By Tommy Rezac
LINCOLN – Watching a Wisconsin running back pound a Nebraska defense for over 200 yards has become a familiar sight to Husker fans in recent years, and they had to witness it again Saturday night.
True freshman running back Jonathan Taylor and the No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) ran for 353 yards, putting away the Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-3, 2-1 Big Ten) 38-17 on Saturday night in front of 89,860 fans at Memorial Stadium.
Taylor accounted for 71 percent of Wisconsin’s production on the ground, piling up a season-high 249 yards on 25 carries and two touchdowns. He averaged ten yards per carry.
“(Wisconsin) is persistent, and they’re powerful,” Nebraska head coach Mike Riley said in his post game press conference. “A big, powerful back (Taylor) is good. We knew all of those things.”
Nebraska had a major setback on its opening drive. The Huskers got inside the red zone within the first two minutes of the game on their opening drive, but a screen pass from quarterback Tanner Lee to running back Devine Ozigbo bounced off of Ozigbo’s helmet and fell into the hands of Badgers’ sophomore linebacker Chris Orr, who took the ball 78 yards the other way to give Wisconsin an early 7-0 lead.
“It was a pretty strange looking play,” Riley said. “Devine just didn’t get his head turned around quickly enough and (Lee) felt the ball looked okay. I don’t know that yet in a practice or a game that we’ve incompleted that ball, let alone throw a pick six on it off of a top of a head, it’s a pretty ridiculous play really.”
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 8, 2017
The Huskers fell behind 10-0 in the second quarter before Lee found junior receiver Stanley Morgan, Jr. for an 80-yard touchdown to put Nebraska on the board with 1:20 to go until halftime.
Stanley Morgan to the ?!
The Huskers are on the board against the Badgers, and Stan the Man hits the turbo boosters: pic.twitter.com/cbAFK18sls
— Nebraska On BTN (@NebraskaOnBTN) October 8, 2017
Morgan finished with four catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.
The Badgers, though, would strike right back on the first play of their ensuing possession when Taylor ran around the right side to go 75 yards to the house. It was Taylor’s longest running touchdown of the season.
Every week, this freshman proves why he's special.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 8, 2017
Nebraska used the final 1:04 of the first half to drive 60 yards on 11 plays and get a 32-yard field goal from senior kicker Drew Brown, cutting Wisconsin’s halftime lead to 17-10.
Brown missed a 33-yard attempt early in the second quarter.
“Those things against a team like that, that’s pretty methodical and eventually they’re being as physical as they are, we just gave them too many opportunities and not really taking advantage of ours to put some points on the board,” Riley said.
Nebraska had eleven drives as an offense Saturday, seven of which made it into Wisconsin territory. Only two of those seven drives ended in points.
“We were moving the ball pretty well, but it just wasn’t the amount of points we wanted, which is really frustrating,” Oizgbo said, who finished Saturday’s game with 112 rushing yards. “We have to figure out a way to have these long extensive drives but with a finish with points and preferably touchdowns.”
The Huskers got a huge burst of momentum early in the third quarter when junior safety Aaron Williams intercepted Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook, and took the ball 14 yards the other way for a pick six, tying the game at 17-17 with 10:43 left in the third quarter.
After Hornibrook’s pick six, the Badgers drove 93 yards in 10 plays on the ensuing possession. Hornibrook finished the drive by finding sophomore receiver Quintez Cephus for a five-yard score, giving the Badgers a 24-17 lead with 4:56 left in the third quarter.
Wisconsin ran 34 plays after the Hornibrook interception. 32 of them were run plays. The Badgers held the ball for 8:22 of the third quarter and a staggering 13:16 of the fourth.
“They controlled a good part of the fourth quarter and before that even,” Riley said. “I think we had moved the ball decently at halftime and had pretty good totals but not much to show for it.”
Nebraska had 313 yards of offense in the first half, but only 68 in the second.
“I think it’s just about finishing,” Lee said. “We have to finish drives with points. (Wisconsin) kept us from doing that today. ”
The Huskers had a nine-play, 39-yard drive to end the third quarter, but were unable to convert on a 3rd and 6 and punted the ball back to the Badgers to begin the fourth quarter.
Wisconsin started the ensuing possession on its own 20, and drove 80 yards on ten rushing plays. Taylor scored his second touchdown of the night on a two-yard run up the middle with 9:08 to go in the game, putting the Badgers ahead 31-17.
On the second play of Nebraska’s ensuing drive, Morgan fumbled the ball on what would have been a 15-yard gain, but Wisconsin junior linebacker Ryan Connelly dove on the football at the Nebraska 40-yard line.
Wisconsin then took 6:15 off the clock with ten running plays, ending with a one-yard rushing touchdown by sophomore back Bradrick Shaw.
Shaw finished Saturday’s game with 12 carries for 43 yards.
Nebraska will next take on No. 10 Ohio State (5-1, 3-0 Big Ten) in Lincoln on Saturday for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff. The game will be televised on Fox Sports One.