The Badgers didn't have to worry about another overtime heartbreaker or another one-possession nail biter. All Wisconsin has to worry about now is finishing the job in Pasadena.
"Third time is the charm," said senior cornerback Devin Smith. "Our team is fired up and we believe."
How could Wisconsin not be amped after the offensive clinic it put on a Nebraska defense that looked like a deer in headlights? Winning its third straight conference championship, Wisconsin scored on eight of its first 10 possessions to embarrass No.14 Nebraska, 70-31, in front of 41,260 fans at the second annual Big Ten Championship game at Lucas Oil Field.
"The plan was to come here, win this game and it would erase all the losses we had," said senior Montee Ball. "I feel it has. We feel relieved."
Becoming the first Big Ten team to play in three straight Rose Bowls since Michigan in 1977-79, Wisconsin (8-5) will now face Pac-12 champion and eighth-ranked Stanford (11-2) January 1 after the Badgers' three tailbacks ran laps around the Cornhuskers' heralded Blackshirts defense.
And the Badgers didn't just do it with the ground-and-pound, but with an added dose of creativity that flustered and bewildered.
After averaging 1.4 yards per rush In the first game against Nebraska, the Badgers averaged 10.7 yards per carry, rushing for 290 yards on 27 bruising carries in the first half. It got more gruesome as the game went on, as Wisconsin finished with 539 yards and averaged 10.8 per rush.
It wasn't just weapon either, as the Badgers got 216 yards from redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon; Montee Ball added touchdowns 80, 81 and 82 of his career on a day where he rushed for 202 yards and junior James White ran for 109 yards and four touchdowns, as Wisconsin's rushing yards were the most the Cornhuskers had given up since it starting playing football in 1890.
"We continued to say, ‘We're going to finish,'" said offensive coordinator Matt Canada. "That was our challenge as an offense. Let's finish one. Let's actually finish one … We did not let up at all. We didn't slow down. We continued to be aggressive."
Wisconsin's offensive playbook in the first half was bizarre, unique and so effective that Nebraska fans started heading for the exits with over seven minutes left in the second half.
Gordon embarrassed the Blackshirts with the end round, rushing for 56, 24, 12 and 60 yards on his first carries. The first carry went for a touchdown just four plays into the game, setting the tone for Gordon's 152 first-half rushing yards.
"I was waiting for the day where he was going to explode like he did today," said Ball, who set a new NCAA record with his 76 career rushing touchdown, of Gordon. "He can do a lot of things."
Wisconsin ran the ‘Barge' formation with success, throwing and passing for four scores.
"It was a really good complete game," said center Travis Frederick. "I think we played four quarters. We came out strong in the first half, and I think that helped us get things rolling. I think we did a really good job of putting a plan in place and sticking with that plan.
"The three-headed monster ran pretty well, too."
The Badgers also ran one formation – called ‘zebra' - with seven players on the left hash and quarterback Curt Phillips, center Sam Arneson, Jacob Pedersen and Derek Watt in a play better served on the playground. How ironic that the play doesn't work as well in the schoolyard, as Phillips completed a 10-yard pass to Watt that set up another score.
It's a play Canada had run before, but one the Badgers first installed this week.
"We had some different stuff in to say the least," said Pedersen. "It was real fun. We had a couple plays that were going to mess with them, confuse them a little bit. That's exactly what we wanted them to do."
White accounted for five touchdowns, including a three-yard touchdown pass to Arneson with two seconds left in the first half that put another nail in the Cornhuskers' coffin. White was one of two position players to complete a pass for Wisconsin, as Jared Abbrederis' 27-yard completion to Phillips set up a one-yard plunge by White on the next play.
"I was glad he framed me up because I wouldn't count myself as a receiver," said Phillips, who finished 6-for-8 with 71 yards and didn't attempt a pass in the second half. "It's awesome. I had a lot of fun being out there."
Although gassed by Taylor Martinez 76-yard touchdown run on the second series, Wisconsin's defense avenged itself. It capitalized on the pressure by recording a season-high six sacks and forcing three Martinez's turnovers. One of which happened on the first Nebraska offensive play when Martinez's pass went through receiver Kenny Bell's hands into the arms of senior cornerback Marcus Cromartie, who returned his first career interception 29 yards for the score and a 14-0 lead.
"We played in so many close games where we were one turnover away from winning," said Cromartie. "We did not want to look back and say, ‘Why did I drop that pick?' or ‘Why did I miss the fumble?' We were fortunate to get that."
On the third play of the second half, Martinez's cross-body, cross-field pass landed in the arms of Smith, who returned the interception 22 yards to the Nebraska 9. Ball scored on the next play to extend the lead to 49-10.
"It was like a leaking boat," said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. "It was one thing after another. One problem after another… I've never been a part of a game like that as a coach."
And thanks to the sins of others, Wisconsin is fortunate to get a third straight chance to leave Pasadena as winners, closing out its seasons and sending the seniors off the correct way.
"Once we get back rolling with practices, we're going to do a lot more than we did these past few times that we did going to Pasadena," said Ball. "I think (that's) going to help us … It's a great feeling that we won, but we most definitely have some unfinished business to do."
Added Gordon: "You don't want to just go there to go there. You want to leave victorious."