In what was widely considered the most physically-daunting challenge Nebraska had faced yet this season, Wisconsin proved to be too much for the Huskers to handle down the stretch in a 38-17 defeat on Saturday night.
While the game was close for the first three quarters, UW’s power offense and star freshman running back Jonathan Taylor took the game over in the fourth. Taylor ended the night with 25 carries for 249 yards and two touchdowns, marking the third-highest single-game opponent rushing total ever against NU.
The Huskers (3-3 overall, 1-1 Big Ten) were able to rack up 381 total yards up against one of the stingiest defenses in college football, but the inability to put points on the board and costly turnovers proved too much to overcome.
Nebraska came storming out of the gates with hard running by Devine Ozigbo and a 37-yard strike to De’Mornay Pierson-El to the Wisconsin 25.
But facing a third-and-two inside the UW 20, quarterback Tanner Lee’s swing pass to Ozigbo on the right flat bounced off of the running back’s face and fell right into the hands of Badger linebacker Chris Orr, who sprinted 73 yards the other direction for a momentum-shifting pick six.
Wisconsin tagged on a 37-yard field goal by Rafael Gaglianone after marching 11 plays for 61 yards over 5:47 on its first offensive possession to extend its lead to 10-3.
The Huskers would end up moving the ball inside UW territory on all three of their drives in the first quarter, but Wisconsin shot itself in the foot almost just as much with four penalties for 50 yards in the opening quarter alone.
Behind a pair of clutch third-down conversion passes to J.D. Spielman, NU was able to once again move the ball deep into Wisconsin territory down to the 14. Yet again the Huskers couldn’t punch it in, and Drew Brown shanked a 33-yard field goal to leave the score at 10-0 with 9:10 left in the half.
Finally, after getting the ball back at their own 20 following a big third-down stop by the defense, the Huskers were able to punch one in, and did so in a very big way.
With just 1:32 left before halftime, Lee connected with a wide-open Stanley Morgan on the first play of the drive, and Morgan took it 80 yards to the house down the right sideline. The play marked the seventh-longest pass in school history and the longest since 2014.
Just when momentum has swung back in Nebraska’s favor, Wisconsin took it right back in one play, as Taylor took a run up the middle and broke free for a 75-yard touchdown to make it 17-7 with 1:09 left.
The Huskers made one last push on the final drive of the half, as a 28-yard run by Ozigbo and an 11-yard pass to Morgan on a third-and-10 helped set up a 32-yard attempt for Brown, who drove it through to make it 17-10 going into halftime.
After a pair of quick three-and-outs to start the third quarter, Nebraska made up for its costly pick six to open the game by matching it with one of its own, as safety Aaron Williams jumped an Alex Hornibrook pass and took it 14 yards for the tying touchdown.
Wisconsin then started its ensuing possession backed up at its own eight-yard line, but the Badgers still managed to come up with a huge answer by marching the length of the field and reclaiming the lead on a five-yard touchdown pass to Quintet Cephus.
That score held into the fourth quarter, when Wisconsin’s power offense eventually put its foot down and took control of the game.
The Badgers barreled their way on a 10-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that consisted entirely of runs, finishing it off with a two-yard touchdown run by Taylor to make it 31-17 with nine minutes to play.
Things got even worse when Lee hit Morgan on what should have been a 15-yard first down completion, but Morgan coughed up the football to give it right back to UW at the Huskers’ 40.
Wisconsin once again relied solely on the ground attack from there, rushing another 10 times in a row to add a one-yard Bradrick Shaw touchdown that made it 38-17 with 2:40 on the clock.
When all was said and done, the Badgers had posted 466 total yards, 353 of which coming on the ground, along with 19 first down and a 36:41-23:19 edge in time of possession.
Ozigbo was one of the few bright spots for the Huskers, as he set a career high with 112 yards on 23 carries.
Nebraska will return to action next week when it plays host to Ohio State for a 6:30 p.m. kick on FS1.