MADISON, Wis. -- Jonathan Taylor ran for two touchdowns to help the offense overcome a sluggish start and No. 10 Wisconsin's defense swarmed Northwestern before holding on for a 33-24 win on Saturday.
Alex Hornibrook threw for 197 yards and a touchdown, settling down after two interceptions in the first half. Garrett Dooley had three of Wisconsin's eight sacks.
Northwestern's last drive was thwarted when quarterback Clayton Thorson couldn't find a receiver out of his own end zone and was sacked by safety D'Cota Dixon for a safety.
Thorson was having a good quarter until then, throwing two touchdown passes in less than 2 minutes. The second to Garrett Dickerson with 2:53 left got the Wildcats within a touchdown.
But Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) stood up the Wildcats (2-2, 0-1) again late to seal the win in each team's conference opener.
It was all Wisconsin in the second half until Northwestern's late push in the fourth.
Hornibrook hit Quintez Cephus on a 61-yard pass to the Northwestern 11 on the Badgers' first drive of the third quarter. Taylor scored on the next play to give Wisconsin the lead for good, 14-10 with 9:16 left in the third.
Safety Natrell Jamerson had a 36-yard interception return for a touchdown for a 31-10 lead with 9:54 left in the game, what initially looked like the final blow to Northwestern.
But the Wildcats came back. Wisconsin allowed two quick touchdowns before Dixon's safety finally finished off Northwestern.
Taylor, a freshman, finished with 80 yards on 19 carries. Dixon had a team-high 12 tackles and 1 sacks.
Hornibrook was 11 of 20. Thorson finished 29 of 45 for 219 yards and three touchdowns and two interceptions.
Northwestern: Things looked so good for the Wildcats at halftime, up 10-7 on a Wisconsin team having trouble holding on to the ball. Momentum changed in the third quarter. The offensive line couldn't pick up Wisconsin's pressures. The running game was bottled up in the third for minus-10 yards on seven carries. And the defense got burned by big plays. At least Northwestern mounted a late but futile comeback on the road, two games after a blowout defeat at Duke in Week 2.
Wisconsin: Coordinator Jim Leonhard spiced up his defense just in time for Big Ten play, throwing different stunts and looks at Northwestern to get to Thorson for three sacks in the pivotal third quarter. The secondary was active all afternoon, breaking up short timing patterns.
Northwestern: Hosts Penn State on Oct. 7.
Wisconsin: Visits Nebraska on Oct. 7.