MADISON, Wis. — Dare Ogunbowale has got Nebraska’s number.
Wisconsin’s running back ran for 120 yards on 11 carries in the Badgers’ 23-17 overtime win against the Cornhuskers. It also marked the third season in a row when the game against Nebraska has turned out to be one of his best.
“Dare, he came up big,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said after the game. “We haven’t been doing a ton of running out of our three wides and I thought that we had a pretty good plan coming in, and the kids executed. I thought that he ran hard and he was decisive, and thought it was a big part of getting us going.”
As a sophomore and junior, Ogunbowale posted his second-highest stat line of each season against the Cornhuskers, with 62 and 117 yards, respectively. Saturday night in Camp Randall, the now senior captain nearly doubled the numbers from his best performance this season and added his second touchdown.
“It’s great watching Dare,” fellow running back Bradrick Shaw said. “Team leader, excellent running back, and when he is doing good, the team does too.”
It’s hard to argue with that considering the final play. On the third down of the Badgers’ overtime possession, Ogunbowale beat a handful of Husker defenders off the edge to score the game-winning 11-yard touchdown.
“It’s big,” Ogunbowale said of the win over the unbeaten Huskers, especially considering Wisconsin had come up just short earlier against powerhouse Michigan and Ohio State. “Guys have been playing tough all season and coming up short in situations obviously we don’t want to, so for us to get that, and get a close game like that playing 60-plus minutes, it’s awesome.”
It was Ogunbowale on Saturday, but with a slew of guys who have shown they are capable of big runs and touchdowns this season, it’s hard to know who Chryst will call on next. The one thing Ogunbowale and the rest of the ballcarries can control, however, is what they do with each opportunity.
He said it all comes down to execution — knowing his job and winning the one-on-ones when he gets them.
He also has to be able to trust his teammates. Ogunbowale credits much of his success to his quarterbacks getting the short passing game going and his wide receivers’ ability to block downfield. Those details are magnified to an even greater degree on a big stage.
“Every game is big for us, especially playing against the Big Ten West,” he said. “All those games matter. We definitely (wanted) to make sure we (won) this game, and we did that.”
His postseason hopes depended on it. The Badgers needed a win against Nebraska to remain a viable contender for the top spot in the Big Ten West. The process to return to the Big Ten championship game is a bit convoluted— Wisconsin will have to win out and need the Cornhuskers to drop one of their remaining contests — but this was the first step.
The victory will likely warrant a bump in the polls for Wisconsin, but that’s a mere blip on Ogunbowale’s radar compared to everything else that’s at stake.
“Rankings are rankings,” Ogunbowale said. “But the fact that we’ve won six games and are bowl eligible, that means that matters a lot more to us than rankings.”