Wisconsin at Iowa: Three keys

Wisconsin disappointed many last weekend when it lost a non-conference home game for the first time since 2003. The Badgers fell to BYU 24-21 despite closing as 21-to-22.5-point favorites, depending on the gambling service one prefers.

That loss may have surprised many, but it was in tune with how the Badgers have looked for the better part of the young season, which is underwhelming. Wisconsin was ranked No. 4 in the preseason AP Top 25 poll and has now fallen down to No. 18 after the loss to BYU.

Thing only get tougher from here on out for Wisconsin, and that begins on Saturday night in Iowa City. The Badgers are tasked with having to head into Kinnick Stadium – where national title dreams have gone to die in each of the past two seasons – and rebound from the early season loss.

Weather the early storm

As mentioned above, Kinnick Stadium has been a tough place to play for opponents the past few years. Last season, Ohio State traveled there ranked No. 3 in the country with a 7-1 record and clinging to hopes of making the playoffs. The Buckeyes left Iowa after a 55-24 shellacking at the hands of the Hawkeyes. In 2016 the Michigan Wolverines were ranked No. 2 in the country, 9-0 and trending towards a playoff appearance before a 14-13 loss under the lights at Kinnick.

This game has been circled on the schedule of Iowa all summer long. Like the Badgers, Iowa didn’t have a very difficult non-conference slate. Unlike the Badgers, Iowa was able to get through it unscathed.

This game being played at night makes things even tougher for Wisconsin. After a road schedule that didn’t have many tough environments last season, this will be the first true test for this program in a while, and one that many of the players haven’t seen.

No one on the roster has played at Iowa under the lights, but safety Scott Nelson was at the 2016 upset the Hawkeyes pulled over Michigan on an official visit. That’s as close as Wisconsin comes to having experience in this exact environment.

“It’s similar to here,” said Nelson of the atmosphere in Iowa City. “The hype around it builds up throughout the day. Everybody looks forward to it, their fans are crazy. It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be exciting, it’s going to be fun.”

Get the offense in gear

Yes, this team rushed for a Paul Chryst era high 417 yards against New Mexico two weeks ago. No, they haven’t been impressive in the least bit. Yes, those two things can absolutely co-exist.

With expectations as high as they were prior to the season, the best word to describe Wisconsin’s offense is underwhelming. This group was supposed to be able to light up the scoreboard and it hasn’t happened as expected. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook has been average, running back Jonathan Taylor has put up solid numbers, but his impact hasn’t felt as strong as it did last year, and the offensive line hasn’t lived up to expectations either.

The world expected more out of the Badgers’ offense this year. That group hasn’t been able to capture the magic that was on display in the 2017 Orange Bowl win over Miami despite bringing back 10 of 11 starters from that night. If there’s ever a night where this team needs to find that magic, this is probably it.

Attempt to replicate last year’s defensive effort

Mentioned above was the fact that Iowa dropped 55 points on then title contender Ohio State in 2017. What wasn’t mentioned is the fact that Wisconsin’s defense made life extremely difficult for the Hawkeyes seven days later.

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley through for 226 yards and five touchdowns against the Buckeyes in that blowout victory. The very next week he finished 8-of-24 for 41 yards and an interception against the Badgers.

In Wisconsin’s 38-14 win, Iowa was held to just 66 yards of total offense on the day. The defense for the Badgers was absolutely suffocating, and that may be putting it lightly.

“I felt like we dominated the game as a defensive unit, honestly,” safety D’Cota Dixon said this week when asked to reflect on last year’s game. “Probably was our best showcase as a defensive performance, I think, that we’ve probably had here in a long time.”

It’s a stretch to think that effort will be replicated, but there can be some things learned from last year in an attempt to limit what Iowa can do offensively.

Wisconsin vs. Western Kentucky: Three keys

The Wisconsin Badgers open up the 2018 season with a matchup against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Camp Randall on Aug. 31. The Badgers enter the game as heavy favorites and should have no issue finding their way to a win over the mid-major opponent.

Here are three things to watch as the Badgers look to move to 1-0 on the season.

Depth at wide receiver

The wide receiver group looked like one of the strongest on the team during fall camp. Things certainly have changed since then as both Danny Davis and Quintez Cephus are currently suspended. Cephus is out indefinitely while Davis is sidelined for two games.

There’s still experience and talent that will be on the field, just not as much as there could have been.

A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor both have plenty of time on the field for the Badgers, although there isn’t much behind them in terms of experience. Jack Dunn and Adam Krumholz were listed as the third and fourth receivers behind Taylor and Pryor on Wisconsin’s two-deep that was released earlier this week. Those two both saw limited action in 2017, mostly on special teams for Wisconsin. Both are local products that came to Wisconsin as walk-ons in 2016.

After those two, the Badgers will likely be giving playing time to a pair of true freshmen in Aron Cruickshank and Taj Mustapha. Both Cruickshank and Mustapha were early enrollees that impressed in the spring, but limited knowledge of Wisconsin’s playbook could be as to why Dunn and Krumholz will see the field first.

New defensive starters standing out

It was no secret that Wisconsin had an elite defense last year. The Badgers finished among the top five in the country in several categories and were able to learn upon their defense in a couple of less than stellar offensive performances.

That may not be the case this season. Wisconsin is tasked with having to replace seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, including a majority of the secondary and defensive line. The Western Kentucky offense won’t be the most difficult challenge of the season for this group, but it won’t be a walk in the park for a group that hasn’t played much football yet, either.

The defensive line would have been in much better shape had Garrett Rand not suffered an offseason injury that has him out for the season. In addition to that Isaiahh Loudermilk will miss some time after undergoing an offseason surgery as well. Olive Sagapolu returns at the nose with freshman Bryson Williams backing him up.

The defensive end spot is where things can appear questionable for the Badgers. Walk-on Matt Henningsen is starting on one side, while Kayden Lyles, a converted offensive lineman, is starting on the other. That’s something that could prove worrisome for Wisconsin this year.

On the bright side, the depth at the inside linebacker position is sound. T.J. Edwards spurned the 2018 NFL Draft to come back to school, Ryan Connelly returns, as does Chris Orr. All three of those guys have quite a bit of experience to lead the way defensively.

In the defensive backfield the Badgers are tasked with replacing Derrick Tindal, Natrell Jamerson, and Nick Nelson. To make things a little bit tougher, Dontye Carriere-Williams announced that he had been granted his release on Wednesday night and is no longer with the program.

Carriere-Williams entered the spring as a starter at corner, and did make a handful of starts in 2017, but slipped to the second team due to lack of consistency. Caesar Williams and Faion Hicks are listed as the starters at corner as of now, with Madison Cone remaining on the two-deep. Deron Harrell will likely be the next man up at that spot. He had a strong camp after transitioning from the wide receiver position during the offseason and Donte Burton is a true freshman that will likely see the field as well.

The safety spots probably have the most clarity among the newcomers, as Scott Nelson is stepping into a starting role after a very strong camp and D’Cota Dixon returns for his final year of eligibility.

Protecting the football

The biggest flaw in quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s game last year was the fact that he tossed 15 interceptions, including at least one in every conference game. Wisconsin was able to overcome that with strong defense and an excellent running game. Good teams find ways to win no matter what the circumstances are, but Wisconsin may not have that type of luxury this season.

In the Orange Bowl Hornibrook was fantastic as he threw for 258 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions on his way to being named MVP. It’s unrealistic to expect Hornibrook to repeat that performance on a weekly basis. If he somehow did then he would be in New York raising the Heisman Trophy this coming December. But if he can consistently cut out the turnovers that plagued him last season then the Wisconsin offense will be in a much, much better place.

It’s far more likely that running back Jonathan Taylor finds himself at the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York in December, but one thing that could be a hindrance to not only that campaign, but the Wisconsin offense is his propensity to put the ball on the ground.

In 2017 Taylor fumbled eight times and lost six of them. Again, in more than one of those instances he was bailed out by the terrific defense, but that may not happen now.

For Taylor to further his game and reach his potential at Wisconsin it’s imperative that he hangs on to the football on a regular basis.

Hornibrook and Taylor are two of the most important players on what should be an incredibly explosive offense for Wisconsin. Limiting the turnovers will make them that much better.

The Joe & Ebo Experience: Khalil Mack and Hornibrook Haters

0:00-8:38 – Intro and Scott Takes

8:38-10:17 – Nelson’s Bet and PGA Championship

10:17- 12:44 – PGA Predictions

12:44-24:23 – Should the Packers make a move? Dave the Wizard

24:23-26:02 – Nelson Investigates Tiger’s Chances & Dining Choices

26:02-37:02 – Conrad is fired up and we talk the Jocko from NBC 15

37:02-42:04 – News of the Weird

42:04-50:46 – Khalil Mack in Green & Golf?

50:46-54:06 – Gavin’s phone call

54:06-59:24 – Action Zone

59:24-1:03:02- Danny’s Browns Perspective

1:03:02-1:10:33 – Hornibrook Haters

1:10:33-1:21:33 – Sports Director Zach Heilprin & Goodbyes

Offense rules the day at Wisconsin spring practice

Wisconsin was back on the practice field for the fifth time this spring on Tuesday morning.

Big day for the offense

In the locker room after the Orange Bowl, wide receiver A.J. Taylor was asked about how excited he was that his position group would have everyone back for 2018. And while he was certainly happy about it, him and fellow WR Danny Davis seemed particularly pumped about facing Wisconsin’s defense in spring ball.

“We already know,” Taylor said, “when we play the defense in the spring, it’s going to be a wrap for them.”

Whether it was because the offense had taken its lumps in recent years against a veteran defense or for some other reason, the tone of his voice made it seem like they were expecting to dominate a mostly new group of defensive backs. On Tuesday, that’s largely what happened.

Despite being without three of their top WRs, the offense was rolling. On the first play of team drills, quarterback Alex Hornibrook found Taylor for a 45-yard touchdown down the middle of the field. Later, in the same drill, backup Jack Coan hit WR Jack Dunn in stride for a 45-yard score of his own.

Taylor and Dunn weren’t finished. In red zone work, the duo caught four more touchdowns, including a pretty one-handed grab (see video below) by Dunn from Hornibrook in the back of the end zone.

https://twitter.com/BadgerFootball/status/976124742087438346

The WRs weren’t the only ones getting in on the action. Tight end Jake Ferguson had a pair of scores in the red zone, including one on a crossing route where he got drilled by safety Seth Currens but held onto the ball.

Casear Williams with a solid day

As a whole, the defense, as evidenced above, struggled on Tuesday. But redshirt sophomore cornerback Caesar Williams did flash for a second time in spring, coming up with a pretty interception. Williams got some time with the first-team defense during the red zone portion of practice.

Getting physical

It’s only day No. 5 of spring practice, but we’ve already seen a number of minor skirmishes, including a pair on Tuesday involving linebacker Chris Orr. The junior was apparently too physical for running back Taiwan Deal’s liking and took an open-handed punch to the face. That got broken up quickly. Later, Orr and TE Kyle Penniston got into it.

Working on all facets

Running back Jonathan Taylor ran for 1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns last year, but he sounds like a guy that thinks he can put up bigger numbers this fall.

“You always have to expect to get better. You don’t expect anything less,” Taylor said after practice. “You don’t want to stay the same and don’t want to be any less.”

Taylor is currently the favorite for the Heisman Trophy at 6/1, according to Bovada LV. After initially brushing off a question about being the favorite, Taylor said it really doesn’t matter.

“It definitely is pretty cool being favorited, but that’s one thing you [can’t] worry about,” he said. “You have to worry about being a favorite of your team. [You have to be] worried about knowing that your guys know that you’re going to go out and do your job every single play. [That] you’ve got their back and you’re going to get things rolling.”

Spending time out West

While everyone was on winter break after the Orange Bowl, Hornibrook was out in California spending time with self-labeled “quarterback engineer” George Whitfield. The junior did the same thing prior to last season and he went on to throw the second-most touchdowns (25) in a season in Wisconsin history.

“I think it’s good to just keep working out instead of going home and sitting on the couch or throwing to a couple buddies at home,” he said. “[Just] to actually get out there and start doing some drills, it’s good.”

Injury report:

OUT (practice)
CB Dontye Carriere-Williams
WR Danny Davis
WR Cade Green
OL David Edwards
DL Garrett Rand
WR Kendric Pryor
DL Bryson Williams
WR Emmett Perry

OUT (spring)
WR Quintez Cephus
OL Michael Deiter
OL Jon Dietzen
S D’Cota Dixon
RB Garrett Groshek
TE Zander Neuville
RB Bradrick Shaw
ILB Mason Stokke
WR Adam Krumholz

What’s next?

Wisconsin returns to the field for practice No. 6 of spring ball on Thursday.

(6) Wisconsin 34, (10) Miami 24: Two-minute drill

MIAMI — Quarterback Alex Hornibrook tossed four touchdowns as Wisconsin beat Miami 34-24 in the Orange Bowl.

Play of the Game

Wisconsin was in trouble. Trailing 14-3 at the start of the second quarter, Miami had a chance to go up three scores. Outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel had other plans. Hurricanes quarterback Malik Rosier tried to throw a little quick screen and the Badgers’ junior stepped in the way and made the athletic interception.

The play proved to be the turning point in the game. Wisconsin would score 21 unanswered and didn’t trail again.

Game Balls

Offense: Alex Hornibrook

He received plenty of criticism this season, but the quarterback was fantastic most of the night. He threw four touchdowns, trusting his receivers in one-on-one coverage and they came through for him.

On the biggest drive of the season — after Miami had cut Wisconsin’s lead to 27-24 early in the fourth quarter — the sophomore led an 8-play, 75-yard drive that he finished off with a 6-yard scoring toss to Danny Davis. Hornibrook went 6-of-6 with five first downs and the touchdown.

It was an absolute must for Wisconsin to put together a drive and Hornibrook delivered his best of the season.

Defense: Andrew Van Ginkel

Van Ginkel was responsible for the biggest defensive play of the game — his second quarter interception — but he was big at other points as well. He finished with three tackles, including a sack, and nearly had another interception in the fourth quarter.

Wisconsin has rarely gone the junior college route in recruiting, but Van Ginkel ended up being an absolute steal. He’ll be one of the Badgers most important players in 2018.

Special Teams: Rafael Gaglianone

As he did all season, the Wisconsin kicker was money. He drilled a pair of kicks, including a 47-yarder. The junior finished the season 16-of-18 on the season and now sits just five field goals short of the most in school history.

Videos of the game

Much was made of the “turnover chain” Miami breaks out every time they force a turnover and they had a chance to use it once on Saturday night. But the Badgers had their own celebration with a chain and they got to use it a lot of more than the Hurricanes. Like on every one of their four touchdowns.

If that wasn’t clear enough as to how they felt about the turnover chain, then the video that caught Paul Chryst’s comments on it definitely should.

In their own words

“It’s awesome. That’s a record. No one has done that. That is something we all have to be proud of, and we are. Winning 13 games in a season is not easy.”

— LT Michael Deiter on Wisconsin winning a school-record 13 games

“It’s lit!”

— Wisconsin CB Derrick Tindal on the feeling of winning the Orange Bowl in his hometown

In Case You Missed It

— Running back Jonathan Taylor finished with 133 yards on the night and 1,926 yards for the season. The latter mark set the record for the most yards by a freshman in FBS history.

— Outside linebacker Leon Jacobs played his 59th career game — the most in NCAA history

— Cornerback Nick Nelson announced after the game he will forego his senior season and enter the NFL Draft.

— Offensive lineman Beau Benzschawel told reporters he will return for his senior year.

— Offensive lineman Michael Deiter and linebacker T.J. Edwards told reporters they haven’t decided whether they will return or leave for the NFL.

— Miami coach Mark Richt was flagged for contacting an official late in the first half. He was apparently upset over a non-call on the Badgers.

Inside the Numbers

13 — That’s the number of wins the Badgers had this season — the most in school history.

3 — That’s the number of touchdown catches for freshman wide receiver Danny Davis — the first player to record multiple touchdowns in a bowl game for the Badgers.

25 — That’s the number of touchdowns Alex Hornibrook threw this year — the second-most in school history.

What’s Next

Spring practice