Taylor’s rushing leads No. 9 Badgers past Cornhuskers
On Saturday night, Nebraska celebrated the 20-year anniversary of its last national championship team that went 13-0 and routed Peyton Manning’s Tennessee to clinch the title.
Whether it was staying true to its identity or because they were inspired by the occasion, No. 9 Wisconsin aped the 1997 Cornhuskers’ strengths -- physical running game, strong defense -- in answering its latest challenge.
Freshman Jonathan Taylor collected 249 yards on 25 carries and scored two touchdowns as the Badgers pulled away in the second half to register a 38-17 Big Ten Conference win at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.
In upping its record to 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the conference, Wisconsin outrushed Nebraska 353-110 and controlled the ball for more than 21 minutes of the second half
“I thought we executed up front,” Badgers coach Paul Chryst said.
Particularly after the Cornhuskers appeared to swing momentum their way early in the second half with a defensive touchdown that unleashed a deafening roar from the sellout crowd of nearly 90,000. Aaron Williams picked off a poorly thrown ball in the right flat by Alex Hornibrook and returned it 15 yards to tie the score at 17 with 10:53 remaining in the third quarter.
But Wisconsin performed like a top 10 team from that point on, using the running game to slowly silence the audience. Taylor rattled off runs of 7, 15 and 10 yards to flip the field. Hornibrook found Quintez Cephus for a 31-yard gain to get the Badgers into scoring position.
Hornibrook’s next pass also went to Cephus, a 5-yard touchdown with 4:56 left in the third to cap an 11-play, 93-yard drive. It was also his last pass of the night.
“When adversity came, the guys believed in each other,” Chryst said. “We started to play complementary football. We answered a score with a score.”
Wisconsin’s last 22 plays were running plays. Taylor, Rachid Ibrahim and Bradrick Shaw each took turns pounding away between the tackles. Taylor barreled into the end zone on a 2-yard plunge with 9:08 left in the game to make it 31-17.
It was the second 200-yard game for Taylor, who recorded the third-best rushing performance against Nebraska in its proud history. In his first five college games, Taylor has compiled 767 yards and nine touchdowns, scoring at least once in every game.
“He approaches every day with a work ethic to get better,” Chryst said of Taylor. “He’s a worker and he’s obviously talented.”
After forcing a fumble, the Badgers landed the knockout blow with 2:40 left. Shaw powered in from the 1 with 2:40 remaining to cap the game-clinching sequence.
While the offense in general and the running game in particular were noteworthy, Wisconsin’s defense also bounced back from a shaky first half in which it allowed more than 300 yards. The Cornhuskers (3-3, 2-1) managed just 71 yards in the second half.
“They started stopping that run and we couldn’t find consistency in any one run in the second half,” Nebraska coach Mike Riley said. “We made a few plays, but they gave us no chance to have continuity.”
Although they were gashed most of the first half, the Badgers’ defense did open the scoring as the result of a fluke. The Cornhuskers reached the Wisconsin 17 on the game’s first possession, but a Tanner Lee pass caromed off running back Devine Ozigbo and to Chris Orr, who lugged it 78 yards for a stunning touchdown 2:26 into the game.
Rafael Gaglianone converted a 37-yard field goal later in the quarter to make it 10-0. Nebraska appeared to take momentum just before halftime with Lee’s 80-yard touchdown pass to Stanley Morgan Jr. with 1:20 remaining to make it a 10-7 game.
That lasted all of 11 seconds, long enough for Taylor to rip off a 75-yard scoring jaunt as he burst off right tackle and got to the numbers, taking advantage of a poor run fit defensively to regain a 10-point advantage.
Drew Brown hit a 32-yard field goal as the half ended, drawing the Cornhuskers within 17-10 at intermission.
Hornibrook finished 9 of 17 for 113 yards for Wisconsin. Lee hit on 16 of 32 attempts for 262 yards in the losing cause.
NOTES: Since the start of the 2014 season, only Alabama (45-4), Clemson (43-5) and Ohio State (41-5) own better win-loss records than Wisconsin’s 37-9. ... Nebraska WR De‘Mornay Pierson-El passed the 1,000-yard receiving mark in his career with a 37-yard gain on the game’s second play. ... Cornhuskers QB Tanner Lee’s tipped-ball interception in the first quarter was his 10th in six games, tops in FBS.