That was a close one for a while, wasn’t it?
Outdueled in the first half by a surging Nebraska offense that gained 313 yards in the first two quarters on Saturday evening, Wisconsin took over possession after Alex Hornibrook’s pick-six to Aaron Williams and never looked back. Twenty-one unanswered points and an overwhelming rushing attack guided UW to a 38–17 win in Lincoln.
Here are three things we learned from Saturday’s big road win.
Jonathan Taylor might be superhuman
Let’s start with the elephant in the room. The offensive line deserves plenty of credit for the success of the ground game that gained 353 yards against the “Blackshirts,” but once again true freshman Jonathan Taylor shined.
Rushing for a career-high 249 yards on 25 carries with two touchdowns, Taylor continued to show the patience, vision, and maturity of a running back well beyond his years. As seen during his 75-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter, he can run inside, then bust it to the outside and hit the edge for a big gain. He has the power and explosiveness to push his way for extra yardage, then run away from defenders after breaking their tackles. That shows in the stats sheets, as according to Wisconsin, he has already recorded five runs of 25 or more yards through five games this season.
Taylor and the legendary Ron Dayne are the only two true freshmen to run for 200 yards in multiple games. The former Heisman Trophy winner registered five of those feats in 1996, but Taylor still has another seven regular-season games to add more to his already impressive first-year résumé.
The Salem, N.J., native also joins former Wisconsin running backs Melvin Gordon and Montee Ball in recording 200 or more yards rushing against the Huskers.
It’s a mighty impressive start for Taylor, to say the least.
Wisconsin’s offense is rolling at its best when its rushing attack is devouring opponents
That leads us to No. 2. It’s the formula that’s led to so much success in the past 25 years, and as much as Wisconsin has key receiving targets like tight end Troy Fumagalli, Quintez Cephus, and Danny Davis for explosive plays this season, the mauling and mashing by Wisconsin’s offensive line is still needed for success.
In those two fourth-quarter drives on Saturday night, 20 straight runs on resulted in touchdowns and ultimately the 21-point advantage.
The passing game is most definitely needed this season to balance out the offense, and Hornibrook—despite not having the best of games in completing nine of 17 passes for 113 yards with a touchdown and an interception—completed key third-down completions during the go-ahead drive in the third quarter to Cephus. That included the five-yard touchdown pass to the sophomore wide out on 3rd-and-goal.
Though Hornibrook has thrown for 200 or more yards in three of Wisconsin’s five games, the bread and butter has been the rushing attack and continues to spark the offense, especially with Taylor’s runs against Utah State and Nebraska to jolt the unit.
Wisconsin now averages 257.6 yards per game on the ground in that continued progression of the offensive line. Saturday night’s 353 yards are the most by Wisconsin in a road game since gaining 564 against Indiana in 2012. Even with the Badgers having to go with their third option at left guard in redshirt sophomore Jason Erdmann due to injuries to Jon Dietzen and Micah Kapoi, the unit continued to pound the ball and wear down Nebraska.
Looking ahead to next week, Purdue gave up 227 yards on the ground to Minnesota on Saturday.
The defense can give up plays, but it continues to show it can adjust extremely well
Credit Nebraska head coach Mike Riley and his offense for winning the first half in terms of yards and pushing Wisconsin’s defense around to the tune of 313 yards in the first two quarters. Tanner Lee found Stanley Morgan, Jr., for the huge 80-yard touchdown late in the second quarter, then drove the offense again to a field goal before half time to cut the lead to seven. Running back Devine Ozigbo ran for 112 yards on 23 carries against a unit that only allowed 74.3 yards per game.
For the game, Wisconsin gave up 381 yards, meaning the Badgers only gave up 68 yards in the final two quarters. The defense did not give up points in the second half (the pick-six thrown by Hornibrook resulted in the only points Nebraska scored), and a key takeaway in the fourth quarter with Derrick Tindal’s strip of Morgan thwarted the Huskers’ last real chance to get back into the game.
Wisconsin has held opponents to just 21 points in the second half, with only 14 in the fourth quarter. The defense’s performance, with now three pick-six returns for touchdowns, has been a huge contributor in the Badgers remaining undefeated.
Going forward against Purdue next week should provide another challenge for Wisconsin’s defense. We’ll see how the unit responds inside Camp Randall Stadium next Saturday afternoon.