Same old plan for Wisconsin, same old result

MADISON – For Wisconsin, everything is about blocking out noise from the outside and sticking to their plan. While it has many twists, and turns along the way, the plan hasn’t failed the Badgers to this point, and it didn’t Saturday when the Michigan Wolverines visited Camp Randall, either.

The Badgers have been a team that hasn’t always looked superior to their opponents, even though they have been the better team each and every week on the field. They’ve dealt with slow starts and costly turnovers but found a way to overcome them with strong second halves and outstanding defense.

That’s exactly what they did against Michigan. The Wolverines came in and thoroughly outplayed Wisconsin in the first half. They had 169 yards in the first half compared to only 99 for Wisconsin. The Wolverines fell victim to either bad luck, or carelessness with the football, depending on your viewpoint.

In the second quarter, Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters threw a fade to wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones in the left corner of the north end zone on second down. The play was called incomplete on the field. Moments later, the replay booth signaled down for a second look at the play. Upon further review, the call was upheld, forcing Michigan to try things again on third-and-goal from the five. Whether or not the replay officials got the call correct is subject for debate.

On the next play, Peters scrambled to his left, tucked the ball and attempted to reach the end zone himself. Wisconsin linebacker Leon Jacobs not only made sure that Peters wasn’t going to reach the end zone, but that Michigan had blown their chance at putting points on the board. He knocked the ball out of the signal-callers’ hands, and defensive back Derrick Tindal fell on the ball at Wisconsin’s own one-yard-line.

To that point, Wisconsin had been unable to generate any offensive momentum, and Michigan had just moved the 35 yards down the field on three plays.

Michigan was able to continue their momentum on the next drive offensively with a seven-play, 84-yard touchdown drive after they forced Wisconsin to punt thanks to a replay going in their favor after a Danny Davis catch on third-and-14 was overturned.

After that touchdown, Wisconsin was content to go in to halftime with a 7-7 tie. After the break, they looked like an entirely different team. This has been the recipe for the Badgers all season. Stay afloat in the first half, and dominate in the second half.

“I just think it’s starting to get a better feel for your opponent, I think that’s part of it,” offensive lineman Michael Deiter said after the win. “I think we just gain confidence as games go on. You get a better feel for what the team you’re going against is doing defensively. I think we’re doing a good job of gaining confidence as the game goes by.”

The kicker against Michigan was that they weren’t dominant from the start of the third quarter. Wisconsin opened up with back-to-back three-and-outs. On the third possession of the half quarterback Alex Hornibrook fired a pass across the middle of the field that was picked off by Michigan’s Devin Bush deep inside of Wisconsin territory.

Wisconsin has played eight Big Ten games and there have been two constants about them, they have won them all, and Hornibrook has thrown at least one interception in each of them. This was the first bad mistake he made on the day, and it came at a critical time.

Luckily for the Badgers, their defense continued to do what they have done all season, stand up in a tough situation. After Michigan took over at Wisconsin’s 29-yard-line, they were only able to gain eight yards before kicker Quinn Nordin nailed a 39-yard field goal.

While it wasn’t the ideal scenario, it went down as a win for the Badgers. It was at that moment the momentum seemed to flip, and things clicked for Hornibrook.

“I was really proud of the stop that the defense made,” head coach Paul Chryst said after the game.

When Wisconsin got the ball back, they trailed 10-7. This was their first deficit in the second half of a game since trailing Northwestern 10-7 to start the third quarter in their Big Ten opener, on September 30.

That lead for the Wolverines lasted for a whopping 3:05 on the game clock. Hornibrook masterfully constructed a seven-play, 77-yard touchdown drive that culminated on a 24-yard touchdown to A.J. Taylor. Throughout the drive Hornibrook made throws he hadn’t previously on the day, including a 51-yard bomb to Taylor on third-and-13.

“We’re resilient, for two-and-a-half quarters it wasn’t going our way,” Deiter said. “We were stalled and we weren’t doing a whole lot but I just think we kept battling and made plays go later in the game.”

Those were moments Hornibrook needed to step up, and he did. He continued the momentum from that drive when Wisconsin got the ball back after forcing another three-and-out. The Badgers went 61 yards over five plays and scored again on a Kendric Pryor 32-yard end around to grasp control of the game and led 21-10.

“Quarterbacks they have the most pressure on the team,” Pryor said about Hornibrook. “They get praised when they’re good and anytime they do something wrong, they’re always the first ones to get blamed when something goes wrong. With him, just forgetting he threw the interception. So what, he forgot about it, came back and made those big time passes down the field. It’s great when your quarterback can do that because we all just trust in him. Trust what he sees and we just play off of him.”

Wisconsin’s defense continued to turn up the heat, only allowing one first down by Michigan’s offense the rest of the afternoon. The Wolverines gained 23 yards of offense in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. A true testament to Wisconsin’s defense.

After taking the lead, Wisconsin never turned back, and they haven’t all season.

Preview: (5) Wisconsin vs (24) Michigan

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 5 Wisconsin Badgers (10-0, 7-0) vs the No. 24 Michigan Wolverines (8-2, 5-2)

The time: 11 a.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.

The TV coverage: FOX with Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt in the booth, and Jenny Taft on the sideline.

The last time: Michigan’s defense smothered Wisconsin and the Wolverines did just enough on offense to get a 14-7 win last October.

The series: Michigan leads 50-14-2

The line: Wisconsin -7

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

S D’Cota Dixon (leg)
C Tyler Biadasz (leg)

OUT

Game:

TE Luke Benzschawel (leg)
LB Chris Orr (leg)

Season:

WR Quintez Cephus (leg)
S Patrick Johnson (arm)
RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
LB Jack Cichy (knee)
LB Zack Baun (foot)
RB Sam Brodner (knee)
LB Mason Stokke (leg)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) Keeping that dream alive

Wisconsin has already made history with its first ever 10-0 start, but the Badgers have much bigger goals in their sights. And the only way to achieve those is to find a way to beat Michigan. A win would give them another marquee victory to add to their College Football Playoff resume and legitimize them in the eyes of those that believe their success to this point is simply a result of a less than impressive schedule.

2) Taking care of the rock

Turnovers and winning are rare bedfellows, but they have been for Wisconsin this year. Only Illinois has coughed up the ball more in the Big Ten than the Badgers, and yet they’ve found ways to overcome, largely because of a defense that has been remarkable in “sudden” change situations. But it’s not a sustainable formula, meaning quarterback Alex Hornibrook (12 interceptions) and running back Jonathan Taylor (four lost fumbles) need to be more vigilant with the ball if Wisconsin is to stay perfect.

3) Force him to beat you

Michigan has caught fire since getting whipped by Penn State last month, winning its last three games by an average of 23 points. Much of that success was the result of a strong running game that put up more than 300 yards again Rutgers and Minnesota. That’s allowed quarterback Brandon Peters to be a game manager instead of having to win games with his arm. But Wisconsin stops the run better than any team in the country, and defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard said this week they have to make Michigan one-dimensional and see if the redshirt freshman making his third career start can beat them.

4) We meet again

Wisconsin’s offensive line got whipped the last time these two teams saw each other in October 2016. The Wolverines limited the Badgers to just 2.5 yards per carry and harassed Hornibrook into three interceptions. More than a year later, that Michigan defensive line is still just as a good, but it will see an offensive line that has grown immensely since then. Wisconsin has the second-best rushing attack in the Big Ten and topped 200 yards in every game but two this season. If the Badgers offense is to have success, they’ll need to neutralize Michigan’s talented front.

5) The atmosphere

When Camp Randall Stadium is full and rocking, it can be as tough a place as any in the country for the visiting team. That’s unlikely to be the case on Saturday, at least initially. The normally late arriving student section, combined with an 11 a.m. start and ESPN’s College GameDay broadcasting from the other side of campus, will surely lead to plenty of empty seats to start the game. The crowd should be a huge advantage for Wisconsin, but it may not be that way until sometime later in the first half.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Wisconsin will honor 13 seniors who will be playing their final games at Camp Randall Stadium. The class is already the winningest in school history with 42 victories.

Alex Hornibrook’s passing efficiency mark of 155.6 is the best by a Wisconsin quarterback since Russell Wilson in 2011.

Wisconsin’s defense is allowing just 247.6 yards per game, tops in the country and the best mark since Alabama gave up an average of 183.6 yards during the 2011 season.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 21, Michigan 17 (10-0 on the season, 7-3 against the spread)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Michigan 17 (10-0 on the season, 6-4 against the spread)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 21, Michigan 9 (10-0 on the season, 6-4 against the spread)

No. 5 Wisconsin vs No. 24 Michigan preview

MADISON — Every week for Wisconsin the games begin getting bigger. Last week, they faced a ranked team for the first time all season. The result was a 38-14 throttling of the visiting No. 20 Iowa Hawkeyes.

That win vaulted the Badgers up three spots to No. 5 in the most recent College Football Playoff Rankings. Iowa was knocked out of the rankings after their loss, but that opened up the door for this week’s opponent, Michigan, to come in at No. 24.

Wisconsin enters the matchup with a 10-0 (7-0 Big Ten) record, their best start to a season in program history. Michigan comes in at 8-2 (5-2) with losses to Michigan State and Penn State this season.

Battle of strengths:
Both of these teams do the same things well. Wisconsin and Michigan follow the same winning formula. Play outstanding defense and run the ball effectively.

The Badgers and Wolverines both are in the top four in fewest yards allowed per play in the country. Wisconsin is second at 4.1 yards per play, and Michigan is fourth at 4.3 yards per play. Both teams also follow the old-school Big Ten saying of ‘three yards and a cloud of dust’ when it comes to the opponents rushing attack. Wisconsin allows 2.8 yards per carry, good enough for fourth in the country. Michigan is 14th in that category, allowing 3.3 yards per carry.

On the opposite side of the ball, both squads average over 200 yards per game on the ground. Wisconsin is led by freshman running back Jonathan Taylor who has had five games of over 150 yards this season.

Michigan has employed a couple of different running backs at times this season. Karan Higdon, Chris Evans, and Ty Isaac are all over the 500-yard mark for the year. Isaac has missed the past two games for Michigan and is listed as questionable for the matchup with the Badgers. That trio all averages 5.5 yards per carry or better. Higdon has been the most productive of the three, with 854 yards and 10 touchdowns on 129 carries. Higdon and Evans recently were named Big Ten Co-Offensive Players of the Week for the team’s week 10 win over Minnesota where the two combined for 391 rushing yards and four scores on 29 carries.

For Wisconsin, they’ve leaned on Taylor’s production all season long. He currently leads the Big Ten in rushing with 1,525 yards and 12 touchdowns.

How the game will be won:
While the teams have very similar formulas, each has done something better than the other. As of late the biggest difference has been that Michigan has taken care of the ball better than the Badgers have. Sophomore quarterback Brandon Peters has started each of the last three games for Michigan. He hasn’t been tasked with leading his team to victory through the air, but rather been asked to not make mistakes and complete play action passes when called upon. He has thrown for only 325 yards in his three starts on 27-of-45 passing, but he’s yet to throw an interception while tossing five touchdowns.

Wisconsin’s biggest issue as a team has been taking care of the football. Last week against Iowa they were able to overcome four turnovers thanks to an excellent defensive performance. Teams cannot consistently hand over the football and expect to win the way Wisconsin did last week. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook has thrown at least one interception in each of Wisconsin’s seven Big Ten games this season. If there was ever a week where the Badgers would like him to be better about taking care of the ball, it’s this one.

Weather:
Kickoff at Camp Randall is predicted to be 38 degrees with a 45% chance of precipitation. The temperature is supposed to remain the same all afternoon long, however the chance of precipitation decreases as the day goes on.

How to watch:
The game will be televised nationally on FOX. Kickoff is at 11am and coverage begins at 10:30am. Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Joel Klatt (color), and Jenny Taft (sideline) are on the call.

Prediction:
This game looks like an old-fashioned Big Ten football game that warms the hearts of the old-school fan. Strong defense and running game keeps the game under four hours and Wisconsin continues their perfect season with a 17-14 win after trailing in the fourth quarter for the first time this season.

Wisconsin 45, Indiana 17: 2-minute drill

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The Wisconsin defense forced three turnovers and fullback Alec Ingold scored three touchdowns as the Badgers beat Indiana 45-17 to move to 9-0 for the first time since 2004.

Play of the Game

Wisconsin trailed 10-7 midway through the second quarter when outside linebacker Tyler Johnson ripped the ball free from Morgan Ellison just before he hit the turf. Though officials initially said Ellison was down — and the whistle blew — a mad scramble for the ball ensued and the Badgers recovered. It then went to replay and officials determined it was indeed a fumble, giving Wisconsin the ball deep in Indiana territory. Two plays later, the Badgers took a lead they would not relinquish.

Game Balls

Offense: Jonathan Taylor

After missing nearly three quarters against Illinois with a leg injury, the freshman running back was a force against Indiana. He took his first carry for 45 yards and finished the day with 183 — his sixth game of at least 100 yards this season. Taylor showed great vision on his touchdown, taking a jet sweep, cutting up and then out to get free. Wisconsin’s offense is a different animal when he’s on the field, even if he wasn’t necessarily 100 percent.

Defense: Joe Ferguson

Subbing in for an injured D’Cota Dixon, the senior safety was involved in all three of Wisconsin’s takeaways. He recovered the pivotal fumble that led to a touchdown, and then had a pair of second-half interceptions that led to touchdowns. According to UW, Ferguson has been involved in six of Wisconsin’s 19 takeaways this season.

Dixon has been very good and the Badgers are better with him on the field, but Ferguson has been a nice fill-in when needed, including on Saturday.

Special Teams: Wisconsin’s punting unit

The duo of Connor Allen and Anthony Lotti combined to punt four times and none were returned. They also dropped two of them inside the 20-yard line, forcing the Hoosiers to start deep in their own territory.

In their own words
Wisconsin fullback Alec Ingold talks about his three touchdown day.

In Case You Missed It

— Wisconsin was hit hard by injuries on Saturday. The Badgers lost linebacker Chris Orr to a leg injury in the first quarter, safety D’Cota Dixon to a leg injury in the second quarter and then wide receiver Quintez Cephus also to a leg injury in the third quarter.

— Wide receiver Danny Davis returned to the field after missing the past two games with a leg injury. He finished with one catch for 10 yards.

— When Indiana went up 7-0 in the first quarter, it was the first time since the Big Ten opener that Wisconsin had trailed.

Inside the Numbers

15 — That’s the number of games Wisconsin has won in a row with Alex Hornibrook under center.

18 — That’s the number of pass break-ups cornerback Nick Nelson has this season, just one short of the school record.

14 — That’s the number of touchdowns Alec Ingold has in his career after scoring three on Saturday. He’s averaging a touchdown every six times he touches the ball.

10-0 — That would be Wisconsin’s record if it beats Iowa next Saturday. The Badgers have never been 10-0.

What’s Next

Wisconsin (9-0, 6-0) will welcome Iowa to Camp Randall Stadium next Saturday. The home team hasn’t won in the series since 2008.

Preview: (9) Wisconsin at Indiana

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers (8-0, 5-0) vs the Indiana Hoosiers (3-5, 0-5)

The time: 11 a.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Ind.

The TV coverage: ABC with Dave Pasch and Greg McElroy in the booth, and Tom Luginbill on the sideline.

The last time: Wisconsin ran for 554 yards, including 205 from James White, in a 51-3 win in 2013.

The series: Wisconsin leads 40-18-2

The line: Wisconsin -13.5

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

WR Quintez Cephus (head)
CB Madison Cone (leg)
S D’Cota Dixon (leg)
RB Chris James (leg)
RB Jonathan Taylor (leg)

OUT

Game:

TE Luke Benzschawel (leg)
DE Isaiahh Loudermilk (leg)
WR Jazz Peavy (leg)
FB Austin Ramesh (head)
WR George Rushing (leg)

Season:

S Patrick Johnson (arm)
RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
LB Jack Cichy (knee)
LB Zack Baun (foot)
RB Sam Brodner (knee)
LB Mason Stokke (leg)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) Make a statement

No one expected Wisconsin to be among the top four teams in the first College Football Playoff rankings, but it was still surprising to see one of the four remaining unbeaten Power 5 teams at No. 9. Obviously, a lot of that has to do with a lackluster schedule and there is nothing Wisconsin can do about it. What the Badgers do have control over, though, is how they play against the lesser teams on their schedule. And unlike No. 2 Alabama, whose schedule is just as bad as Wisconsin’s, they haven’t dominated that opposition. That needs to change starting Saturday so the Badgers can, at the very least, start passing the eye test for the selection committee.

2) Injuries pile up

At a time Wisconsin was hoping to be hitting its stride entering the final month of the season, the Badgers are instead trying to navigate through several key injuries. The headliner is running back Jonathan Taylor, who is battling an ankle injury that cut his day short against Illinois last week after 12 carries. He practiced some this week, but he remains questionable. Same goes for wide receiver Quintez Cephus, who was in a no-contact jersey as late as Wednesday with a head injury. Those two guys have accounted for half of the 32 touchdowns the Badgers have scored on offense this year. Missing one or both against Indiana would be less than ideal to say the least.

3) Speed it up

It feels like Wisconsin has faced up-tempo offenses nearly every week this season, but Indiana will be the fastest the Badgers have seen. The Hoosiers average 81.4 plays per game, the No. 6 mark in the country. All those plays are designed to not only stress a defense physically, but also mentally. The key will be communication, so getting safety D’Cota Dixon (leg) back in the lineup would be a nice boost.

4) Is this who Alex Hornibrook is?

When Wisconsin began Big Ten play in late September, it did so with a quarterback in Alex Hornibrook that had thrown eight touchdowns and just one interception during non-conference action. Now five games into the conference season, the sophomore has thrown just five touchdowns while tossing seven interceptions, including at least one in each conference game. His propensity to turn the ball over is the biggest concern facing the team. Is this who he is? Or is it something he can get figured out in the final quarter of the regular season?

5) Road success

Under Paul Chryst, the Badgers have excelled in true road games. Wisconsin is 11-1 since he arrived in 2015 with the lone loss coming last year at Michigan. Indiana presents a different kind of challenge, one the Badgers saw last week at Illinois — a lack of environment. As opposed to playing in front of 78,000 at Camp Randall Stadium, the much-less-than-capacity crowd expected at Memorial Stadium means the Badgers have to bring their own energy and not fall into the trap that catches so many teams in stale environments. They overcame it last week and will need to again.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Wisconsin has won its last nine games against Indiana by an average of 36.8 points per game — the largest margin between Power 5 teams since 2005.

The Badgers have had eight different players run for at least 100 yards against Indiana over the last night games: Brian Calhoun, P.J. Hill, David Gilreath, John Clay, Montee Ball, James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement

Wisconsin cornerback Nick Nelson has 14 pass break-ups so far this season, tied for the second-most in the country. The junior is still looking for his first interception.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Indiana 13 (8-0 on the season, 5-3 against the spread)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 28, Indiana 10 (8-0 on the season, 4-4 against the spread)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 31, Indiana 7 (8-0 on the season, 4-4 against the spread)

Grades for Wisconsin at the quarter pole of the season

These types of articles are normally reserved for the middle of the season when you’ve likely got six or more games to judge a team on. But with Wisconsin’s bye coming after just three weeks — and no other break in the action until the first or second week of December — we decided to undertake an effort to grade what we’ve seen so far in a 3-0 start for the Badgers. Is it fair to do so with such a small sample size? Probably not. But here we go.

Quarterback: B+

Save for a rough outing late in the second quarter and most of the second half against Florida Atlantic, Alex Hornibrook has been fantastic in his second year as a starter. After throwing nine touchdowns all of last year, the sophomore has thrown eight already and is on pace to break Russell Wilson’s single-season school record of 33. And perhaps even more importantly, he’s got just one interception.

The competition will certainly pick up in Big Ten play, but Hornibrook looks like the quarterback many envisioned coming into the year.

Running back: A-

If we were grading this based on Jonathan Taylor alone, it would have easily been an A+. The New Jersey native has been terrific in averaging 146 yards per game — tops for any freshman in the country. He’s still learning and isn’t perfect, but his blend of power, speed and balance make him a terror for defenses.

The rest of the running back group has been up and down. Junior Chris James was anxious and struggled in his debut against Utah State, before bouncing back with a 100-yard outing in a win over Florida Atlantic. Sophomore Bradrick Shaw looked solid as the starter in the opener, but an injury kept him out in Week 2, and it seems unlikely he’ll get his job back this season considering what Taylor has done.

The freshman is the lead dog here and is the reason for such a high grade.

Wide receiver: B

All of the wide receivers have taken a significant leap from a year ago, especially Quintez Cephus. The sophomore already has three touchdowns and has become Wisconsin’s No. 1 option on the outside.

A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis and Jazz Peavy have all been involved and looked solid, but the overall grade suffers due to the drops in the first two weeks. Still, this group has the makings of being the deepest Wisconsin has had in recent memory. Their final grade figures to be much higher.

Tight ends: A-

Troy Fumagalli was outstanding in the first two games, gaining nearly 100 yards each week. He caught his third touchdown of the year against BYU in what was an otherwise quiet game for the preseason All-American. The senior has also been part of a strong rushing attack that is currently second in the Big Ten.

Outside of junior Zander Neuville’s impressive touchdown catch against Utah State, he and sophomore Kyle Penniston have not really been heavily involved in the passing game, combining for five catches through three games. They, like Fumagalli, still play a vital role in the run game.

LISTEN: The latest edition of our Wisconsin podcast ‘The Camp’

Offensive line: B

The numbers would suggest Wisconsin has been off the charts good along the line, as the Badgers rank 14th in the country in rushing at 275 yards per game and are giving up about one sack per game. But while they’ve been pretty good, in only one game — against BYU — were they the dominating unit many thought they would be. While the game was still in doubt, they opened huge running holes and allowed Hornibrook to have all day to pass. If they can get that kind of effort on a week-to-week basis, their end of the of season grade will jump significantly.

Defensive line: B+

Wisconsin’s defense isn’t designed for the linemen to have big numbers, and that has certainly played out for the group in the first three games as they’ve combined for just one tackle for loss. But they’ve played a role in helping the Badgers limit opponents to 90.6 yards per game on the ground, good enough for 15th in the nation.

They’ve done it largely without senior Chikwe Obasih (knee), who remains sidelined indefinitely . While it’s been a challenge without him, redshirt freshman Isaiahh Loudermilk has filled in nicely behind senior starters Alec James and Conor Sheehy.

Linebackers: A-

Teams have been able to run the ball early in games against Wisconsin, but that’s been more about scheme than anything physical. Once they’ve had a chance to digest what they’re seeing, it’s been lights out for opposing offenses.

At inside linebacker, sophomore Chris Orr leads the team in tackles coming off a missed season with a torn ACL, while junior T.J. Edwards has continued to evolve as a playmaker, coming up with three tackles for loss and two interceptions. Junior Ryan Connelly has been solid, too.

On the outside, senior Leon Jacobs leads Wisconsin with four tackles for loss, senior Garret Dooley has been solid on the edge, and junior Andrew Van Ginkel has proven to be the pass rusher the Badgers needed with his two sacks.

Secondary: B

Wisconsin has been up in its games, so the passing numbers for the opposition aren’t great indicators of how well the secondary is playing — and they are playing well. The only concern here is the issues they had in communication in the first two games, including on a play that resulted in a long touchdown for Florida Atlantic. But none of those things showed up against BYU, and it’s possible they just needed time to adjust with several new faces seeing the field for the first time.

Special teams: B+

The Badgers have been solid here, with kicker Rafael Gaglianone going 3 of 4 on field goals, while Anthony Lotti has dropped four of his 10 punts inside the 20-yard line. With kickoffs split between Zach Hintze and P.J. Rosowski, Wisconsin is allowing opponents to start — on average — at their own 22-yard line.

The return units with Nick Nelson and Taylor, especially the latter on kickoff, have been one or two blocks away from taking one back for a score.

Overall: A-

After an uneven first two weeks, Wisconsin showed against BYU what it can be and what many believe it will be. That’s reflected in the overall grade, as we add in the promise shown and the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately factor.

Wisconsin QB Alex Hornibrook earns B1G honor

MADISON — As expected, Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook earned his first career Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors on Monday.

The sophomore picked up the award after going 18 of 19 for 256 yards and four touchdowns in the Badgers’ 40-6 whipping of BYU. Hornibrook set the school record for completion percentage (94.7 percent) in a single game, while also setting career highs in yards, touchdowns and pass efficiency rating.

The lone incompletion on the day came on a dropped pass and Hornibrook has now topped 200 yards in each of his first three games this year after doing it just once in nine starts a year ago.

Hornibrook becomes the second Wisconsin player to earn the award this year, joining freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, who ran for 225 yards against Florida Atlantic last week.

Wisconsin is off this week. The 9th-ranked Badgers will return to the field Sept. 30 when they open Big Ten play against Northwestern.

Preview: (9) Wisconsin vs Florida Atlantic

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers (1-0) vs the Florida Atlantic Owls (0-1)

The time: 11 a.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.

The TV coverage: BTN with Kevin Kugler and Matt Millen in the booth, and Lisa Byington on the sideline.

The last time: This is the first ever meeting between the two schools

The series: N/A

The line: Wisconsin -33

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

RB Bradrick Shaw (leg)

OUT

Game:

RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
DE Chikwe Obasih (knee)
WR Kendric Pryor (face)
WR George Rushing (leg)
FB Jake Whalen (head)

Season:

LB Jack Cichy (knee)
LB Zack Baun (foot)
RB Sam Brodner (knee)
LB Mason Stokke (leg)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) A one-time thing or a pattern?

After the way Wisconsin stumbled through much of the first half against Utah State in its opener, the Badgers need to show that it was a one-time thing and not something that will haunt them all year. If forced to choose what we might see on Saturday, we’d say it wasn’t something fans should worry about. But the anxiety will grow significantly if they struggle early against a Florida Atlantic team that Navy beat by 23 points last week.

2) See some improvement

Coach Paul Chryst doesn’t put much stock in the notion of team’s make their biggest jumps from the first game to the second, but he’s certainly looking for significant improvement in a number of areas, perhaps most notably when it comes to penalties. One of the most disciplined teams in the country in 2016, Wisconsin was called for nine penalties against Utah State — more than in any game a year ago. The Badgers need to clean it up, especially those happening before the play starts.

3) Time to dominate

One of the more surprising aspects of the Badgers slow start against Utah State was the inability of the offensive line to create running lanes and keep pressure off of quarterback Alex Hornibrook. Communication issues played a role, for sure, but the size and talent of the line is too great to not move teams like the Aggies and Florida Atlantic off the ball. While Wisconsin ended up rushing for 233 yards, the Badgers still need to show they can do it from the jump, especially against a Owls defense that allowed Navy to run for more than 400 yards in their opener.

4) More Jonathan Taylor

Nearly every player that made their debut a week ago lived up to the hype, but none more so than running back Jonathan Taylor. He showed off his speed, vision, balance and explosiveness in running for 87 yards and a touchdown. Now, with sophomore Bradrick Shaw a little dinged up, we could see a whole lot more of Taylor on Saturday. And if he capitalizes on it, he could stake his claim to being Wisconsin’s lead back moving forward.

5) Hurricane Irma

While five of the seven FBS teams that call Florida home cancelled their games this weekend due to Hurricane Irma, the storm bearing down on South Florida did not deter the Owls from making the trip to Madison. How will what’s happening back home impact the play of 18-to-23-year-old college students who left homes that may not be there when they get back?

And what about the eight players from the state of Florida on the Wisconsin roster? How focused can anyone expect them to be when their families are dealing with a storm of this magnitude?

The debate over whether the game should be played is pointless — it’s obviously going to happen. But the storm’s impact mentally for players on both sides is relevant and something to watch.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Wisconsin is 16-1 under coach Paul Chryst when holding teams to 100 yards or less on the ground.

Alex Hornibrook has thrown 73 passes since his last interception, a stretch that covers seven games. The quarterback’s last interception came in the fourth quarter of Wisconsin’s win over Nebraska last October.

Wisconsin’s 59 points against Utah State were the most under Chryst since he returned as coach in 2015, and the most they’ve put up when he’s been calling plays since hanging 62 on Purdue on Nov. 5, 2011.

After taking the ball away from Utah State four times in the opener, the Badgers are averaging three turnovers forced per game over their last six contests.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 52, Florida Atlantic 13 (1-0 on the season, 1-0 against the spread)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 53, Florida Atlantic 14 (1-0 on the season, 1-0 against the spread)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 56, Florida Atlantic 10 (1-0 on the season, 1-0 against the spread)

No. 9 Wisconsin overcomes a slow start to whip Utah State 59-10

MADISON — It took nearly 29 minutes, but No. 9 Wisconsin finally woke up. And once it did, the Badgers turned into a steamroller, scoring 59 unanswered points, including 49 in the second half, to beat Utah State 59-10 on Friday night at Camp Randall Stadium.

Play of the Game

Utah State led 10-7 with 1:01 left in the first half and had a first-and-10 at its own 18-yard line. The Badgers had just gotten their first points of the game, so it would have made sense for the Aggies to be satisfied with their lead and head into halftime. They apparently weren’t satisfied, as quarterback Kent Myers came out throwing and it turned into a disaster. His short toss to Carson Terrell on first down went off the receiver’s hands and right into the waiting arms of linebacker T.J. Edwards.

“That was huge,” safety D’Cota Dixon said afterwards. “It was the hammer and the nail. That’s exactly what you need, especially when you’re down. It was exactly what we needed.”

The interception only led to a field goal, but it was the first of many mistakes the rest of the way for Utah State, which would go on to turn the ball over four times.

Game Balls

Offense: TE Troy Fumagalli

Others were flashier, but the senior posted a career-high 105 yards receiving, picking up where he left off in Wisconsin’s Cotton Bowl victory last January.

His 15-yard catch on third-and-12 in the second quarter kept the Badgers first scoring drive of the game going, and then quarterback Alex Hornibrook found him wide open on third-and-2 early in the third quarter for a 23-yard touchdown.

With his big night, Fumagalli now sits fifth all-time in receiving yards for a tight end at Wisconsin, and will likely end up with the second-most by the time his career is over.

Defense: ILB T.J. Edwards

The junior was everywhere on Friday night, collecting seven tackles, one tackle for loss, picking off one pass and breaking up two more throws. His interception late in the second quarter proved to be the turning point in a game that Utah State led at that point.

But it wasn’t just the numbers for Edwards. It was the passion he played with, finishing off tackles with an emphasis. It was everything you’d expect out of one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten.

Special Teams: K Rafael Gaglianone

He only kicked one field goal — from just 29 yards — but Gaglianone gets the game ball because it was his first time on the field since suffering a season-ending back injury last September.

Wisconsin didn’t need his leg to win on Friday night, but history would suggest they’ll need it at some point this season.

Video of the Game

In their own words

Jonathan Taylor describes his first career touchdown, a 13-yard scamper in the third quarter.

Quote of the Day

“I always describe Coach Chryst as a dad away from home. He’s just the same guy. He’s very smooth, very calm, very collected. But, as a father would when a child needs to be disciplined and needs to be talked to, he will discipline us. He just honestly told us the truth. We were beating ourselves a lot.”

— Dixon on the loud and direct message that coach Paul Chryst gave the team at halftime on Friday night.

In Case You Missed It

— Wisconsin’s captains were defensive end Alec James, wide receiver Jazz Peavy, tight end Troy Fumagalli and safety Natrell Jamerson. The honorary captain was Al Toon, a member of UW’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

— Several true freshmen made their debuts on Friday, including running back Jonathan Taylor, wide receiver Danny Davis, quarterback Jack Coan, cornerback Madison Cone and long snapper Adam Bay.

— Fumagalli wore No. 48 in honor of senior linebacker Jack Cichy, who will miss the year with a torn ACL. Fumagalli said it was just a one time thing, but that he really wanted to do it to show Cichy how much he meant to the team.

— Junior Zander Neuville’s first career catch turned into his first career touchdown, as he tightroped down the sideline for the 28-yard score early in the third quarter. But it wouldn’t have been possible without the extra effort of Danny Davis, who managed to block three different guys to help get the tight end into the end zone.

— Wisconsin trailed 10-0 in the first half. It was the first time the Badgers had trailed by double digits in a non-conference home game since 2012 against — you guessed it — Utah State. The Badgers won that game 16-14.

Inside the Numbers

15:19 — That’s how long it took for Wisconsin to go from down 10-0 to up 38-10.

87 — That’s the number of rushing yards for freshman Jonathan Taylor in his first career game. It included a pretty 41-yard run on the first play of the second half to jump start the offense.

99 — That was the length of Joe Ferguson’s interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, the longest return in school history.

3 — That’s the number of touchdowns Alex Hornibrook threw on Friday night, a career high and 1/3 of what he threw all of last year.

478 — That’s the number of yards Wisconsin’s offense rolled up. It’s the third-highest total since Chryst took over as coach in 2015.

What’s Next

Wisconsin (1-0) will host Florida Atlantic next Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. The Owls, in their first game under new coach Lane Kiffin, lost 42-19 to Navy on Friday.

Preview: (9) Wisconsin vs Utah State

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers (0-0) vs the Utah State Aggies (0-0)

The time: 8 p.m. CDT, Friday

The place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.

The TV coverage: ESPN with Adam Amin and Dusty Dvoracek in the booth, and Molly McGrath on the sideline.

The last time: In 2012, Utah State’s Josh Thompson missed a 37-yard field goal with 6 seconds left, allowing Wisconsin to escape with a 16-14 victory over Gary Andersen and the Aggies.

The series: Tied 1-1

The line: Wisconsin -27.5

The Badgers injury report:

OUT

Game:

RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
WR Kendric Pryor (face)
WR George Rushing (leg)
FB Jake Whalen (head)

Season:

LB Jack Cichy (knee)
LB Zack Baun (foot)
RB Sam Brodner (knee)
LB Mason Stokke (leg)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) The start

Wisconsin opens the 2017 season with high expectations. The Badgers are a consensus top-10 team for the first time since 2007 and nearly everyone is picking them to take home a third Big Ten West title in four years. And by all indications they are capable of fulfilling those expectations and more. On a team-wide basis, this fall camp, at least what the media got to see, was the most impressive since at least 2013. Will what we saw in practice show up when the lights come on? If it does, watch out.

2) Year No. 2 for Alex Hornibrook

Wisconsin’s offense has a number of very accomplished veterans, but it’ll go only as far as sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook takes it.

The good news is that he appears primed to lead it to new heights. After going 7-2 as a starter in 2016, Hornibrook set out to eliminate weaknesses in his game, spending his winter and spring break in California with quarterback guru George Whitfield, attending the invite-only Manning Passing Academy in June and leading player-only throwing sessions. The results, at least in fall camp, have been more than positive. His pocket presence is vastly improved and he has a little more zip on his passes, allowing him to fit throws into tighter spaces.

Fans will get to judge it for themselves on Friday, but the consensus among media members was Hornibrook took a big step from last fall.

3) The replacements

The Badgers lost a number of really talented players from their 2016 squad that are now fighting for jobs in the NFL, and many eyes will be on their replacements.

It starts at left tackle, where All-American Ryan Ramczyk left early for the draft and was a first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints. Wisconsin went with junior Michael Deiter as his replacement, and while he’s started 27 straight games, none of them have come at tackle. His ability to handle the edge is paramount for the offense.

In the backfield, Wisconsin lost more than 1,800 yards rushing from Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale. That void will be filled by at least three players and maybe more as junior Chris James, sophomore Bradrick Shaw and freshman Jonathan Taylor battle for carries.

On defense, outside linebacker Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt got drafted in April, but their fill-ins — seniors Garrett Dooley and Leon Jacobs — are more than capable of stepping up, especially Jacobs, who had a monster fall camp and has the makings of a dominant pass rusher.

And in the secondary, where cornerback Sojourn Shelton and safety Leo Musso needed to be replaced, the Badgers appear to have top-flight options in the form of transfer Nick Nelson at cornerback and wide receiver-turned-cornerback-turned safety in senior Natrell Jamerson.

4) Young guys on deck

Wisconsin isn’t known for playing a lot of true freshmen, but there are a number of them in the two-deep, including three at skill positions.

Jack Coan beat out redshirt freshman Kare Lyles for the backup quarterback job, Taylor’s performance in the final few weeks of fall camp has the coaching staff salivating over his potential and wide receiver Danny Davis has proven to be as good as his 4-star recruiting ranking suggests.

Taylor and Davis are almost guarantees to play, while it remains to be seen how coach Paul Chryst wants to use Coan in blowout situations.

5) Back in time

After two so-so years, the Wisconsin offensive line looks to be on the verge of returning to the dominating form it’s showed so often over the last 25 years. There aren’t any seniors, but nearly all the contributors are in their third or fourth years in the program, having gained the strength and experience necessary for success. Utah State’s defensive line might not be the greatest test, but it is the first and it’s one the line is ready to attack.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Wisconsin has won 37 straight home games against non-conference teams, the second-longest streak in the country. The last loss came in 2003.

Friday will be the sixth time the Badgers have opened the season with a night game at home. They are 4-1 in those games, including a 51-17 whipping of UNLV in 2011.

Senior Troy Fumagalli needs 81 yards to move into fifth-place for career receiving yards among tight ends in Wisconsin history. If he puts up the same numbers he did a year ago — 580 yards — he would finish his career with the second-most yards for a tight end at UW.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 41, Utah State 3 (0-0 on the season)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 44, Utah State 6 (0-0 on the season)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 42 , Utah State 7 (0-0 on the season)