For really the first time this season, Wisconsin faced some adversity -- and the Badgers passed the test.
Despite being a favorite, the Badgers already was facing a bit of an uphill climb, playing at Nebraska in a battle of the final two teams with no conference losses in the Big Ten West, at night (the Cornhuskers had won 20 straight home night games) with a charged-up crowd thanks to a reunion of the 1997 national championship team.
Wisconsin was able to quiet the crowd temporarily with a Chris Orr touchdown on an interception return on Nebraska's first possession, but the house was brought down in the third quarter when the Cornhuskers returned the favor with a pick-six of Alex Hornibrook to tie the score at 17.
But then the Badgers got back to basics -- namely rushing the ball and running all over the Nebraska defense.
Wisconsin ran for 353 yards, led by Jonathan Taylor's 249, in dominating the second half and emerging with an important 38-17 victory, putting the Badgers in the driver's seat in the division.
Here's a recap of Saturday night's game (Story | Photos):
PLAYER OF THE GAME
No surprise here as running back Jonathan Taylor carried the Badgers to this win. He had a big 75-yard touchdown run in the first half then kept grinding out yards in the second half even when everyone knew he was getting the ball. On Wisconsin's go-ahead drive midway through the third quarter, Taylor carried the ball six times for 51 yards, including three straight rushes of 10+ yards. The fabulous freshman finished with 249 yards on 25 rushes with two touchdowns.
DON'T FORGET ABOUT ME
Maybe it was pure coincidence, but Wisconsin's running game seemed to take off when Erdmann came in at left guard for a hobbled Jon Dietzen. Erdmann was in for Jonathan Taylor's 75-yard touchdown run and in the second half when the Badgers ran 32 times for 187 yards. Besides, offensive lineman often get forgotten (so much so, we could barely find Erdmann in any of Saturday's wire photos from the game, but look down).
Nebraska had just tied the game at 17 on Aaron Williams' interception return for a touchdown, getting the crowd back in the game -- and then some. Starting at their own 7, the Badgers ran the ball up the field, but had a third-and-4 from their own 45-yard line. Nebraska blitzed, but Alex Hornibrook found Quintez Cephus on a crossing route, with Cephus running down the field for a 31-yard gain. Three Taylor runs got the ball to the 5, where Hornibrook and Cephus connected again on a touchdown, giving Wisconsin a lead it would not relinquish.
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21 -- consecutive rushes by Wisconsin to end the game. It was old-time Badgers football as Wisconsin didn't pass once in the fourth quarter. The Badgers had a 10-rush, 80-yard scoring drive to make it 31-24, then another 10-rush scoring drive, this time over 40 yards, to get the game's final score. Garrett Groshek got in one more run before one final kneeldown. That's power football. That's Wisconsin winning football.
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THEY SAID IT
"I thought J.T. was special tonight. Certainly the big run at the end of the first half, but he had some hard 7-, 8-yard runs." -- head coach Paul Chryst
"It's definitely surprising, but the guys give me so much confidence. I know I have to do my job and trust the guys to do theirs. We kind of pride ourselves on being the spark of the offense, the running back group. I wanted to be that guy that gave us the spark." -- Jonathan Taylor
"That was definitely a buzzkill. First drive, and you’re really on an adrenaline rush given the (1997 national championship team celebration) and what-not." -- Nebraska center Michael Decker on Chris Orr's interception return for a touchdown on the Huskers' opening drive.
"We pinned them, too. A great opportunity for us, but they very mechanically, methodically, physically ... controlled the ball on the ground." -- Nebraska head coach Mike Riley on Wisconsin's go-ahead drive in the third quarter.
Wisconsin will host surprising Purdue (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) at 2:30 p.m. Under new head coach Jeff Brohm, the Boilermakers have demonstrated the capability to score points using a two-quarterback system. If the Badgers can beat Purdue, and presuming Ohio State beats Nebraska, every team other than Wisconsin in the Big Ten West will have two conference losses.