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Despite latest blowout loss, Nebraska's Bo Pelini says his program moving in right direction

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LINCOLN, Nebraska — Two days after another humiliating loss on the national stage, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said he had nothing to apologize for and that his program has not hit a ceiling in his seventh year on the job.

"Every game is high stakes," he said Monday. "We've won a lot of football games since I've been here. A lot of programs across the country would have died to have won the amount of football games we've won."

Pelini is 66-26 at Nebraska but hasn't lost fewer than four games in a season. At least one of those losses each year has been by such a wide margin, or so unexpected, that it unsettled a fan base that became accustomed to, and perhaps still expects, the astounding success of the Tom Osborne-coached teams.

Wisconsin's 59-24 dismantling of the Cornhuskers on Saturday — featuring Melvin Gordon's FBS-record 408 yards rushing — was the first awful loss of 2014. It also marked the seventh time since 2011 that Nebraska, when ranked, had lost by 17 or more points. No other ranked team has lost so many games by so lopsidedly over that span, according to STATS.

The Huskers led Wisconsin 17-3 early in the second quarter and then gave up 56 straight points. Predictably, the performance brought Pelini's critics to the fore.

"Since I've been head football coach, we've been very consistent," Pelini said. "I'm not looking here to defend our program or where we are right now. What I came here to do was win a conference championship and win a national championship, and we're going to keep fighting tooth and nail to get that done."

PHOTO: Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon talks to Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini after Wisconsin won 59-24 in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014, in Madison, Wis.  Gordon rushed for a major college-record 408 yards and four touchdowns in the game. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon talks to Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini after Wisconsin won 59-24 in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014, in Madison, Wis. Gordon rushed for a major college-record 408 yards and four touchdowns in the game. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Pelini has taken Nebraska to conference championship games three times — twice in the Big 12 and once in the Big Ten, all losses. The Huskers haven't won a league title since 1999, the longest drought since 1941-63.

"The time I'll start apologizing is the time I stop working," said Pelini, who earns $3.1 million a year and is under contract through February 2018. "I believe the program is on a good track, the right track."

Pelini was at a loss, though, to explain why his team does a face plant in the biggest games.

"I don't want to make an excuse — because I'm not making an excuse; what happened happened — but sometimes our guys put so much pressure on themselves to win that they're not playing to win, they're playing not to lose," he said. "That's a bad recipe. These kids want to win in the worst way. They want to have success. You try to think back as a coach — did you handle it the right way, did you put too much pressure on them?"

The 21st-ranked Huskers (8-2, 4-2 Big Ten) host Minnesota (7-3, 4-2) on Saturday. The Gophers bring in an offense committed to the run similar to Wisconsin.

To reach the Big Ten championship game, Nebraska would have to win out against Minnesota and Iowa and have Wisconsin lose its last two, against Iowa and Minnesota.

Offensive lineman and captain Jake Cotton said he and his teammates need to block out the noise this week as they prepare for the Gophers.

"We're still brothers. The approach can't change. The attitude of this team can't change," Cotton said. "We still have a lot left to play for. You just play for each other and block everything else out and just do it for each other."

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PHOTO: Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon talks to Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini after Wisconsin won 59-24 in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 15, 2014, in Madison, Wis.  Gordon rushed for a major college-record 408 yards and four touchdowns in the game. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
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