Wisconsin Spring Game: Defense 20, Offense 17

MADISON — In a spring game missing nearly every marquee player on Wisconsin’s roster, the defense prevailed over the offense 20-17 Friday night at Camp Randall Stadium.

Playing the game under the lights for the first time, a crowd of 8,095 were treated to a practice segment followed by an hour-long game with a running clock, played mostly by backups, including at quarterback where freshmen Jack Coan and Kare Lyles got all the snaps with sophomore Alex Hornibrook looking on.

The defense, which could rack up points through sacks, three-and-outs and forcing turnovers, held the offense out of the end zone until the final play from scrimmage, as Coan found tight end Zander Neuville for an 8-yard touchdown.

Though it was difficult to take much of anything from the game itself, it was the culmination of 15 practices, all of which were open to the media.

Here, then, are some of our thoughts on what we saw over the last month.

1) Backup quarterback is a concern

Wisconsin returns 15 starters from last year’s 11-3 squad that won the Big Ten West, and many are picking the Badgers to do it again. And while we’ll acknowledge it’s only April, the chances of them repeating would likely be derailed if there’s an injury at the quarterback spot.

Hornibrook had a solid spring and is the unquestioned leader of the offense. But not since Russell Wilson took every meaningful snap in 2011 has Wisconsin not needed their backup quarterback at some point.

Coan, who should still be a senior in high school right now, looked solid on Friday and generally outperformed Kare Lyles this spring, especially during the scrimmage portions. That bodes well for him, but it also came mostly against the second- and third-team defense. Both guys need to take a big jump this summer to be ready if Hornibrook were to go down.

2) Finding a left tackle

The offensive line has a chance to be as good as its been since 2014, but the Badgers need to solidify the left tackle spot vacated by All-American Ryan Ramczyk. Sophomore David Edwards, who started eight games at right tackle last year, moved to the left side this spring and was OK. An ankle injury sidelined him late, and it led the Badgers to move junior Michael Deiter into his spot. Deiter has started games at center and guard during his career, and coach Paul Chryst said it’s entirely possible he could add tackle to the list when the season starts.

“Whatever we have to do to get the best five on the field,” Chryst said of their mindset. “The more guys can do, play different spots, whether it be right side, left side, center, guard or tackle, it’s helpful.”

Depending on how the summer goes, it would not be a surprise to see Deiter at left tackle, with sophomore Jon Dietzen at left guard, highly regarded redshirt freshman Tyler Biadasz at center, junior Beau Benzschawel at right guard and Edwards back at right tackle, and then having experienced backups in juniors Micah Kapoi and Jake Maxwell, and up-and-coming freshmen Cole Van Lanen and Patrick Kasl.

3) The defensive line is stacked

No position group on the team has more experience than the defensive line where they return their top six players from last season and are even deeper this time around.

Redshirt freshman Isaiahh Loudermilk spent most of the spring in the offensive backfield, and sophomore Garrett Rand got a ton of reps and found a home at defensive end. Both guys are going to push seniors Alec James, Conor Sheehy and Chikwe Obasih for playing time this fall and be the face of the defensive line once those guys exhaust their eligibility.

4) Expectations haven’t changed on defense

Despite losing All-Big Ten players like T.J. Watt, Vince Biegel and Sojourn Shelton, along with Team MVP Leo Musso, the Wisconsin defense isn’t expecting any kind of drop off from what it accomplished last year, or for that matter, the last four seasons when the Badgers have become one of the elite units in the country.

“None of us are going to have that diminish on our watch,” senior linebacker Jack Cichy said of the defense’s almost unparalleled success in Wisconsin history. “I guess if you want to say it would tarnish our legacy, it would. But we don’t really think about it like that. We’re better than that. This program can’t have any fall off just because how far it has come. I just don’t think we as a defense would allow (it).”

Wisconsin came into the spring needing to find four new starters and it appears they have. Hawaii transfer Nick Nelson has stepped into Shelton’s cornerback spot, while senior Natrell Jamerson made the move from cornerback to safety and worked with the No. 1 unit all spring in the place occupied by Musso a year ago. Instead of Watt and Biegel at outside linebacker, it’s seniors Garrett Dooley and Leon Jacobs, both of whom had very good springs, while sophomore Zack Baun and junior college transfer Andrew Van Ginkel will see time as well.

As for other key spots, a battle for the third cornerback job will play itself out in fall camp with the favorites being redshirt freshman Dontye Carriere-Williams and senior Lubern Figaro. The Badgers also need to figure out how to best use their ridiculous depth at inside linebacker where Cichy and sophomore Chris Orr return from injuries to battle two-year starter T.J. Edwards and superb fill-in Ryan Connelly.

When everything is said and done, it’s possible that the 2017 defense could match or even surpass what the 2016 group did.

5) Just fine at running back

Wisconsin lost a lot of production with Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale moving on to the next phase of their careers, but it appears they won’t hurt for options to fill the void.

Sophomore Bradrick Shaw isn’t overly flashy, but his one cut and go style is perfect for the offense. Then you’ve got junior Chris James, who is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, and will be big in the passing game and on third down. Add in what the Badgers hope is a healthy Taiwan Deal this fall, along with incoming freshman Jonathan Taylor, and things are looking just fine in the backfield.

A somewhat informed guess at Wisconsin’s depth chart:

  First-team Second-team
OFFENSE
QB Alex Hornibrook (RS SO) Jack Coan (FR) OR Kare Lyles (RS FR)
RB Bradrick Shaw (RS SO) OR Chris James (JR) Taiwan Deal (JR)
FB Alec Ingold (JR) Austin Ramesh (SR)
WR Jazz Peavy (SR) A.J. Taylor (SO)
WR Quintez Cephus (SO) Kendric Pryor (SO) OR George Rushing (SR)
TE Troy Fumagalli (SR) Zander Neuville (JR)
TE Kyle Penniston (RS SO) Luke Benzschawel (RS FR)
LT David Edwards (RS SO) Cole Van Lanen (RS FR)
LG Jon Dietzen (RS SO) Micah Kapoi (JR)
C Michael Deiter (JR) Tyler Biadasz (RS FR)
RG Beau Benzschawel (JR) Micah Kapoi (JR)
RT Patrick Kasl (RS FR) OR Jake Maxwell (JR) David Moorman (RS SO)
 
DEFENSE
DE Chikwe Obasih (SR) OR Alec James (SR) Garrett Rand (SO)
NT Olive Sagapolu (JR) Billy Hirschfeld (JR)
DE Conor Sheehy (SR) Isaiahh Loudermilk (RS FR)
OLB Garrett Dooley (SR) Andrew Van Ginkel (JR)
ILB Jack Cichy (SR) Chris Orr (RS SO)
ILB T.J. Edwards (JR) Ryan Connelly (JR)
OLB Leon Jacobs (SR) Zack Baun (RS SO)
CB Derrick Tindal (SR) Lubern Figaro (SR)
S D’Cota Dixon (SR) Joe Ferguson (SR)
S Natrell Jamerson (SR) Patrick Johnson (SO)
CB Nick Nelson (JR) Dontye Carriere-Williams (RS FR)
     
Kicker Rafael Gaglianone (JR) Zach Hintze (RS SO)
Punter Anthony Lotti (SO) P.J. Rosowski (JR)

 

Final stats:

Wisconsin names Alex Hornibrook its starting quarterback for 2017

MADISON — Wisconsin has named its starting quarterback before spring practice even got underway.

In an article on the team’s website, coach Paul Chryst said that redshirt sophomore Alex Hornibrook is his starter heading into 2017.

“He is the guy,” Chryst told UWBadgers.com. “He knows it and he thinks it.”

As a redshirt freshman, Hornibrook started nine games while sharing time with senior Bart Houston. He threw for 1,262 yards, nine touchdowns and seven interceptions.

“Couldn’t be more excited about Alex,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said on National Signing Day. “What he was able to do in his redshirt freshman year is huge. You don’t see that. It’s uncommon.”

With Hornibrook installed as the starter, the battle for the backup job falls to redshirt freshman Kare Lyles and true freshman Jack Coan, who enrolled early.

“It’ll elevate that position and provide us depth going into the season. Real depth, not just someone who can go out there and line up,” Rudolph said of the competition. “Somebody with enough knowledge and the ability to learn this spring, go through some good and some bad, (and then) truly have a plan in the summer of how they better approach it to get themselves ready for fall camp. I think it will be really beneficial for us.”

Wisconsin opens spring practice on Tuesday morning. It’s the first of 15 sessions, culminating with the annual Spring Game on Friday, April 21.

Report: QB Malik Zaire to delay his transfer decision

MADISON — Alex Hornibrook may have competition for his starting job next fall, but we won’t know that until at least April. That’s after it was reported Wednesday that Malik Zaire has pushed off making a decision on where he will transfer for his final season.

According to Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated, the former Notre Dame quarterback will continue to train in Arizona for the next few months before picking a school. It had been reported that Zaire was choosing between North Carolina and Wisconsin. Many thought the left-handed quarterback was waiting to see if potential first-round pick Mitch Trubisky would declare for the NFL draft or return for his senior season with the Tar Heels. Trubisky told reporters earlier this month that he would wait until after the Sun Bowl to make his announcement.

Sampson said Wisconsin was the favorite to land Zaire, but it’s unclear what impact delaying his decision will have on the Badgers interest in the former 4-star recruit. Heading into next season, Wisconsin will have a sophomore in Hornibrook, a redshirt freshman in Kare Lyles and a true freshman in Jack Coan making up the quarterback room.

In limited action over three seasons at Notre Dame, Zaire threw for 816 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions, while also adding 324 yards rushing.

Lingering concerns from a head injury kept Alex Hornibrook out of the Big Ten title game

MADISON — Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook was unavailable to play in the Big Ten title game on Dec. 3 despite practicing the entire week leading up to the Badgers matchup with Penn State.

That was the word from the redshirt freshman yesterday when he spoke with reporters for the first time since before the regular-season finale against Minnesota on Nov. 26. Hornibrook, who started the final nine games of the season, was knocked out of the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe in the first half with a head injury.

“I was feeling good during the (Penn State) week in practicing,” Hornibrook said as the Badgers started preparing for their Cotton Bowl matchup with Western Michigan. “I think I wasn’t quite exactly how I usually was. Before the game, I was talking with coach (Chryst), and we decided that I wasn’t going to play.

“Coming off a concussion injury like that, the symptoms were kind of going away, but I was still a little slowed down and didn’t feel like myself.”

In his place, senior Bart Houston completed 16 of 21 passes for 174 yards in a game that saw the Badgers blow a 28-7 lead, and lose 38-31. Though quarterback wasn’t the overriding issue, that didn’t make it any easier for Hornibrook to stand on the sideline unable to contribute.

“That was terrible to have to watch and not help your guys out,” Hornibrook said. “But it was a smart decision for me.”

Hornibrook returned to practice earlier this week when the Badgers held their developmental sessions with young players and said he’s 100-percent.

Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph told reporters that he could see Wisconsin using both Hornibrook and Houston like they did for the final five games of the season, though he wouldn’t disclose who would get the start against the Broncos on Jan. 2 in the bowl game.

Chryst expects Hornibrook to be available vs Penn State

INDIANAPOLIS — Wisconsin football coach Paul Chryst told ESPN Saturday morning that quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s health was improving and he expects the redshirt freshman to be available in the Big Ten Championship game against Penn State.

“Each day this week he’s progressed, so I think he’ll be available to play,” Chryst said in Saturday’s interview. Hornibrook was initially listed on the injury report as questionable with a head injury.

Hornirbook’s head injury occurred in the first half of last Saturday’s regular season finale against Minnesota at Camp Randall. He was flushed out of the pocket towards the sidelines and hit as he threw the football away. After exposing himself to a legal hit by the sidelines, Hornibrook’s head slammed against the turf, leaving him motionless for a moment while medical staff checked on him. He was able to walk to the Badgers sidelines under his own power but did not play the remainder of that game.

Defensive lineman Conor Sheehy still remains questionable with a right arm injury, while offensive lineman Jacob Maxwell (right shoulder) is the only Wisconsin player ruled out for Saturday night’s contest.

B1G title game preview: No. 6 Wisconsin vs No. 7 Penn State

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers (10-2, 7-2) vs the No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions (10-2 8-1)

The time: 7:17 p.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Ind.

The TV coverage: Fox with Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt in the booth, and Shannon Spake on the sideline.

The last time: In the 2013 season finale, Penn State freshman Christian Hackenberg threw for 339 yards and four touchdowns, as the Nittany Lions ruined Wisconsin’s Senior Day 31-24.

The series: Wisconsin 9-8

The line: Wisconsin -2.5

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

QB Alex Hornibrook (head)

DL Conor Sheehy (arm)

OUT

OL Jake Maxwell (shoulder)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) Playing for a title and potentially more

Wisconsin and Penn State will play for a Big Ten title on Saturday night, but much more is potentially at stake for both teams. As it stands, the Badgers are at No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings, with the Nittany Lions just one spot behind them. Though the chances are low that either gets selected by the playoff committee, an impressive performance in Indianapolis could just sway some people.

2) Erasing bad memories

The number of impact players that remain from Wisconsin’s 2014 team are few and far between, but the ones that are still around remember with terror their last trip to Lucas Oil Stadium. Favored by 4.5 points against Ohio State and its third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, the Badgers got steamrolled 59-0 in that year’s Big Ten title game. Many players, including cornerback Sojourn Shelton, called it their lowest moment on a football field. Saturday night presents an opportunity to change how they’ll remember trips to Indianapolis.

3) Stopping the big play

No team in the Big Ten has accounted for more big plays on offense than Penn State. They lead the league in plays of 30 or more yards, 40 or more yards and 50 or more yards. The Badgers are well aware of the explosiveness, and have done a good job this year of limiting plays like that, giving up just eight plays of 40 or more yards — 10th fewest in the country.

What makes the Nittany Lions unique, though, is that quarterback Trace McSorely will throw into coverage to give his guys an opportunity to make a play on the ball. It’ll be paramount for the Badgers to win their share of those 50-50 balls, and perhaps even add to their nation-leading 21 interceptions.

4) Slowing Saquon

Slow Saquon Barkley and slow Penn State’s offense, right? Not exactly, but putting the clamps on the Big Ten offensive player of the year is among the higher priorities for the Wisconsin defense.

Barkley, who is dealing with a foot injury suffered last week against Michigan State, has had some monster games this year and also some real duds, including against the Spartans before he left. But he’s also the Nittany Lions best player and the Badgers need to make him a non-factor. To do that, they’ll need to be better against the read-option than they were last week. Minnesota gashed them early thanks to a lack of contain by the outside linebackers.

5) Two-quarterback system

Alex Hornibrook practiced all week after leaving the Minnesota game with a head injury, and is listed as questionable for the game. But even if he’s cleared to play, should he be under center to to start the game? Backup Bart Houston has been really good of late, leading touchdown drives on 10 of his 17 full possessions the last three games.

It seems unlikely that if Hornibrook is cleared to play that coach Paul Chryst will change anything, sticking with the redshirt freshman as his starter and Houston coming in on the third or fourth series, but it is something to watch.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Wisconsin will play in its fourth Big Ten title game since its inception in 2011. Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska and Penn State have a total of four appearances combined.

Over his last three games, quarterback Bart Houston has a passer rating of 195.7. Stretched out over an entire season, that rating would be the best in the country.

Wisconsin leads in the nation in interceptions with 21, which is more than the 18 they had the last two seasons combined.

The 2016 senior class has won 40 games during their time in Madison. One more win would make them the winningest class in Wisconsin history.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Penn State 21 (8-4 on the season)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 27, Penn State 17 (9-3 on the season)
Jake Zimmermann’s prediction: Wisconsin 28 , Penn State 17 (10-2 on the season)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 31 , Penn State 14 (9-3 on the season)
Eric Rogers’ prediction: Wisconsin 23, Penn State 14 (10-2 on the season)

 

Preview: No. 7 Wisconsin at Purdue

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 7 Wisconsin Badgers Akron Zips (8-2, 5-2) vs the Purdue Boilermakers (3-7, 1-6)

The time: 11 a.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Rose-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.

The TV coverage: ABC with Mike Patrick and Ed Cunningham on the call, with Dr. Jerry Punch on the sideline.

The last time: Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave threw for 322 yards, and running back Alec Ingold scored a pair of short touchdowns, as the Badgers beat Purdue 24-7 at Camp Randall Stadium last year.

The series: Wisconsin 46-29-8

The line: Wisconsin -28

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

FB Austin Ramesh (shoulder)

OUT

OLB Zack Baun (leg)

OL Jake Maxwell (shoulder)

NT Olive Sagapolu (arm)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) Keeping your foot on the pedal

Top teams continue to lose, the latest being No. 5 Louisville Thursday night at Houston. And while that’s good for Wisconsin’s chances of making the College Football Playoff, it’s also a reminder that any team can lose on any day, and the Badgers can’t think that just by showing up on Saturday they’ll come away with a victory. It’s going to be a fight.

“It’s not one of those things where we can lay back and think things are all finished out and good to go,” wide receiver Jazz Peavy said. “We got to make sure we keep winning games and keep preparing (to win them).”

2) Running game comes alive

Through five games, the Wisconsin running game was average at best, putting up just 160 yards per game. But in the five games since, the old dominant ground attack that the Badgers have been known for has come to life.

Following a 363-yard performance against Illinois last week, Wisconsin is now up to 198 yards per game. And a lot of credit has to go to an offensive line that has found some continuity, playing the same five guys in the last three games.

“It doesn’t just happen where you can run the football,” coach Paul Chryst said. “It’s a group that’s working. The ability to play with the same group has been helpful. They’re doing some good stuff, but we’ve still got work to do.”

Wisconsin will have the opportunity for another big day on the ground on Saturday, as Purdue comes in ranked 122nd in the nation in rushing defense, allowing an average of 248 yards per game.

3) Passing defense will be challenged

Purdue doesn’t do a lot of things well, but one area they have had success at times is in the passing game. The Boilermakers are averaging 309 yards per game through the air, tops in the Big Ten, and sophomore quarterback David Blough is first in passing yards, and second in the conference with 21 touchdowns.

But the Badgers pass defense has been among the better surprises this season. How the three new starters — cornerback Derrick Tindal, along with safeties Leo Musso and D’Cota Dixon — would fill-in was a big question. 10 games into the season and the answer is pretty darn well. Wisconsin is allowing 191 yards through the air — ranked 19th in the country — while also making quarterbacks pay for poor throws, picking off 14 passes, the third-best mark in the Big Ten.

4) Getting healthy

Wisconsin’s starting outside linebackers — Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt — have both battled injuries this season. A cracked bone in his right foot kept Biegel out of the Michigan and Ohio State games, while Watt has played through a myriad of ailments, including a shoulder injury that left him in agonizing pain at times. But both are starting to feel like themselves again, and that could mean trouble for opposing offenses.

“We can always be the guys to make a difference or make a play,” Watt said this week. “We can impact the run or the pass so much and in so many different ways. Whether it’s rushing the passer, knocking down passes or dropping in coverage.

“I think as we continue to get healthier, more and more comfortable and gaining more and more confidence, you may see (those big plays from us).”

5) Two quarterbacks again

For a fifth straight game, it’s expected the Badgers will use both of their quarterbacks — Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houston. Though it can’t be called a overwhelming success, Wisconsin has won all four games where they’ve implemented the time share and Chryst intends to stick with it.

They know they don’t have to carry the whole load,” Chryst said of one of the positives of the arrangement. “They know they’re going to be contributors. I like to think it helps.”

Wisconsin is averaging 151 yards passing in this four-game stretch, with four touchdowns and two interceptions. And Chryst believes that both quarterbacks are getting used to it, and says communication has been the key.

“We’re really transparent with them as far as the plan and what’s going on so there isn’t a lot of guessing what’s going to happen,” Chryst said. “They don’t need to worry about that.”

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Wisconsin has won the last 10 games in the series by an average of 23.2 points per game

The Badgers have given up just nine points in the first quarter of games this year, and are the only team in the country that hasn’t allowed a touchdown

Led by defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, the Badgers are allowing just 12.7 points per game, the third-best mark in the country and the fewest by a Wisconsin defense since 2006.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 45, Purdue 3 (6-4 on the season)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 38, Purdue 7 (7-3 on the season)
Jake Zimmermann’s prediction: Wisconsin 38, Purdue 3 (8-2 on the season)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 45, Purdue 13 (7-3 on the season)
Eric Rogers’ prediction: Wisconsin 38, Purdue 3 (8-2 on the season)

 

Wisconsin takes down Northwestern 21-7, wins in Evanston for the first time since 1999

EVANSTON, Ill. — Wisconsin’s defense played up to its standard and the offense did enough in a 21-7 victory — their first at Northwestern since 1999.

A first half largely dominated by Wisconsin ended with the Badgers leading just 10-7 thanks to a late Northwestern scoring drive.

The Wildcats had 91 yards of offense when they took the field at their own 13-yard line with 1:35 left. It took them just a minute to move 87 yards in eight plays, with quarterback Clayton Thorson finding Austin Carr for a 13-yard touchdown.

Following a 40-yard field goal in the third quarter by Andrew Endicott gave Wisconsin a 13-7 lead, Northwestern was driving once again as the fourth quarter began, making it all the way to Wisconsin’s 19-yard line. But the Wildcats were called for a hold on first down, and then on third-and-21 Thorson fumbled on a hit buy Conor Sheehy and the Badgers recovered.

That set up a 9-play, 45-yard touchdown drive by Wisconsin, finished off by Corey Clement with a 3-yard run. They converted the 2-point conversion to get a 14-point lead that proved insurmountable.

A year after being held to -26 yards rushing, the Badgers running game was productive on Saturday, rolling up 190 yards, led by Clement’s 106. Sophomore Bradrick Shaw added 54.

The game served as release of frustration for wide receiver Jazz Peavy. The junior thought he had the game-winning touchdown a year ago against Northwestern but it was overturned on replay. This time around he was a huge weapon, leading Wisconsin in receiving with four catches for 73 yards and added a beautiful 46-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. He ended up with 110 total yards.

The Wisconsin defense forced the one turnover and also had three fourth down stops, limiting Northwestern to 316 yards and just 5 of 18 on third down.

The win was Wisconsin’s third straight and leaves them 4-2 in Big Ten play with games against Illinois, Purdue and Minnesota still left on the schedule.

Preview: No. 8 Wisconsin at Northwestern

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 8 Wisconsin Badgers (6-2, 3-2) vs the Northwestern Wildcats (4-4, 3-2)

The time: 11 a.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Ryan Field, Evanston, Ill.

The TV coverage: ABC with Bob Wischusen and Brock Huard in the booth and Allison Williams on the sideline.

The last time: Wisconsin had three touchdowns taken off the board on replay reviews and lost 13-7 in Madison last year.

The series: Wisconsin 57-35-5

The line: Wisconsin -7

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

ILB Griffin Grady (shoulder)

CB Natrell Jamerson (leg)

OUT

RT Jacob Maxwell (shoulder)

FB Austin Ramesh (shoulder)

NT Olive Sagapolu (arm)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) Gauntlet not done

Before the season, everyone talked about the gauntlet that Wisconsin would face to open Big Ten play, a stretch of five games that ended up being against four teams ranked in the top 10 of the AP Top 25. Most thought if they could get through that, it would be clear sailing the rest of the way. But that hasn’t turned out to be the case. Not with Northwestern playing its best football of the season as they welcome the Badgers to town. And UW’s players know it.

“I think it is easy to buy into what people might be saying on the outside as far as getting through the gauntlet and this being the easy part of the schedule,” cornerback Sojourn Shelton said. “No part of playing in college football games are easy. We see it week-in and week-out of top-ranked teams playing a team they should beat and somehow, someway that team loses.”

2) Two-quarterback system

For a third week in a row, the Badgers are expected to play both of their quarterbacks — starter Alex Hornibrook and backup Bart Houston. How the playing time will break down for either guy is unclear, even for them.

“Never do,” Houston said when asked if he knew how many snaps he’d get. “Could be zero, could be all of them, could be half of them. I don’t know. We’ll find out on game day.”

What is clear, though, is both need to do a better job of holding onto the ball. Each had fourth quarter interceptions against Nebraska that could have cost Wisconsin the game. And for the season, the Badgers are -1 in turnover margin thanks in part to the 10 interceptions thrown by Hornibrook (7) and Houston (3).

3) Slowing Austin Carr

The Northwestern passing game has come alive in recent weeks, with quarterback Clayton Thorson finding a rhythm, throwing 10 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions in the month of October, a stretch where the Wildcats won three of the four games they played. And the sophomore signal caller has been locked in on his standout receiver Austin Carr.

A former walk-on, Carr is averaging 109 yards receiving per game, including a season-high 158 against Ohio State last week. Wisconsin figures to key on the California native, and don’t be surprised to see junior Derrick Tindal mirror him wherever he goes.

4) Justin Jackson — Badgers killer

Northwestern running back Justin Jackson has dominated Wisconsin in his first two college seasons. In 2014, he ran for a season-high 162 yards in a 20-14 upset by the Wildcats. Then last year, in a 13-7 win for Northwestern, Jackson rumbled for 139 yards and a touchdown.

Only one running back, LSU’s Leonard Fournette, has topped the 100-yard mark this year against the Badgers, and over the last three years it’s happened just eight times, with Jackson owning two of those. In games where the opposing team has a back over the century mark, Wisconsin is just 2-6.

Far from flashy, Jackson is hard-nosed runner who becomes more difficult to stop as his carries pile up. Wisconsin can’t allow him to get going early.

5) Mystery of Ryan Field

Far from the toughest environment to play in, Ryan Field has still been a house of horrors for Wisconsin. The Badgers haven’t won at the smallest stadium in the Big Ten since 1999, losing their four games by an average of less than a touchdown.

“I was five years old. I’m about to turn 22 on Christmas. That’s a long time ago,” cornerback Sojourn Shelton said of the gap between wins for the Badgers. “It just makes this game so much sweeter. Our goal is to go in there and get a “W”. When Saturday rolls around we’ll be amped up and trying to break that.”

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

  • Wisconsin has won at every other Big Ten stadium at least once since last getting a victory at Northwestern.
  • Freshman running back Bradrick Shaw has carried the ball four times in the last three games. All four of those runs have resulted in first downs (3) or touchdowns (1).
  • Over the last two seasons, Wisconsin quarterbacks have thrown just as many touchdowns (23) as they have interceptions.
  • Wisconsin running back Corey Clement is averaging 99.9 yards per game this season, and is on pace to rush for 1,198 yards, which would be his first 1,000-yard season in college.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 21, Northwestern 20 (4-4 on the season)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 21, Northwestern 14 (5-3 on the season)
Jake Zimmermann’s prediction: Wisconsin 21, Northwestern 17 (6-2 on the season)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Northwestern 16 (5-3 on the season)
Eric Rogers’ prediction: Wisconsin 16, Northwestern 14 (6-2 on the season)

 

Hornibrook still the starter, Shelton responds to those saying he got beat and an injury update

MADISON | Despite not being under center during Wisconsin’s final three drives of regulation, or its only possession in overtime, Alex Hornibrook remains the Badgers starting quarterback with Bart Houston as the backup.

Asked Monday whether the redshirt freshman would get the nod this week against Northwestern, coach Paul Chryst said, “Yup,” and didn’t expound on his answer.

Two weeks ago, the job appeared to be Hornibrook’s and his alone. He started all five of Wisconsin’s Big Ten games, but against Iowa on Oct. 22 Chryst decided to give Houston two series and followed that up with the senior getting six of the Badgers’ 14 series against Nebraska, including the final four of the game.

“No, there’s never a plan,” Houston said after the game on whether he knew how much he’d be playing going in. “It’s kind of how our coaching staff goes. No plan. It’s just whatever happens, happens.”

The two quarterbacks combined to throw for just 114 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions on the night, and for the season, the duo has thrown more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9).

Shelton wasn’t beat

In the wake of Saturday night’s game, many said that safety D’Cota Dixon bailed cornerback Sojourn Shelton out on the final play of the game by knocking the ball away from Nebraska wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. And while part of that is true — he did keep Morgan from catching it — the idea that Shelton was burned on the play is inaccurate.
Shelton tweet

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nebraska faced a fourth-and-8 at the Wisconsin 25-yard line, knowing they needed a first down or a touchdown to keep the game going. On Monday, Shelton described what his responsibilities were on the play.

“We were in 2-man,” Shelton said of the call, which has corners undercutting routes and more aggressive because they know they have safety help behind them. “In my mind, I’m thinking they’re trying to get to the (first down) sticks and get another set of downs. (Morgan) ran a double move, and I bit on it knowing D’Cota was over the top (to help).”

Dixon was right where Shelton expected him to be, and he took care of his end of things. Shelton said for those that still don’t understand what his responsibilities were on the play, the internet is a great resource.

“If anybody doesn’t know what 2-man is, Google does explain what 2-man coverage is,” Shelton said with a laugh.

Injury update

Only one player has already been ruled out for Wisconsin’s game at Northwestern with that being nose tackle Olive Sagapolu, who has missed the last two contests with an arm injury suffered against Ohio State.

“No specific timetable,” Chryst said when the sophomore might return. “We knew when he first got (hurt) it was going to be a little bit of time. We’ll just see how it goes.”

Rest of the injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

ILB Griffin Grady (shoulder)
CB Natrell Jamerson (leg)
OL Jake Maxwell (shoulder)
FB Austin Ramesh (shoulder)
OLB T.J. Watt (shoulder)