LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Freshman Jonathan Taylor became the latest Wisconsin running back Nebraska couldn’t stop.
Following in the footsteps of backs like Montee Ball and Melvin Gordon, Taylor rushed for a season-high 249 yards and two touchdowns to lead a punishing ground game that helped ninth-ranked Wisconsin wear down Nebraska in the second half of a 38-17 win Saturday night.
The Badgers (5-0, 2-0) beat the Huskers (3-3, 2-1) for the fifth straight time and took sole possession of first place in the Big Ten West.
Taylor, who carried 25 times, had his second 200-yard performance in five games and the Badgers finished with 353 rushing yards, their most on the road since going for 564 yards at Indiana in 2012.
“It’s definitely surprising, but the guys give me so much confidence,” Taylor said. “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.”
What Taylor did was all too familiar for the Cornhuskers.
Ball and Gordon each went over 200 yards against them in the 2012 Big Ten championship game. In 2014 Gordon ran for a then-NCAA record 408 yards against the Huskers. Dare Ogunbowale had 100-yard games the last two years against Nebraska.
Taylor’s 249 yards were the third-most rushing yards ever by a Nebraska opponent. His night was highlighted by a 75-yard touchdown run.
“I thought J.T. was special tonight,” Badgers coach Paul Chryst said. “Certainly the big run at the end of the first half, but he had some hard 7-, 8-yard runs. He’s continuing to get better.”
The Badgers went to the run almost exclusively on three straight scoring drives after Nebraska’s Aaron Williams returned an interception to tie it 17-all early in the third quarter.
They ran on eight of 10 plays while going 93 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, which Quintez Cephus scored on a 5-yard pass. Next time they ran on all 10 plays as they went 80 yards, with Taylor bulling in from the 2. After Stanley Morgan fumbled on the Huskers’ ensuing possession, they ran 10 times for 40 yards, with Bradrick Shaw scoring from the 1.
“We pinned them inside the 10, and it was a great opportunity for us, but they very mechanically, methodically and physically did what they do,” Nebraska coach Mike Riley said. “They controlled the ball on the ground.”
The Badgers ended Nebraska’s 20-game win streak in home night games since 2008.
Devine Ozigbo had 112 yards on 23 carries for the Huskers.
Wisconsin had a pick-six of its own when Chris Orr snagged a ball that glanced off intended receiver Ozigbo and returned it 78 yards on the game’s fifth play from scrimmage. It was the fourth pick-six thrown by Tanner Lee this season and his 10th interception.
The Huskers gouged the nation’s No. 4 defense for more than 300 yards in the first half but didn’t score until just before halftime. Lee and Stanley Morgan Jr. hooked up for an 80-yard catch-and-run, Nebraska’s longest pass play since 2014.
The Badgers were back up 17-7 after the first play of their next series, with Taylor going 75 yards untouched for Wisconsin’s longest play from scrimmage since 2014.
“The momentum had shifted, and we didn’t want to end (the half) with the momentum shifted to the other team,” Taylor said. “I talked with the linemen. We talked about the run fits on the play coming up. It was there and it was great execution.”
Wisconsin: The Badgers still own the Huskers, having beaten them six out of seven times since Nebraska joined the Big Ten in 2011. They’re off to a 5-0 start for the first time since going 6-0 in 2011.
Nebraska: The Huskers managed only 68 yards in the second half after amassing 313 in the first. The 21-point loss was their most lopsided since Iowa beat them by the same score in 2013 and only increases the pressure on Riley.
The Badgers should move up a couple spots after two teams ahead of them, No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 7 Michigan, lost.
Nebraska safety Joshua Kalu, who missed the last three games with a hamstring injury, had a career-high 10 tackles and a pair of pass breakups.
Wisconsin hosts Purdue and will go for its 12th straight win in the series.
Nebraska hosts No. 10 Ohio State, which beat the Huskers 62-3 last year.