Lincoln - Nebraska' battled back from a quick 10-point deficit to tie the game at 17, but No. 9 Wisconsin controlled the fourth quarter on its way to a 38-17 win over the Huskers at Memorial Stadium on Saturday night.
Playing in front of a raucous home crowd in the 358th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium on a night when Nebraska honored its 1997 national championship team throughout the game on the 20th anniversary of its historic accomplishments, the Huskers fought hard before slipping to 3-3 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten. The Badgers improved to 5-0 and 2-0 in the conference.
The Huskers took the opening kickoff and raced into the Wisconsin red zone before a huge momentum swing. On 3rd-and-2 at the Wisconsin 17, Tanner Lee's quick screen pass to running back Devine Ozigbo went through Ozigbo's hands, ricocheted off his helmet and bounded into the arms of Badger linebacker Chris Orr in stride heading the other way for a 78-yard interception return for a touchdown.
The miscue gave Wisconsin a 7-0 lead with just 2:26 gone in the game. Nebraska moved the ball effectively on its second drive, before it stalled at the Wisconsin 39.
On the Badgers first offensive possession of the game, they marched 61 yards on 11 plays capped by Rafael Gaglianone's 37-yard field goal to give Wisconsin a 10-0 lead with 3:31 left in the opening quarter.
Nebraska's third drive penetrated Wisconsin territory for the third consecutive time, but came to a halt just outside of field goal range. The Huskers buried Wisconsin deep in their own territory and kept them there on the Badgers' second drive, giving Nebraska good field position on its fourth drive. The Huskers pounded their way into the Wisconsin red zone again, before the Badgers stiffened and forced a Drew Brown 33-yard field goal attempt. The normally sure-footed senior kicker missed the attempt wide right to keep the Badger edge at 10 with 9:10 left in the first half.
The defenses continued to assert themselves for the next eight minutes before the offenses erupted in the final 1:30 of the first half.
After a 38-yard punt by Wisconsin's Anthony Lotti resulted in a touchback to give the Huskers the ball at their own 20 with 1:32 remaining, Lee connected with Stanley Morgan Jr. on a deep crossing route and Morgan did the rest, racing 80 yards down the Nebraska sideline into the end zone. It matched the seventh-longest pass play in school history and the longest connection since a 90-yard touchdown pass in the 2013 Gator Bowl.
Although Nebraska briefly cut the margin to 10-7, Wisconsin immediately answered. Following a touchback on the ensuing kickoff, Badger running back Jonathan Taylor took a handoff from quarterback Alex Hornibrook and sprinted 75 yards to paydirt on the Badgers' first play from scrimmage. The run pushed Wisconsin's lead back to 17-7 with 1:20 left in the half.
But the Huskers weren't done yet. Ozigbo, who rushed for a career-high 112 yards on 23 carries, unleashed a 28-yard burst to put the Big Red quickly into Wisconsin territory. Nebraska eventually worked its way to the Badger 14, where Brown booted a 32-yard field goal as time expired in the half to send Nebraska to the locker room trailing, 17-10.
At the half, Nebraska held a 313-228 advantage in total offense despite trailing on the scoreboard.
Ozigbo, who notched his third consecutive 100-yard rushing game, became the first back to reach the century mark against the Badger defense since LSU's Leonard Fournette reached the mark in the 2016 season opener at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.
The two teams exchanged unproductive drives to start the third quarter, before a 57-yard punt by Caleb Lightbourn pinned the Badgers at their own 12 with 11:28 left in the period. After a rush by Taylor for no gain, Husker junior safety Aaron Williams made an outstanding play on the ball thrown into the flat toward the Wisconsin sideline and sprinted untouched into the end zone to tie the game at 17 with 10:43 left in the third.
On the ensuing kickoff, Wisconsin's A.J. Taylor returned a Brown boot to the goal line 25 yards where he was crushed by Husker safety Kieron Williams, dislodging the ball. Wisconsin recovered the fumble, but was flagged 10 yards for holding and then flagged an additional half the distance to the goal line for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
With the momentum in hand and the Badgers buried at their own 7, the Memorial Stadium crowd was at a fever pitch, but visiting Wisconsin found an answer.
And the answer was Jonathan Taylor, who took the first three carries of the drive and galloped 32 yards. After two more running plays to other backs, Hornibrook connected with Quintez Cephus on a 31-yard pass to convert on 3rd-and-4 from the Wisconsin 45.
Taylor pounded his way a total of 19 yards on the next three plays, to set up Hornibrook's five-yard touchdown pass to Cephus on 3rd-and-Goal from the Nebraska 5 with 4:56 left in the quarter. Hornibrook completed 9-of-17 passes for 113 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Hornibrook was also sacked once for a six-yard loss and did not attempt a rush in the game. Cephus led the Badger receivers with four receptions for 68 yards on the night.
Nebraska tried to answer on its next drive, navigating its way into Wisconsin territory and maintaining possession for the rest of the third quarter before being forced to punt on the first play of the fourth quarter, trailing 24-17.
Despite trailing on the scoreboard, Nebraska went to the fourth quarter with a 364-341 edge in total yards. The Huskers had also been flagged for 43 fewer penalty yards than the Badgers
But the fourth quarter was all Wisconsin, as the Badgers used a 10-play, 80-yard drive that culminated in a two-yard touchdown by Taylor to push their edge to 31-17 with 9:08 left.
Nebraska's next drive ended with a fumble after a completion on a short completion from Lee to Morgan, and Wisconsin turned the mistake into points with a 10-play, 40-yard drive that ate up 6:15 and ended with a one-yard plunge by Bradrick Shaw with 2:40 left to extend the Badger margin to 38-17.
In the fourth quarter, Wisconsin outgained the Huskers, 125-17, with all 125 yards coming on the ground. Taylor finished with 249 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries to lead a Badger running game that finished with 353 yards. Shaw added 43 yards and a score on 12 carries, while Rachid Ibrahim contributed 51 yards on seven carries.
Wisconsin finished with 466 total yards, while Nebraska finished with 381.
Lee added two carries for five yards in the game, as Nebraska managed 110 rushing yards on the night after Patrick O'Brien was sacked for a seven-yard loss on the Huskers' final drive of the game.
Lee completed 16-of-32 passes for 262 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Morgan finished his night with four receptions for 115 yards and a score, while freshman wide receiver JD Spielman added career highs with six catches for 79 yards. De'Mornay Pierson-El added three receptions for 59 yards, while Ozigbo pitched in four catches for 18 yards.
Nebraska continues Big Ten home action against another top-10 opponent next Saturday, when the Huskers take on Ohio State at Memorial Stadium at 6:30 p.m. (CT).
#9 Wisconsin 38, Nebraska 17
Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017
Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)
First Quarter (WIS 10-0)
WIS - 12:24 - Chris Orr 78 INT return (Rafael Gaglianone kick) WIS 7-0
WIS - 3:31 - Gaglianone 37 FG, 11 plays, 61 yards, 5:47, WIS 10-0
Second Quarter (WIS 17-10)
NEB - 1:20 - Stanley Morgan Jr. 80 pass from Tanner Lee (Drew Brown kick), 1 play, 80 yards, 0:12, WIS 10-7
WIS - 1:09 - Jonathan Taylor 75 run (Gaglianone kick), 1 play, 75 yards, 0:11, WIS 17-7
NEB - 0:00 - Brown 32 FG, 11 plays, 60 yards, 1:04, WIS 17-10
Third Quarter (WIS 24-17)
NEB - 10:43 - Aaron Williams 14 INT return (Brown kick), 17-17
WIS - 4:56 - Quintez Cephus 5 pass from Alex Hornibrook (Gaglianone kick), 10 plays, 93 yards, 5:42, WIS 24-17
Fourth Quarter (WIS 38-17)
WIS - Taylor 2 run (Gaglianone kick), 9:08 - 10 plays, 80 yards, 5:48, WIS 31-17
WIS - Bradrick Shaw 1 run (Gaglianone kick), 2:40 - 10 plays, 40 yards, 6:15, WIS 38-17
Kickoff (TV): 7:11 p.m. (BTN)
Time of Game: 3:10