The Northwest Daily | “It had a Super Bowl feel”: remembering Northwestern’s 28-25 victory over No.9 Nebraska 10 years ago
Jeff Budzien was part of the team that won Northwestern’s first bowl game since the Rose Bowl in 1949. He was the kicker for the team that faced the No. 4 Ohio State, a clash that resulted in drew ESPN’s Gameday College in Evanston.
But the game he will “tell (his) children about” came on November 5, 2011, when NU entered Memorial Stadium for the first time since 1974 to face Nebraska No.9.
“We went to Lincoln and nobody gave us a chance in hell to win this game,” Budzien said.
Timed big plays, a rushed 207-yard offense and control of the battle for possession helped the Cats upset the Cornhuskers 28-25 for their second top 10 victory in three years.
Beating a Nebraska team in his debut season in the Big Ten Conference, coach Pat Fitzgerald claimed his 38th victory, overtaking his predecessor Randy Walker and moving to second of all-time practice wins at NU.
This weekend, the Cats (2-2, 0-1 Big Ten) return to Lincoln to face the Cornhuskers (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten). With NU winning two Big Ten West Championships in three seasons and Nebraska looking to avoid their fifth consecutive losing season in conference, the 2011 game still resonates today.
“10 years later, bowl eligibility is expected,” said running back Jacob Schmidt. “In 2011, that was still the goal. The goal was to come up with a bowl. The goal was to win our division, win the Big Ten. Coach Fitz was trying to build something in the first five years of his tenure, and we didn’t want to take a break from it. ”
Growing up in the 1990s, offensive lineman Ben Burkett knew the reputation of Cornhuskers football. Three national championships and 13 conference titles under the direction of coach Tom Osborne. A series of home sales dating back to 1962.
Despite Nebraska’s history, Burkett and the Cats prepared for their match just like any game. But the competition was important.
After starting the season 2-0, NU moved into Lincoln 3-5. The threat of a sixth loss created urgency, as it would force the Cats to win bowl eligibility.
Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers 7-1 led a three-game winning streak, including a recent victory over No. 9 Michigan State. It was clear the Cats were the underdog, Burkett said.
As NU prepared to enter the field against the Cornhuskers, he witnessed the spectacle at Memorial Stadium: 85,458 fans, many of whom were dressed in scarlet and cream.
“We’re watching their jumbotron and they have one of the coolest release videos of all time,” Budzien said. “The crowd is ballistic and I’m like, ‘We need a prayer here.'”
After Nebraska gained just 18 yards in their first practice, the Cats took the field against one of the Big Ten’s most stingy defensive units. Nebraska linebacker Will Compton, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonso Dennard, the latter pair won All-American and Big Ten recognition for their performances during the 2011 season.
It was Compton who recovered the fumble from quarterback Kain Colter to give the ball back to the Cornhuskers, who kicked again after a three-and-out. The Cats finally scored the game’s first touchdown, as Schmidt crossed the goal line to cap a 13-play, 80-yard drive.
Nebraska then went on for 73 yards before running back Rex Burhead sank deep into the NU’s red zone. The ball was picked up by defensive lineman Tyler Scott, stopping the Cornhuskers’ momentum in its tracks.
Even though NU recovered another fumble from Nebraska, the Cats couldn’t capitalize at the end of the first half. Quarterback Dan Persa threw an interception at David that led to a field goal for Nebraska, then left the game after sustaining a shoulder injury at the end of the second quarter.
Until 7-3 before the third quarter, it would be Colter and quarterback Trevor Siemian leading the Cats under center.
“It didn’t matter who was out there, whether it was Trevor, Dan or Kane because they were all going to make good throws or they were going to shake things up with their feet,” said offensive lineman Brian Mulroe.
As Colter parted Persa’s representatives at the start of the season, Schmidt knew that NU had to find a way to get the ball back into the hands of the runner-up. When Persa – who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury the previous year – broke down, the opportunity for Colter arrived.
After Siemian found Ebert for a 32-yard gain in Nebraska Territory, Colter connected with superback Drake Dunsmore for 23 yards before making what Schmidt called one of the most athletic plays he’s ever had. never witnessed.
“(He) jumps with the wrong leg, changes the ball in the air, and rocks the pylon with the ball.”
Colter’s three-yard run gave the Cats a 14-3 lead. When Nebraska missed a fourth conversion near midfielder, the Cats had the opportunity to take a definitive lead against one of the best programs in college football. But a costly interception in the end zone by Siemian led to Cornhuskers quarterback Taylor Martinez throwing his first touchdown pass, reducing NU’s lead to four.
Then, the basket of Budzien passed away from the uprights.
“I had a 45 yards with the wind,” said Budzien. “I hit him as well as I could hit him. For about 43 meters, it’s right in the middle, then it flies off to the left. And I missed and I was crushed.
Another punt from Nebraska, who ended the game four-to-two, gave NU another chance to maintain their lead. This time the Cats grabbed the momentum.
From the second quarter, Ebert noticed opposing safety crumbling as NU lined up with two players standing next to Colter in the shotgun, one receiver to his left and two receivers to his right. He left the entire left side of the pitch wide open.
So when the coverage changed at the time of the snap, Ebert ran straight ahead before heading left on a post route. As he burned Cornhuskers cornerback Ciante Evans, Dennard was too late to resume play. Nothing stopped between Ebert and what would become an 81-yard touchdown.
“The only thing that was going to ruin my stride was going to be the throw and the readjustment,” said Ebert, who finished with six catches for 147 yards. “Fortunately I had a fantastic shot. It hit me in stride and then I just got some green grass.
Even as Martinez led Nebraska on back-to-back touchdowns, a 66-yard Cats practice between scores was 7 minutes and 21 seconds behind. NU ran 13 times in a row – evidenced by bursts of 14 and 11 yards from Schmidt and a one-yard touchdown by Colter – to take a 28-18 lead with less than 90 seconds remaining.
The victory was officially sealed when wide receiver Charles Brown recovered the kick attempt outside the Cornhuskers. Behind 172 total yards and three touchdowns from Colter, two forced turnovers and 20 minutes and 23 seconds of possession time, the Cats had managed the surprise.
NU players quickly reunited with their fans and families after the victory and embarked on a rendition of “Go U, Northwestern”. Budzien called it the best time to sing the fight song of his career.
“Singing the fight song, there’s nothing better,” said Schmidt, now NU’s director of football operations. “But (it’s) something a little sweeter when it’s just you and your 70 guys and your coaches on the road against 90,000 people.”
When Budzien returned home he was watching college football when highlights from the Cats game appeared on screen. He watched his roommates, all team members, as they had a collective thought.
“Did this just happen? “
NU’s victory at Lincoln was critical: she finished the regular season 6-6. Earning a spot at the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Texas, the Cats fell to Texas A&M 33-23. Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers won just two more games and lost 17 points to South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.
Big Ten West’s two enemies have played nine times since that November day, with Nebraska winning five of the clashes. But while the Cornhuskers have rotated four coaches since 2011, Fitzgerald has remained with the squad, making the Cats one of the rising powers of the Big Ten.
NU recently suffered heavy losses at Lincoln – he came across a Hail Mary when the deadline expired in 2013 and in 2019 lost to a last second basket. As the Cats return to Nebraska this weekend, they no longer play in the top 10. However, the magic of NU’s triumph at Lincoln 10 years ago still remains.
“It was one of those things when you take your pads off in the locker room, it’s like ‘Dude, this is special’,” said Budzien, who is a lineup reporter for some Cats games for WGN Radio. 720. “It’s not like we just beat Rice on the road or beat Indiana on the road. There was a Super Bowl feel.
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Twitter: @ dschott328