LINCOLN, Neb. — In a six-play sequence, the University of Wisconsin football team went from being in a fight to being in control of a Big Ten Conference West Division matchup at Nebraska.
A touchdown pass to senior A.J. Taylor, an interception by sophomore Jack Sanborn, and a quick scoring drive capped off by a short run by junior Jonathan Taylor swung the momentum in the first half and put the Badgers up two scores after being behind. They never lost the lead again.
The Cornhuskers had success moving the ball on offense, but the UW defense came up with turnovers and sacks at crucial moments to hold onto a 37-21 win at Memorial Stadium — UW’s seventh consecutive against Nebraska.
“It was very big. Whenever you’re on the road, momentum is extremely important,” said senior linebacker Chris Orr, who tipped the Adrian Martinez pass that Sanborn intercepted in the second quarter. “The goal when you’re on the road is to have all the momentum on your sideline, all the energy on your sideline. That’s always a great feeling. That helped us out a lot.”
The win helps keep the Badgers’ hopes for a Big Ten title game appearance alive for another week.
A.J. Taylor caught a second-quarter pass and spun away from two defenders to score from 55 yards out and put UW (8-2, 5-2) up 17-14. It was Taylor’s second touchdown of the season, and he had to fight off a defender inside the 5-yard line to finish the play.
“Honestly, I was just thinking, ‘Don’t go down.’ Because I was tired — my body was about to fall down. If there was 10 more yards, I don’t know what would’ve happened,” A.J. Taylor said.
After Orr’s tipped pass on the first play of the ensuing drive, Sanborn’s pick and short return gave the Badgers the ball just outside the red zone.
Jonathan Taylor motored in from the 1 three plays later and the UW lead never dipped below 10 from that point on.
“That was a good sequence for us,” UW coach Paul Chryst said. “Football is a game of momentum. Any time that you can answer a score … I think that’s a sign of a good offense.”
The game-defining stretch, which occurred in a span of 1 minute, 36 seconds, helped settle down a Badgers team that wasn’t crisp on either side of the ball to start the game.
“When we got the turnover, I was like, ‘This is it, this is our opportunity. We’ve got to execute, whether it’s a field goal or a touchdown,’” junior center Tyler Biadasz said.
Jonathan Taylor put together another eye-popping performance against the Cornhuskers, finishing with 204 yards on 25 carries, marking the third time he’s rushed for 200 or more yards against Nebraska in his career. He is the first Badger to post three 200-yard rushing performances against the same opponent. He also passed two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin for the second-most rushing yards in Big Ten history, trailing only UW’s Ron Dayne.
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“I think it’s just the coaches, each and every single year, you can’t really come with the same scheme in a sense,” Jonathan Taylor said. “So they always do a good job putting little wrinkles in the scheme in order to keep Nebraska on their toes and make it so they don’t know really what’s coming all of the time.”
In the second half, UW put together two time-consuming drives that helped ice the game. A five-minute, 29-second march ended with an 11-yard TD run from Jonathan Taylor in the third quarter, and a fourth-quarter field goal drive ate up 5:27. Fifteen of the 18 combined plays on those drives were runs.
UW gained 170 yards on the ground in the second half, letting the ground game clinch a win for the second consecutive week.
“That comes with the confidence in general that you want the ball,” Biadasz said. “You want to run it out, control that line of scrimmage and really wear on guys. That’s a defeating feeling when all of a sudden you get 5 yards a pop, 5 yards a pop, it’s never-ending.”
Nebraska (4-6, 2-5) was able to get explosive plays from its spread offense, creating big rushing lanes for big gains, but the Badgers came up with plays to foil drives.
Senior linebacker Zack Baun sacked Martinez for a 20-yard loss that derailed a first-half march from the Cornhuskers, and Baun stopped Martinez short on a fourth-down run in the fourth quarter in one of Nebraska’s last attempts to get back into the game.
Nebraska was without receiver/running back Wan’Dale Robinson and starting defensive linemen Carlos Davis and Darrion Daniels, all of whom were out due to injury.
“We’ve got to keep bringing more talent into this program, so we are going into gun fights with fully loaded guns and we’ve got some really good bullets on this team,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said. “We have some really good pieces, some really good weapons, but we need more.”
Nebraska junior Dedrick Mills rushed for 188 yards, the most the Badgers have allowed to one player this season, and scored on a run from the 12 in the first quarter.
But UW answered with sophomore Aron Cruickshank’s 89-yard kick return for a tying touchdown. It was the first kick-return score for UW since Natrell Jamerson’s 98-yard return against Maryland in 2015.
The Badgers’ success in the red zone — five scores on five trips — was a key to holding off a Nebraska team desperate to get to six wins and bowl eligibility.
“Getting points every time we got the ball in the red zone, that is huge,” Biadasz said. “I know in previous weeks we may have missed a field goal or gone for it and missed it. It is huge to get points against these guys … because you don’t know what’s going to happen next.”
Nebraska coach Scott Frost has received a two-year contract extension through 2026.
Frost is 8-13 in his second season since leaving Central Florida, which he led to a 13-0 record in 2017. The Huskers are 4-5 overall and 2-4 in Big Ten play this season.
In a joint statement, chancellor Ronnie Green and athletic director Bill Moos said they are “committed to Frost and the direction he’s taking the program.”
The original terms of Frost’s contact will remain intact. He is paid $5 million per year.