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Badgers bring back old-school ground game

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By Jeff Potrykus
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Sunday, October 8, 2017

LINCOLN, NEB.--The most critical drive in Wisconsin's 38-17 victory over Nebraska appeared to be designed by Michael Deiter and his buddies on the UW offensive line.

Quarterback Alex Hornibrook had just thrown late to the sideline, only to see Nebraska safety Aaron Williams intercept the pass on the UW 14 and dance to the end zone to forge a tie with 10 minutes 43 seconds left in the third quarter.

After Arrington Farrar (holding) and Leon Jacobs (unsportsmanlike conduct) were called for penalties on the ensuing kickoff, UW took over at its 7.

The crowd of 89,860 at Memorial Stadium was in full roar.

What was said in the UW huddle?

“It's on us to flip it,” Deiter said, referring to field position and momentum. “There's no reason to freak out. That's not necessary.

“Just do what we have to do, play the way we know we can and we knew that we would have a drive. And we did. We executed well that drive. That's what we needed.”

UW drove 93 yards on 10 plays for the go-ahead touchdown. The Badgers ran the ball eight times, and Hornibrook hit Quintez Cephus for gains of 31 and 5 yards, the first on third and 4 from the UW 45 and the second and third and goal for a touchdown.

The touchdown pass to Cephus was the 17th attempt of the night for Hornibrook. It was his last.

The victory allowed UW (5-0, 2-0 Big Ten) to move up two spots in the Amway coaches poll to No. 6 on Sunday. Next up for UW is Purdue (3-2, 1-1) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.

UW ran the ball on its final 22 plays—for 125 yards and two touchdowns—against Nebraska. That included a 2-yard loss on the final play when reserve quarterback Jack Coan went down on one knee.

“On one drive, I told Micah Kapoi he could have played quarterback,” Hornibrook said, referring to UW's reserve guard.

Deiter was asked if he was calling the plays down the stretch.

“No,” he said with a grin. “But if I was, it would look just like that. …

“Love it. Makes it feel like it's in our hands. As an offensive line, it's on us to finish a game with the ball in our hands. It is a ton of fun. That's the way we want it to go every week.”

The 93-yard touchdown drive was followed by two more—80 yards in 10 plays after a Nebraska punt and 40 yards in 10 plays after linebacker Ryan Connelly recovered a fumble forced by cornerback Derrick Tindal.

Wisconsin had the right answer each time Nebraska challenged.

“We pinned them, too,” Nebraska coach Mike Riley said, referring to the drive that started at the UW 7. “A great opportunity for us, but they very mechanically, methodically, physically controlled the ball on the ground.”

If linebacker Chris Orr provided the biggest defensive response of the night with his 78-yard interception return for a touchdown in the opening quarter, freshman tailback Jonathan Taylor provided the biggest offensive response late in the first half.

Just seconds after Nebraska burned UW's secondary with an 80-yard touchdown pass, thanks to a blown coverage, UW started at its 25. Taylor had 69 yards on nine carries to that point and turned a basic run to the right into a 75-yard score by running away from three defenders on his way to the end zone to help UW take a 17-7 lead.

“When we needed to answer we did,” Deiter said. “And that's the way to win football games, especially on the road, especially in front of a crowd like that.

“When you can answer like that and take some life out of a team and the crowd, it is huge. That's something we've got to be able to do week in and week out.”

UW's performance was far from flawless. The defense surrendered huge chunks of real estate in the first half. Penalties helped stall drives and the interception by Hornibrook could have been costly.

Yet in the end, UW prevailed and head coach Paul Chryst learned something about his team.

“You learn that despite what circumstances might come up,” he said, “we are going to keep playing. We have to build off of that.

“Them keeping their poise no matter what happened and playing with each other. That is the takeaway for me right now.”


Last updated: 11:20 pm Sunday, October 8, 2017


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