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1974 Badgers win over Nebraska spawned by Jardine's confidence, Bohlig's arm

CREATED Sep 30, 2011

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  • Jeff Mack (left), after scoring a 77-yard touchdown that gave the Badgers a lead they wouldn't relinquish in a 21-20 victory over Nebraska in 1974. | File Photo: Milwaukee Sentinel

Next Badgers game: Saturday, October 1st vs. Nebraska
Continuing coverage at 6:00 p.m. on Newsradio 620 WTMJ

MADISON - The last time the Wisconsin Badgers played Nebraska was a September 21st, 1974 contest that goes down as one of the most legendary upset victories in the history of Camp Randall Stadium, but not necessarily in the mind of the team's coach.

The Badgers, who hadn't had a winning season in nearly a decade, faced the Nebraska Cornhuskers, a team that had won two of the previous four national championships, and seemed to be on its way again. 

"We felt we had a good team, and of course, you always become a little concerned with a team with a reputation like Nebraska had coming in," said Gregg Bohlig, the quarterback of the 1974 Badgers. 

"You never know exactly what's going to happen."

What had happened the year before when they met in Lincoln was a near-upset win for the Badgers (a 20-16 Nebraska win), and coach John Jardine and his guys believed the '74 game wouldn't just be a near-upset.

"I knew all week long that we were going to play just a super football game, just by the way we practiced and our attitude.  It wasn't a false attitude.  It was a real attitude that we were going to beat these guys," explained Badgers coach John Jardine after the game in a locker room interview with Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Gary Bender.

A national TV audience saw Nebraska draw first blood, as Don Westbrook ran in a 22-yard score to give the Cornhuskers a 7-0 lead.

But when the huskers starting quarterback, David Humm, suffered an injury that knocked him out of the game, Wisconsin smelled blood.

They attacked and reached the end zone with a nine-yard scoring pass from Bohlig to Ron Egloff, tying the game 7-7 in the second quarter.

The 4th-ranked Huskers took the halftime lead as John O'Leary punched in a touchdown from six yards away, but they didn't take away Wisconsin's confidence.

"We went out ot halftime.  I think everybody in this room was confident they were going to win," said Jardine.

"I think our confidence grew as the game went along," Bohlig recounted years later.  "I remember feeling at halftime (saying), 'Geez, we're right in this.  There's no reason we can't pull it off.' "

The confidence could have waned when the Huskers added a second half field goal to give Nebraska a two-score advantage, 17-7. 

But on a day when Wisconsin's vaunted running game with Billy Marek only gained 77 yards on the ground, the arm of Gregg Bohlig powered the Badgers to a historic 4th quarter comeback.

"When the chips were down, he came through," said Jardine.  Bohlig threw for 258 yards in the contest to more than make up for the Badgers' ground failures.

His passing set up Marek for the biggest yard he'd gain all day, a touchdown that dropped Nebraska's advantage to three points.

Only up 17-14, Nebraska answered with a long time-consuming drive, but thanks to a stout Wisconsin defense, it didn't consume enough points to clinch the game.

"The defense, there's not enough you can say about them.  Time after time, they rose up and made the big play, said Jardine. 

"They bent a few times but they didn't break."

The Badgers forced a goal-line stand and a field goal by Mike Coyle.

"Nebraska kicked that field goal, and our sideline just became electrified.  We thought, 'Holy smokes, they kicked the field goal?  All we have to do is score a touchdown and we win.'  You could sense that on the sidelines."

With less than four minutes left, Bohlig and wide receiver Jeff Mack obliged with a combination pass pattern which turned into a historic play in Wisconsin football annals.

"It was something that we ran many times before and after that.  It was kind of the way they reacted to the play that made it work," explained Bohlig. 

"It was just a simple roll out to the right side.  Billy Marek and Ken Starch took out the end.  I was able to roll (out), and I had plenty of time to throw."

Meanwhile, Mack was running a pass pattern he could alter based on the coverage he was facing.

"Mack runs an out pattern, and if he's covered tightly, he just turns it up the field," said Jardine.

"Bohlig realized what was happening and let it loose."

His throw reached Mack deep down the field.  Although the Nebraska defender covered Mack so closely that he committed pass interference, but Mack still held on and got loose from the defender.

"Jeff was obviously not going to be caught after that."

At least not until his teammates reached him to celebrate a 77-yard touchdown pass with 3:29 to play, putting the Badgers on top, 21-20.

Wisconsin wasn't out of the woods yet.  Their defense needed one more stop.

They got it with an interception from Steve Wagner, and after a final Badgers first down in the last minute and a half, the celebration began for a historic win.

Fans stormed the field and partied it up after a 21-20 win that still goes down in the annals as one of the great moments in the history of Camp Randall Stadium.

It also served as the springboard for a rare winning season, a 7-4 record for Jardine, Bohlig, Marek, Mack and the Badgers.