MADISON — Fresh off a bye week, the No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers pulled away from the Nebraska Cornhuskers in an 41–24 win on Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium.
Wisconsin (4–1, 2–0 Big Ten) racked up 533 yards on the evening, with sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor rushing for 221 yards on 24 carries with three touchdowns, including a career-high 88-yard score.
For that matter, Nebraska showcased an explosive offense that overwhelmed Wisconsin’s defense in the second half, scoring 21 of its 24 points in the final two quarters.
Wisconsin started off the scoring on the first drive of the game, going 63 yards in 15 plays and wiping off nearly eight minutes of clock. Though the drive stalled, Rafael Gaglianone connected on a 30-yard field goal to make it 3–0 UW with 7:08 remaining in the first quarter.
Gaglianone’s name would be called once again in the second quarter. After another Wisconsin drive stalled out, the redshirt senior kicker booted a 28-yard field goal through the uprights for a 6–0 Badgers lead.
With his 65th made field goal, @rafagaglianone has tied Todd Gregoire's school record for career FGs. #OnWisconsin #oleoleole— Brian Mason (@Brian_Mason) October 7, 2018
The ensuing drive, Nebraska finally got on board, going 61 yards in 10 plays in just over three minutes. Wisconsin held its ground on defense by not allowing a touchdown, however, so Barret Pickering cut the lead in half with a 31-yard field goal.
Wisconsin’s offense, struggling to find the end zone early on, finally converted on a touchdown drive to go up 10 points midway through the second quarter. After replay, it was confirmed Taylor scored from three yards out, and with Gaglianone’s extra point, the Badgers went up to 13–3.
After Wisconsin held a driving Nebraska to a turnover on downs inside its 40-yard line, the offense went back to work. Working mostly out of 11 personnel, Alex Hornibrook and co. moved down the field in six plays and 61 yards before the southpaw connected with redshirt freshman tight end Jake Ferguson for a 17-yard touchdown.
Nebraska kicked off the second half with a touchdown to cut the lead to 10, however. Adrian Martinez found JD Spielman for a 75-yard touchdown with Scott Nelson falling down and unable to corral the speedy receiver. With the extra point, the Huskers closed the lead to 20–10.
Yet Wisconsin responded on its next drive. Driving 71 yards in seven plays after a 28-yard kickoff return by Aron Cruickshank, Taylor found his second touchdown of the evening running off the right side of the offensive line and sprinting 21 yards for a score.
Anotha one. ✌️@JayT23 gets on the board again for the @BadgerFootball TD: pic.twitter.com/HsiWSWnpRd— Wisconsin On BTN (@WisconsinOnBTN) October 7, 2018
After outside linebacker Tyler Johnson forced a fumble and Olive Sagapolu recovered it, Wisconsin went back on the offensive for its second consecutive touchdown of the half. Six plays and 59 yards later, Taiwan Deal found a hole and ran to daylight for a 20-yard score and a 34–10 lead.
One of the best names in @B1Gfootball gets in the box score.— Wisconsin On BTN (@WisconsinOnBTN) October 7, 2018
That's @Taiwan_Deal finding the end zone as @BadgerFootball pads its lead: pic.twitter.com/SUqPqX0lJO
Nebraska’s offense, despite penalties throughout the game, showed once again great firepower and explosiveness. In under three minutes, Martinez drove 75 yards. On a 2nd-and-10, the quarterback found Jack Stoll for a 12-yard touchdown pass to cut the Wisconsin lead back to a 17 points.
Into the fourth quarter, Wisconsin’s defense held with Nebraska downing a punt at the UW 12. It did not matter, however, as in one play, Taylor took the ball and galloped for a career-high 88 yards and a touchdown to put the Badgers back up by 24.
The play was off a jet sweep, which was seen previously in the first half when true freshman Aron Cruickshank carried the ball for only a yard. This time, playing out the fake, Taylor grabbed the handoff, broke a tackle, then stiff-armed a defender and was off to the races.
Go ahead then, @JayT23.— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 7, 2018
The @BadgerFootball star RB now has 3 TDs on the evening, and this 88-yard burst is the most impressive one yet: pic.twitter.com/yYKZfLWCRT
Nebraska’s offense once again answered, going 95 yards in seven plays thanks in large part to the scrambling and passing ability of Martinez. The true freshmen completed all three of his passes on that drive for 59 yards, and his seven-yard touchdown made it 41–24.
Injuries and an ejection thinned the Wisconsin secondary deeply on Saturday night. Wisconsin was already without redshirt sophomore Caesar Williams to start the game, but starting corner Deron Harrell left the game with a head injury. Then, starting free safety Nelson was ejected on a targeting call in the third quarter. Strong safety D’Cota Dixon also limped off the field after a pass break-up.
By the end of the game, the Wisconsin secondary was playing two true freshmen at times with Rachad Wildgoose and Donte Burton (with Faion Hicks returning on the final Nebraska offensive series), sophomore Madison Cone in the slot, and Eric Burrell and Seth Currens at safety.