Big Ten teams are going to learn to hate facing Wisconsin freshman tailback Jonathan Taylor.
Taylor rushed 25 times for 249 yards and two touchdowns, UW's defense produced an early touchdown and then rose up in the second half after an ugly first half to help UW prevail against Nebraska, 38-17, in front of a crowd of 89,860 at Memorial Stadium.
UW (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) took over sole possession of first place in the West Division and is the only team in the division without a league loss.
UW also improved to 10-1 in road games under Paul Chryst, with the lone loss coming last season against Michigan, and snapped the Cornhuskers' 20-game winning streak in night games at Memorial Stadium.
Nebraska (3-3, 2-1) lost to UW for the sixth time in seven meetings since joining the Big Ten in 2011.
"The thing that is evident in the games against Wisconsin, is you have to be the team that finishes," Nebraska coach Mike Riley said before the game. "It's really about finishing the game at a high level, being able to produce and make plays, offense and defense."
Led by Taylor, UW finished strong after Nebraska forged a 17-17 tie with 10 minutes, 43 seconds left in the third quarter on Aaron Williams' 14-yard interception return for a touchdown.
UW marched 93 yards on 10 plays for the go-ahead score, with quarterback Alex Hornibrook hitting Quintez Cephus from 5 yards with 4:56 left in the third quarter.
Then after a Nebraska punt, UW marched 80 yards on 10 plays – all runs – for another score. Taylor ran six times for 40 yards on the drive, which he capped with a 2-yard run with 9:08 left.
UW added another score – a 1-yard run by Bradrick Shaw, after cornerback Derrick Tindal forced a fumble and Ryan Connelly recovered at the Nebraska 40 with 8:55 left.
UW ran the ball on 22 consecutive plays after Cephus' 5-yard touchdown catch and finished with 353 yards on 49 attempts.
Hornibrook finished 9 of 17 for 113 yards. Senior tight end Troy Fumagalli returned after being held out against Northwestern because of a left-leg injury He caught three passes for 31 yards, all in the first half.
UW's defense entered the night allowing just 247.0 yards per game but surrendered 313 yards, including 212 passing in the opening half. UW hadn't allowed more than 304 yards in any game this season. Utah State finished with 304 total yards in the opener.
Nebraska was held in check in the second half – 68 yards on 19 plays – and UW's ground game did the rest.
UW's defense took the field first after the Badgers won the toss but deferred their choice to the second half.
After the Cornhuskers marched from their 25 to the UW 17, disaster struck for the home team.
Tanner Lee tried to hit tailback Devine Ozigbo in the right flat but the ball was a bit high, behind the back and came in hot. Ozigbo reached back to try to make the catch but the ball popped up into the air and into the arms of linebacker Chris Orr at the 22.
Orr rambled toward the end zone, picked up a key block from cornerback Nick Nelson and scored with 12:34 seconds left in the quarter. Rafael Gaglianone added the conversion and the Memorial Stadium crowd was stunned.
UW took a 10-0 lead on Gaglianone's 37-yard field goal with 3:31 left.
Nebraska drove from its 25 to the UW 39 but elected to punt on fourth-and-5.
A touchback gave UW the ball at the 20 and Taylor ripped off a 30-yard run to help move the ball to the Cornhuskers' 25. Two penalties – a chop block and an offensive interference – forced UW to settle for the field goal.
Nebraska had a chance to cut into UW's 10-0 lead after moving to a first down at the Badgers' 14.
But after three plays netted minus-2 yards, Drew Brown came on for a 33-yard field goal attempt. Brown missed to the right and UW's lead stayed at 10-0 with 9:10 left in half.
After both teams struggled to score, the Cornhuskers and Badgers traded touchdowns in a span of 11 seconds.
Lee found wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. wide open along the right sideline for an 80-yard touchdown with 1:20 left in the half. Morgan Jr. got behind linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel, who appeared to be in zone coverage. No defensive back was close to that side of the field.
Taylor answered with a 75-yard touchdown run just 11 seconds later to help UW build the lead back to 10 points at 17-7, with 1:09 left in the half.
The Cornhuskers weren't finished.
They moved from their 26 to the UW 9 with a second left. A false-start penalty put the ball at the 14 but Brown partially atoned for his earlier miss by hitting from 32 yards to pull the Cornhuskers within 17-10 at the half.
UW entered the night having outscored its foes by a combined 98-14 in the second half but Nebraska struck first – on defense.
UW faced second-and-10 from its 12 when Hornibrook tried to throw late to Rachid Ibrahim near the right sideline.
Williams read the play, stepped in front of Ibrahim for the interception at the 14 and headed to the end zone to help forge a 17-17 tie with 10:43 left in the third quarter.
How would UW respond?
With a stunning touchdown drive that took 10 plays and covered 93 yards – after two penalties on the kickoff return put the offense in a hole.
Hornibrook hit Cephus for 31 yards to the Nebraska 24 on third and 4 and capped the drive with a 5-yard strike to Cephus with 4:56 left in the quarter to help UW take a 24-17 lead.
UW's defense gave up two third-down conversions but eventually forced a punt on the first play of the final quarter.
The drive started at the 20 after a touchback and UW jammed the ball down the Cornhuskers' throats 10 times for 80 yards. Taylor rushed six times for 40 yards and capped the drive with a 2-yard run with 9:08 left to help UW take a 31-17 lead.
"It is one of the toughest places to play in the Big Ten, in my opinion," UW senior defensive end Alec James said before the game. "They've got a great fans base and they all get loud.
"They fit perfectly in the Big Ten. They bring that physical style."
UW was the more physical team when it mattered Saturday and beat the Cornhuskers for the fifth consecutive time.