Nebraska doesn’t lose on October 7. In school history, they’re 15-0. But Saturday night, Wisconsin came into town to make history.
On the premier Nebraska drive, the Cornhuskers looked threatening, picking up 47 quick yards on just two plays. However, that hot streak came to a swift demise after a tipped pass landed directly in ILB Chris Orr’s arms. He would waltz into the end zone for a 78-yard pick six, putting Wisconsin up 7-0 early.
Wisconsin compiled a tenacious drive, Hornibrook and Taylor working in tandem to pick up big chunks of yardage. Mistakes ended up being Wisconsin’s undoing during said drive, as costly penalties continued to undue offensive progress. On an easy third down conversion attempt in the red zone, wide receiver AJ Taylor dropped an incredibly easy pass that would’ve resulted in a Wisconsin first down. Wisconsin would settle for a Gaglianone field goal, and lead 10-0 at that point.
TJ Edwards and Garrett Dooley were heroic early. Edwards delivered a bone-crushing hit on Nebraska’s Tyler Hoppes that would reverberate around a packed Memorial Stadium, halting Nebraska’s second drive. Dooley would deliver a similar impact later, putting tremendous pressure on Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee on third down, forcing a sloppy and easily broken up pass attempt, ultimately resulting in a Nebraska punt.
Penalties made things easier for Nebraska early, as Wisconsin suffered five calls for 55 total penalty yards, making it difficult to truly build offensive momentum.
Nebraska would respond to early scoring outbursts by putting together an eerily Wisconsin-esque drive. Short and measured passes followed by gritty run plays would put the Huskers in a terrific scoring position. However, the Wisconsin secondary seemed to always be there when needed, breaking up a number of potentially dangerous pass attempts that could have lead to Nebraska scores. Instead, Nebraska would miss a 33-yard field goal attempt and would remain scoreless.
Nebraska is the toughest opponent the Wisconsin secondary had faced this season, but the pass defense gave Lee little room to operate, breaking up pass after pass to the dismay of an exasperated Nebraska wide receiver corps. However, the hot streak sputtered after an 80-yard Nebraska touchdown from Lee to Stanley Morgan Jr., Morgan Jr.’s fifth touchdown of the season.
After the Lincoln crowd seemed to have found their spark, Jonathan Taylor single-handedly erased the crowd’s vocal cords, streaking down the sideline for a primetime 75-yard score on the first play following the Husker touchdown. Taylor recorded 144 yards on just 10 carries the first half, averaging a stunning 14.4 yards per carry.
At the half, Wisconsin lead Nebraska 17-10. It looked as though Wisconsin would head into the locker room with a 10-0 lead, until both teams exchanged scores with less than two minutes remaining. If there was any criticism about Wisconsin coming out of the gate stronger, those critics were silenced Saturday.
To start the second half, Wisconsin was tasked with continuing their winning brand of football. Although Nebraska had out-gained Wisconsin 313-218 – the most yards Wisconsin had given up in the first half on the year – Wisconsin retained a well-deserved lead.
After slow first drives from both sides, Wisconsin controlled the ball on their own 12 after forcing a quick Nebraska three-and-out. On the first play of the drive, Hornibrook threw what may have been his least thought-out pass attempt of the year which landed directly in Nebraska CB Aaron William’s arms. Williams had no tacklers to avoid and practically walked into the end zone to tie the game 17-17.
Hornibrook had done as he’d been asked until the interception, although his stat line suggested otherwise. He wasn’t frequently called on to air it downfield. Taylor had more or less carried the offense thus far, gobbling up chunks of yardage on every drive.
For anyone curious about what Wisconsin football means, look no further than Wisconsin’s 10 play, 5:42 minute, 89-yard touchdown drive. Taylor was trusted to pick up the bulk of yardage, while receivers ran textbook slant and button-hook routes to pick up just enough to keep the drive alive. Hornibrook eventually found Quintez Cephus for a 5-yard touchdown pass. Wisconsin doesn’t play sexy football, they play winning football.
Second-half quarterback pressure was much improved. TJ Edwards, as always, was everywhere he was needed, with Leon Jacobs and Chris Orr not far behind.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Taylor hit the 200 yard mark for the second time this year. Not much more can be said about his ability. Taylor will be Wisconsin’s biggest weapon moving forward.
After struggling to keep up with the Nebraska offense, Wisconsin held the Huskers to just 51 yards of offense during the third.
Taylor continued to solidify himself as the face of the program after plowing forward for his second touchdown of the night, extending the Wisconsin lead to 14. His 249-yard night was the third most yards Nebraska had given up to a single player in school history.
Above all, Wisconsin displayed its ability to adjust effectively to changes in game flow. After a frightening challenge from Nebraska that tied things up late, rather than try and do too much too quickly, Wisconsin was methodical in their drives, grinding out score after score, walking away with a composed 38-17 victory.
Looking forward, Wisconsin heads back home to take on a Purdue team coming off a last-minute victory over Minnesota.