Wisconsin gamer defense

Defensive back Aaron Williams (24), Dicaprio Bootle (23) and Dedrick Young II (5) bring down the Wisconsin ball carrier at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska on Oct. 7, 2017.

For only the sixth time in program history, Nebraska recorded a nighttime loss in Memorial Stadium. The 38-17 defeat at the hands of the Wisconsin Badgers moves Nebraska to 3-3 on the season and 2-1 in Big Ten Conference play. Though the scoreboard reflected a 21-point loss, the game didn’t seem like a blowout.

The first half was a back-and-forth struggle between the two teams. Wisconsin won the toss and deferred to the second half, setting up Nebraska to receive the ball to start the game. All week, Husker coaches stressed starting the game fast, and NU looked to do that with a long first drive. It would stall out at the Wisconsin 17-yard line with pick six thrown by quarterback Tanner Lee. The Badger touchdown was a result of Lee’s fourth pick six and 10th interception of the season.

One drive later, Wisconsin was in position to score, but settled for a 37-yard field goal to increase the Badgers’ lead to 10-0. Nebraska’s offense tried to answer, but a drive capped off with an incomplete pass to Tyler Hoppes forced the field goal unit onto the field for the second time that night. The first-half clock ran down, Wisconsin still driving.

At the start of the second quarter, the Badgers continued to drive, but a 6-yard sack by Luke Gifford stalled their drive, forcing Wisconsin to punt.

Nebraska started its drive at its own 32-yard line and drove the ball down the field, stalling out on the Wisconsin 33-yard line. Kicker Drew Brown tried to put points on the board for the Huskers, but couldn’t deliver as he missed the 33-yard field goal, leaving the Badgers 10-point lead intact.

In Wisconsin’s second drive of the day, the Blackshirts lived up to their name, forcing a 3-and-out resulting in good field position for its offense to start a drive with. The offense couldn’t capitalize, though, and Husker punter Caleb Lightbourn made his way onto the field once again, footing a long 69-yard kick to pin the Badgers deep inside their own 10-yard line.

Nebraska’s defense came out hungry again, stopping the Badgers when it really counted and forcing a punt, giving Nebraska the ball back with 1:32 left in the half.

Thus began the longest minute and a half of the game.

On the first play of the Huskers’ drive, Lee connected with Stanley Morgan Jr. for an 80-yard touchdown, putting Nebraska within three of its opponent. Memorial Stadium rocked and lived up to its reputation of night-game atmospheres.

The Husker faithful was subdued soon after, though, with Wisconsin answering in dramatic fashion. A 75-yard run from the Badgers’ Jonathan Taylor put them on the board once again, pulling away from NU with a 17-7 lead.

But the half still wasn’t over.

Nebraska got the ball back with 1:04 left in the half. The Huskers drove down the field, kicking a field goal with one second left on the clock to end the half. The teams entered the locker room with a one-touchdown game and Wisconsin on top 17-10.

The Badgers got the ball to start the second half, but nothing came of it, as they ended up trading punts with Nebraska. Wisconsin took over at its own 12-yard line. On the second play of the drive, Alex Hornibrook’s pass was tipped and intercepted by Aaron Williams, who returned the pick 14 yards for a touchdown, tying the game 17-17 with 10:43 left in the third quarter.

Wisconsin responded to its turnover, and a noisy Memorial Stadium, emphatically, taking the ball 86 yards down the field for a touchdown. Quintez Cephus caught a key 31-yard pass on third down at the Wisconsin 45-yard line, but he wasn’t done for the drive, eventually catching a 5-yard touchdown to put Wisconsin up 24-17 with 4:56 left in the quarter.

Helped along by a 22-yard catch by JD Spielman, Nebraska had an opportunity to respond as it drove down to the Wisconsin 44-yard line. However, Lee was flushed from the pocket on third down and the drive ended there, as Nebraska punted it away while the third quarter ran down.

Wisconsin started on its own 20-yard line and once again drove the ball all the way down the field for a touchdown. The Badgers ran the ball on all 10 plays of the drive, letting running backs Taylor, Bradrick Shaw and Rachid Ibrahim all get touches. It was Taylor who scored the 2-yard touchdown, his second of the game, as Wisconsin extended its lead to 31-17 with 9:08 left in the fourth quarter.

The Huskers’ final attempt to get back in the game ended when Lee completed a 15-yard pass to Stanley Morgan Jr., who lost the ball as he came close to the ground. Morgan Jr. was close to being down, but no review was called and Wisconsin took over at the Nebraska 40-yard line.

The Badgers continued their effective running attack, once again running the ball 10 straight plays. Shaw put the final nail in the Huskers’ coffin, punching it in from one yard out, as Wisconsin increased its lead to 38-17 with 2:40 left to play in the game.

Freshman quarterback Patrick O’Brien entered the game for the final Husker drive, completing two of three passes for 9 yards. An incomplete pass turned the ball over to the Badgers, who killed the clock, finalizing their 38-17 win and moving them to 5-0.

As the game rolled on, the effectiveness of Wisconsin’s ground game became evident. The Badgers recorded their last pass of the game with 4:56 left in the third quarter. From there, they ran the ball 21 straight times to end the game, as the Nebraska defense knew what was coming, but was powerless to stop it.

After the game, Nebraska head coach Mike Riley spoke on his team’s disappointing loss.

“We started off with a situation where you absolutely can’t have against Wisconsin,” Riley said. “I mean we had an interception for a touchdown for them after a drive that was pretty well done.”

Wisconsin ran wild on the ground totaling 353 yards on 49 carries and punching in three touchdowns on the ground. Riley said the team’s physicality was evident.

“As you watched the game from the boundary there, it looked like we were holding it together OK for a time,” Riley said. “And they’re persistent and they’re powerful. Big. Powerful. Back is good. We knew all those things. I think probably the key point in the game was their response to us making the play to tie the game.”

He said the Huskers’ run defense had a hard time keeping up with the Badgers’ explosive ground game.

“It looked to me like we lost some spots,” Riley said. “When they’re running the power play, we lost some force on the edge, we were getting engulfed.”

Riley also spoke to his team’s stats on the ground, as Nebraska experienced some success in the running game as well. Ozigbo carried the ball 23 times for 112 yards, as no other Nebraska running back touched the ball the entire game.

“I think we ran OK,” Riley said. “Not consistently enough, but our production wasn’t bad,” Riley said.

Despite the first conference loss of the season, Riley was still confident in his team’s direction.

“But I feel good about where we’re going,” Riley said. “We have definitely made some progress in some of those areas. We’ve made progress in this season with some individuals running the ball, with what we’ve done in protection, with what we’re doing with our passing game, and almost as importantly what we’re not trying to do. So we’re making progress.”


Assistant Sports Editor