The No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers (2-0 Big Ten, 4-1 overall) kept their winning streak against the struggling Nebraska Cornhuskers (0-3, 0-5) alive — and compounded the Huskers misery — with a steady 41-24 win Saturday night.
Nebraska’s head coach Scott Frost has seen his team struggle since taking over, and he praised the Badgers’ discipline heading into the game partly because his team had been undisciplined.
"They never beat themselves, which has been the polar opposite of what we've been," Frost said. "You don't see them make any kind of mistakes that will get them beat. They're solid at every position, obviously good on the front lines on both sides.”
While Wisconsin’s offense was slow to get going in the first quarter, scoring only an early field goal to go up 3-0, Nebraska couldn’t capitalize on that slow going thanks to crucial penalties that killed offensive momentum.
Wisconsin set the tone early that they were going to test Nebraska’s front seven, and while they only had the field goal in the first half, those early runs led to bigger holes for the offense in the second quarter when the team started to find their groove.
“When you see you are wearing your opponent down, it definitely is a confidence-booster, and we turned that into points,” sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor said.
After the teams traded two field goals, Jonathan Taylor found the end zone midway through the second quarter to put UW up 13-3.
Nebraska’s offense looked like they were trying to find some identity and piece together a scoring drive with four minutes left in the first half, but Wisconsin had other plans as they stifled Nebraska on fourth-and-11 to get the ball back with a little more than two minutes left.
Instead of waiting for the second half, the Badgers came out aggressively searching for more points. With 63 yards to go in a short span of time, sophomore running back Garrett Groshek came up big on the drive.
The Swiss army knife back had a 24-yard run, a 9-yard catch and a 7-yard run all in a row on the drive to put Wisconsin in scoring position. Junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook found freshman tight end Jake Ferguson for a 14-yard touchdown, but Groshek was the spark needed for the score that put the Badgers up 20-3 at the half.
“Garrett does a great job in those situations,” Hornibrook said. “He’s a high football IQ guy, he does a good, he does a great job with protections, making the right calls and when he gets his hands on the ball he can make the play that we need.”
After the halftime break, the Huskers struck first and put life back into the game. After freshman safety Scott Nelson fell down in coverage against wide receiver JD Spielman, Spielman turned a simple catch into a 75-yard score to make it a 20-10 contest.
Nebraska got their swagger back and was hoping the defense could get the stop. Wisconsin then responded with a seven-play, 71-yard scoring drive to make the score 27-10. Jonathan Taylor put the exclamation point on the drive with a 21-yard run for a touchdown against a Nebraska defense that looked worn down.
A fumble by Nebraska freshman quarterback Adrian Martinez led to a Taiwan Deal touchdown, and the game looked out of reach at 34-10. But Nebraska responded with their own touchdown and tried to build the comeback at 34-17.
But after the Badgers recieved the ball at their own 12-yard line, Jonathan Taylor only needed one touch to put it out of reach.
After he hit the hole and hit a Nebraska defender with a huge stiff arm, Taylor was off to the races for 88 yards that gave the Badger fans a reason to yell.
“It was real nice to get out into open field and stretch my legs out,” Taylor said. “I think just sticking with the game plan and staying with the tracks, taking the five, taking the three, you know eventually one will bust, and it did tonight.”
Taylor’s stats on the night highlighted why he was projected as a potential Heisman Trophy winner. The star tailback rushed for 221 yards on 24 carries and picked up three scores. Yet the whole offense, especially the running backs, was clicking. Taiwan Deal and Garrett Groshek both had over 70 yards rushing with Deal adding another touchdown.
And while the Badgers coaches won’t be pleased with giving up over 400 yards passing on offense, Wisconsin seemed closer to a complete performance despite the defensive miscues.
“Overall, I thought it was a great team win and there are some things that we need to build on,” Chryst said. “ There are some things we need to clean up as we move forward into next weekend, but it was good win.”