate so many unconventional route concepts that you don’t usually see. They try to pick different parts of our defense and take advantage of getting guys out of position. They do a lot of challenging stuff.
“Honestly, it was kind of a wild card coming in with them getting rid of their offensive staff, then they had a bye, so it was what direction are they going to go? We had to make a lot of on-field adjustments. They do a lot.”
Allen’s biggest catch came in the fourth quarter for a 38-yard pass on fourth down that set up a tying short touchdown.
“They did a lot of things for us to confuse our communication and trick our eyes,” Williams said. “I think pound for pound if they just line up against us … we’d dominate them. But their scheme fits well for what they do.”
Wisconsin’s own tight end contribution was significant. Jake Ferguson, on likely his final game at Camp Randall Stadium, came away with eight catches and a career-best 92 yards receiving.
“I didn’t want to leave the field,” Ferguson said. “I took a lap with Collin (Wilder) and Scott (Nelson), just took it all in and talked to some of the fans, let them know that we appreciate them and they made it special for us. … I got teared up at the last Jump Around, but it was good to get that ‘W’ in the column.”
Running back room takes another hit
As if the running back room needed another injury hit, freshman reserve Jackson Acker arrived at Camp Randall Stadium in a walking boot and in street clothes.
That left Braelon Allen, Brady Schipper and Julius Davis available as top runners, presumably followed by freshman walk-on Grover Bortolotti, who picked up five carries for 48 yards against Rutgers.
Acker, a recruit from nearby Verona, got carries against both Rutgers and Northwestern last week, scoring a touchdown in the former game but fumbling in the latter.
Schipper, himself a former walk-on, asserted himself as the No. 2 option behind Allen against Northwestern, with Davis only entering the game in the fourth quarter when the outcome was well in hand. Wisconsin’s running-back losses have included Chez Mellusi (season-ending injury), Jalen Berger (dismissed from team), Isaac Guerendo (season-ending injury), Loyal Crawford (dismissed from team) and Antwan Roberts (transfer).
Davis carried the ball three times for 23 yards and looked strong in his limited opportunities. At one point he kept his balance through a tackle for a hard-earned 1 yard when Allen briefly hobbled to the sideline.
Guerendo remains on a scooter to keep his leg elevated, though it’s expected he’ll be off the scooter in a week and begin rehab thereafter.
Allen, the star of the day with 228 yards rushing against Nebraska, fittingly got a chance to meet honorary captain Melvin Gordon, whose Denver Broncos are on bye this week. Gordon rushed for 408 yards against Nebraska in a legendary 2014 performance.
Larsh has two miscues
Collin Larsh, who’s had a consistent season to this point, missed a 33-yard field goal in the second quarter after a shaky snap. He also kicked the ball out of bounds on a kickoff after Wisconsin took a 35-28 lead, allowing Nebraska to start their final drive on the 35-yard line with 3:50 left.
Larsh has been periodically handling kickoffs for Jack Van Dyke, who’s battled injuries this season. Van Dyke did kick off in the first half Saturday.