In 2019, Quintez Cephus was easily Wisconsin’s biggest weapon in the passing game. His 59 catches were nearly double that of the next closest wide receiver and quarterback Jack Coan threw the ball his way 40 more times than any other player at the position. With Cephus now catching passes in the NFL, and AJ Taylor’s 23 receptions also gone, there is a huge opportunity for senior wide receivers Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis to show they are more than just role players.
“Now it’s our chance to make plays. Last year you could kind of see glimpses. One game it might be me, then one game it might be Danny,” Pryor said. “Just us having the opportunity to make plays and when our number is called we have to ready for that chance.”
Both have shown game-breaking ability, especially Pryor when he gets the ball in his hands. He caught 59 passes in his career, but he’s also become a weapon on the ground. The senior had 180 yards rushing last season and scored a pair of touchdowns. He’s actually got more touchdowns on the ground (5) than through the air (4) in his career. Davis had similar luck last year, rushing for 110 yards and a score.
“I think we can do both,” Davis said of rushing and receiving. “Just to show people we are more versatile than they think. We can run it, we can catch it, just be able to make plays.”
The last time the duo had the kind of opportunity they have this year is when Cephus missed the entire 2018 season. It didn’t go well for them or the team. Now they have their chance again.
“It’s time for people to see and realize that we can do more than that,” Pryor said. “We can be actual deep threats, top-notch receivers in this Big Ten conference.”
Picking up where Jack left off
It’s been 10 days since Coan went down with a broken foot, allowing redshirt freshman Graham Mertz to take over as the starting quarterback. It’s apparently been largely business as usual, according to Pryor.
“Obviously (Mertz) is still a little bit younger and has to gain some more experience, but that’s anybody who plays this game,” the senior said. “You’re going to get better once you get more experience, stepping on that field and getting more reps in a game. So far, everything Graham has done has been good. He’s just kind of picked up where Jack left off.”
The experience, or lack of in Mertz’s case, shows itself most often when deciding where to go with the ball on a particular play. Pryor said because of Coan’s 19 starts in college, he may make a different read than Mertz would. Pryor actually compared that inexperience with his own when pushed into a major role in 2017 when Cephus went down with a leg injury in early November.
“There’s definitely things I didn’t know or didn’t do then that I’m doing now because I’ve gotten older and experienced seeing things in the game,” Pryor said. “That’s the difference between the two.”
More praise for Chim
No new player has garnered more attention through fall camp than wide receiver Chimere Dike. Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph mentioned him first but in nearly every Zoom session since the Waukesha product has been on the lips of players and coaches. That was the case again Tuesday when wide receivers coach Alvis Whitted was asked about the depth chart at his position and whether Dike was included among the top five.
“Chim is doing an amazing job being a freshman and just going out and playing hard every play, taking it upon himself to study more,” Whitted said. “He’s going to be a really good football player in this program. Very high football IQ, goes about his business the right way and wants to get better. He has those intangibles that you want.”
True freshman receivers rarely make a big impact at Wisconsin. Davis is probably the most recent example of one doing so, catching 26 passes for 418 yards and five touchdowns in 2017. A year earlier Cephus and Taylor played a bunch of snaps but didn’t see the ball a lot. Before that, no true freshman had caught more than five passes since 2007. So how is 6-foot-1, 196-pound Dike making such a big impression?
“He’s making plays when his number is called and that’s really what all of this is about,” Pryor said. “You may not get that many opportunities, but when you do, you just have to be ready for it. He’s making plays when the ball is thrown to him.”
Davis going deep?
As a true freshman, Davis averaged 16.1 yards per catch. He was routinely targeted down the field and he often came up with an impressive grab. That number dropped to 10.4 in 2018 and down to 8.3 last season. But with Cephus and Taylor gone, could Davis start seeing his number called on deep plays again?
“Yeah, for sure. I feel like we need to keep the defense on their toes,” Davis said. “They’re going to be feeling the run, so we have to be able to take shots and connect on them. I can see that being the case and I hope for that.”
Graham Mertz to Danny Davis.
— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) October 8, 2020
Davis said his focus isn’t solely on improving his down the field routes, but also on the short and intermediate ones. Still, video of him catching a deep ball from Mertz last week in practice went viral and could be a sign of things to come.
“Yeah, it’ll be a big factor,” Davis said.