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

Grading the Badgers: Quarterback

Quarterbacks are often measured by wins and losses of their team. Whether or not that’s an accurate way to judge that position is certainly up for debate. Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook certainly has piled up the victories in his time as a starter.

That being said, his record of 19-3 as a starter, albeit impressive, doesn’t necessarily portray him properly. Winning games at this level is difficult. Every program in the country would be to have a starting quarterback go 19-3 in his first 22 starts. Even though the wins haven’t always looked pretty, Hornibrook does deserve some credit for the victories.

Twelve straight wins to start the season had never happened for Wisconsin’s football program before this season. Hornibrook started all 12 of those games. While the Badgers were the more talented team in all 12 of the games, not all of the games won were because of Hornibrook. In fact, there were times this season when Wisconsin was able to win despite sub-par play at the quarterback position.

Hornibrook started the season strong in nonconference play. He threw eight touchdowns against a single interception in the games against Utah State, Florida Atlantic, and BYU. The game against BYU was especially impressive, as he finished 18-for-19 passing for 256 yards and four touchdowns. The sole incompletion that day was a pass that certainly could have been caught, too.

Once conference play started, things became more difficult through the air for Hornibrook. He threw an interception in each Big Ten game except for the regular season finale against Minnesota. Three times during the regular season he had games with multiple interceptions, and he tossed a pair of picks in the Big Ten Championship, as well.

Things weren’t all bad for Hornibrook, despite the turnover issues he had plenty of strong performances and timely throws. Those typically came after a mistake, too. Hornibrook’s best quality this season may have been his ability to bounce back after making a mistake. One instance of this that stands out is the second half of the Michigan game.

Hornibrook threw a pass that was intercepted by Michigan linebacker Devin Bush inside Wisconsin territory. The Badgers defense was able to hold the Wolverines to a field goal before Hornibrook put together back-to-back touchdown drives.

The immediate response was arguably Hornibrook’s most impressive drive of the season. The Badgers faced third-and-13 where he found wide receiver A.J. Taylor for 51 yards down the left sideline. That drive culminated when Hornibrook found Taylor in the end zone from 24 yards out on third-and-14 through a tight window. That sequence might have been the best all season for Hornibrook.

GRADE: C+ | Hornibrook did several good things this year for Wisconsin. As previously stated, winning games in the Big Ten is a challenge. To go unbeaten in the regular season, including a nine-game conference slate is a rarity these days. Hornibrook deserves credit for helping the Badgers navigate that path. Moving forward, Hornibrook can certainly improve. He needs to do a better job limiting turnovers for Wisconsin to reach their ceiling as an offense.

Wisconsin’s formula wasn’t enough to beat Ohio State

INDIANAPOLIS – Wisconsin was as close to the College Football Playoffs as they’ve ever been. The Badgers came into the Big Ten Championship with a perfect 12-0 record and ranked No. 4 in the country. A win against Ohio State would have given them a berth in the semi-finals.

It wasn’t meant to be. The Badgers finally dug a hole too deep for themselves to climb out of. Time and time again they were a team that was much better in the second half of games than they were the first. Saturday night was much of the same for Wisconsin.

To close out the first half, Wisconsin defensive back Nick Nelson blocked a 43-yard field goal attempt off the right foot of Ohio State kicker Sean Nuernberger to keep the score at 21-10 in favor of Ohio State. At one point, Wisconsin faced a 14-point deficit, their largest of the season.

The Badgers were able to turn things on in the second half. They outscored Ohio State 11-6 and had the opportunity to win the game in the final two minutes. This time, they just couldn’t pull through.

Wisconsin had gotten as far as they did by managing the game in the first half and taking control in the second half. Ohio State was simply too talented for that to happen, despite Wisconsin’s best efforts.

The Buckeyes built their first half lead on big plays and speed that Wisconsin hadn’t seen to date this year. They struck first on an 84-yard touchdown pass from quarterback J.T. Barrett to wide receiver Terry McLaurin. McLaurin beat Wisconsin safety Joe Ferguson deep over the middle and won a footrace to the end zone.

After Wisconsin tied the game on an Andrew Van Ginkel interception returned for a touchdown Ohio State responded with another big play. Buckeye wide receiver Parris Campbell caught a swing pass from Barrett, broke a tackle from Wisconsin safety Natrell Jamerson, and took it 57 yards for another Ohio State touchdown.

Add in a 77-yard run from running back J.K. Dobbins to set up a Barrett touchdown run from a yard out and the Badgers had given up three plays of 50 or more yards in the first half. In their first 12 games combined they had only given up three such plays.

The second half was a different story, while they still allowed a 53-yard run to Dobbins, the defense was much better. After allowing a whopping 309 yards of offense in the first half, the Badgers only gave up 140 yards in the second half, despite the 53-yard scamper. The defense looked much like it had all season after halftime, keeping Ohio State out of the end zone.

Offensively, the Badgers were never able to get their running game going. The staple of Wisconsin football was only able to muster 60 total yards on the ground. That was partly due to playing from behind and partly due to Ohio State’s defensive line having their way with Wisconsin’s offensive line. Linebackers Jerome Baker and Tuf Borland were free to make tackles. Baker finished with a team-high 16 tackles and Borland was behind him with seven.

Freshman running back Jonathan Taylor was unable to generate any running room, finishing with 41 yards on 15 carries, by far his lowest output of the season. That meant the Badgers had to rely on the arm of quarterback Alex Hornibrook. He attempted a career-high 40 passes, completing 19 of them for 229 yards and two interceptions. One interception came while searching for tight end Troy Fumagalli deep in Ohio State territory. The other pick came on the Badgers’ final offensive play, a fourth down with 20 yards to go with 1:16 on the clock.

Wisconsin was set back in the fourth and long situation due to a holding penalty on offensive lineman Michael Deiter on first down. On that same play, Hornibrook looked for wide receiver Danny Davis down the field. Davis was tangled up with an Ohio State defensive back on a play that certainly could have warranted a flag. In fact, the field judge grabbed at his penalty flag before having second thoughts.

If that penalty flag comes out, there’s no telling what happens. It might have changed the game, it might not have. It certainly made Wisconsin’s comeback effort more difficult.

In the end, everything was too much to comeback from. The slow start, the big plays, the lack of a rushing attack, the questionable no call on the final drive, it was all too much to overcome.

The Badgers simply couldn’t follow the same formula they had used to reach the Big Ten Championship to find a way to the College Football Playoffs.

B1G Championship preview: (4) Wisconsin vs (8) Ohio State

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers (12-0, 9-0) vs the No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes (10-2, 8-1)

The time: 7 p.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Lucas Oil Field, Indianapolis, Ind.

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

The last time: No. 2 Ohio State came back from a 10-point halftime deficit to beat No. 8 Wisconsin in overtime 38-31 last October in Madison.

The series: Ohio State leads 58-18-5

The line: Ohio State -6

The Badgers injury report:

OUT

Game:

TE Luke Benzschawel (leg)
OLB Noah Burks (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)
TE Zander Neuville (leg)
RB Bradrick Shaw (leg)

THE BREAKDOWN: FOUR THINGS TO WATCH

1) Biggest game in school history

It may seem like hyperbole, but Saturday night’s game is the biggest in Wisconsin football history. A win against one of the blue bloods of the sport would give the Badgers their first Big Ten title since 2012, almost surely punch their ticket to the College Football Playoff and leave them just two victories short of the school’s first national championship. A loss wouldn’t make the season a failure, but it would be looked at as a missed opportunity to make a splash the rest of the country couldn’t ignore, one that would force the doubters to at least respect what the program has become. This is not the first time Wisconsin has been in position to make that statement but it’s certainly its best and something the Badgers can’t let fall by the wayside.

2) Containing J.T. Barrett

The big story this week has been the knee injury to Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, the one that knocked him out in the third quarter of last week’s game at Michigan. The senior reportedly had arthroscopic surgery on the knee on Sunday, but coach Urban Meyer is expecting him to play. If he does, then it becomes vital for the Wisconsin defense to keep him in the pocket. In last season’s game, Barrett was Ohio State’s leading rusher with 92 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns. It’s not that he can’t beat you with his arm — he can — but if you’re Wisconsin, you want to force him to show it again.

3) No turnovers

Wisconsin is a bit of anomaly this season. You don’t normally see an unbeaten team like the Badgers turn the ball over as much as they do. They rank No. 97 in the country with 21 turnovers and there are only three FBS teams with a winning record that have more than that. It’s not an every player problem. In fact, it’s mainly a two player issue — quarterback Alex Hornibrook and running back Jonathan Taylor. The duo has accounted for 18 of the 21 turnovers this year. Wisconsin’s defense has been able to erase many of those mistakes, but you sure don’t want to put them in that position against the most explosive offense the Badgers have faced this year.

4) Redemption

When people hear the term redemption in regards to this game, most probably think of the 59-0 shellacking that Ohio State delivered to Wisconsin in the 2014 title game. But they would be wrong. Sure, that one hurt, but that game was over almost as soon as it started. No, the game the Badgers want (need?) redemption for is the 2016 title game when they blew a 28-7 lead to Penn State and lost 38-31. A defense that was so good all year, got exposed with big plays down the field and some brilliance from All-American running back Saquon Barkley. Nearly all of Wisconsin’s defenders from that game are still around and have told the media this week they believe they learned some valuable lessons as a result of that collapse. We could see if that’s true on Saturday night.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Wisconsin is an underdog for the first time in 20 games. The last time the Badgers weren’t favored was the Buckeyes visit to Camp Randall Stadium last October.

Current or former walk-ons have combined for 862 yards of total offense, seven touchdowns, 117 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, four sacks and four interceptions this season for Wisconsin.

The Badgers are allowing just 236.9 yards per game, the lowest mark by a Wisconsin team since 1954.

Hype videos

A couple of the better hype videos to get you ready for the game:

ZONE PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 21
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 27, Ohio State 24
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Ohio State 21
Danny Cunningham’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Ohio State 21

NATIONAL PREDICTIONS

Wisconsin (14)

Eric Single, SI.com: Wisconsin
Molly Geary, SI.com: Wisconsin
Andy Staples, SI.com: Wisconsin
Joan Niesen, SI.com: Wisconsin
Paul Myerberg, USA Today: Wisconsin
George Schroeder, USA Today: Wisconsin
Erick Smith, USA Today: Wisconsin
Eddie Timanus, USA Today: Wisconsin
Dan Wolken, USA Today: Wisconsin
Corby Davidson, Sportsday: Wisconsin
Rich Cirminiello, College Football News: Wisconsin
Jeff Feyerer, College Football News: Wisconsin
Pete Fiutak, College Football News: Wisconsin
Mitch Light, Athlon Sports: Wisconsin

Ohio State (18)

Edward Aschoff, ESPN: Ohio State
Zac Al-Khateeb, Sporting News: Ohio State
Tom Fornelli, CBS Sports: Ohio State
Bruce Feldman, SI.com: Ohio State
Chris Johnson, SI.com: Ohio State
Scooby Axson, SI.com: Ohio State
Jace Evans, USA Today: Ohio State
Ben Baby, Sportsday: Ohio State
Scott Bells, Sportsday: Ohio State
Chuck Carlton, Sportsday: Ohio State
Adam Grosbard, Sportsday: Ohio State
Ric Renner, Sportsday: Ohio State
Newy Scruggs, Sportsday: Ohio State
Kevin Sherrington, Sportsday: Ohio State
Brett Vito, Sportsday: Ohio State
Ralph Russo, Associated Press: Ohio State
Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports: Ohio State
Bryan Bischer, Athlon Sports: Ohio State

Big Ten Championship; Three keys to Wisconsin winning

INDIANAPOLIS – Wisconsin heads into Saturday’s matchup with Ohio State searching for their first Big Ten Championship since 2012. The Badgers enter the game perfect on the season at 12-0, but haven’t faced a team quite as talented as the Buckeyes to date.

The Buckeyes come into the contest at 10-2 on the season. At times, they’ve looked like one of the best teams in the country, but on other occasions they’ve looked rather pedestrian.

Here are three keys to a Badger win on Saturday night:

1. Ohio State defensive lineman Nick Bosa was awarded as the Big Ten Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the year earlier this week. The matchup between Bosa and the Wisconsin offensive line will be a very interesting one to watch on Saturday. So far, this season Bosa has 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks and both of those marks pace the Buckeyes.

“I think [Ohio State] and Michigan had some of the best edge rushers I’ve seen this year,” offensive lineman Michael Deiter said earlier this week. “One-hundred percent it will be my biggest challenge, especially on this stage, out there at tackle.”

Not only was Deiter speaking about Bosa, but also defensive end Sam Hubbard. Hubbard was a consensus second-team All-Big Ten this year and has 10 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks on the year. Things don’t end there for the Buckeye defensive line, Tyquan Lewis was also a consensus first-team selection, and Dre’mont Jones was named to the third-team by the media.

Wisconsin likely has the best offensive line that Ohio State has faced this season, but this will be a true battle of strengths. The Badgers must be able to open holes for freshman running back Jonathan Taylor to help keep quarterback Alex Hornibrook out of obvious passing situations. When the Badgers do fall into obvious throwing situations, the offensive line must keep Hornibrook upright.

2. Hornibrook’s favorite target this year has been senior tight end Troy Fumagalli. He leads the Badgers with 38 grabs on the season for 471 yards and four touchdowns despite missing some time due to injury. On the contrary, Ohio State has struggled defending tight ends in the play-action passing game at times this season.

Against Iowa, the Buckeyes allowed a combined nine catches for 125 yards and four touchdowns to tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant of the Hawkeyes. Those two aren’t necessarily mirror images of Fumagalli, but the area of weakness remains on the Buckeye defense. As recent as last week there were multiple instances of intermediate routes being open for Michigan’s offense. Wolverines’ quarterback John O’Korn was unable to find his teammates, however.

Hornibrook should be able to find Fumagalli in key situations, just as he has often attempted to do this year. That’s an area of weakness that the Badgers should look to exploit.

3. When Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett was removed from the game against Michigan last week immediate uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position for the Buckeyes emerged. Backup Dwayne Haskins entered the game for Ohio State and helped them to win the game.

News broke during the week that Barrett had surgery on his knee on Sunday following the Michigan game but is expected to play against Wisconsin. His effectiveness is yet to be seen. Ohio State head coach told the media that Barrett had practiced throughout the week and is cleared to play, but never declared Barrett the starter.

Barrett is a quarterback that’s able to extend plays and escape the pocket when things break down around him. If his knee isn’t right and his running ability suffers because of that, Wisconsin’s already stout defense could be in even better position. The Badgers would be able to key on running backs Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins in running situations and presumably be able to get to Barrett easier when the pocket collapses.

Barrett has been inconsistent throwing the ball, even when he’s been healthy. Wisconsin’s defense could take control of the game and force Barrett into mistakes and make things much more difficult than they normally do. Wisconsin’s chance at winning improves exponentially if those things happen.

Prediction: Early in the week I was leaning towards taking the Buckeyes, and I did go on record picking them before news of Barrett’s knee procedure broke. His health is my deciding factor, it takes an incredibly special athlete to be able to play in a football game six days after having surgery. While I commend Barrett for having the guts to try and suit up with his teammates, I don’t think he’ll play well enough for the Buckeyes to win.

Wisconsin 24-21

(5) Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 0: 2-minute drill

MINNEAPOLIS — For the first time since 1912, the Wisconsin Badgers finished a regular season undefeated.

The No. 5 Badgers got three touchdown passes from Alex Hornibrook and 149 yards rushing from Jonathan Taylor in a 31-0 win over Minnesota to move to 12-0 and extend their winning streak over their rivals to 14 games.

Play of the Game

All season Wisconsin has run the fullback dive in short yardage situations. On Saturday, faced with a third-and-goal from the 1-yard line, the Badgers went against their tendency, calling for a play-action pass. It worked perfectly, as Hornibrook found tight end Troy Fumagalli for the first points of the day. Wisconsin didn’t look back on its way to a shutout victory.

Game Balls

Offense: Alex Hornibrook

In what was easily his best effort of the Big Ten season, the sophomore completed 15 of 19 passes for 151 yards and the three scores. A number of his throws, including a 5-yard touchdown to Danny Davis in the third quarter, were absolute darts, put in places that only his receivers had a chance. Perhaps most importantly, Hornibrook didn’t turn the ball over for the first time in eight games.

It was the type of effort that had several teammates talking about the team’s potential when he plays like that.

“When your offense is clicking and going, especially the way we play defense, there’s no stopping us, I feel like,” cornerback Derrick Tindal said.

Defense: Ryan Connelly

A Minnesota native that wasn’t recruited by the Gophers, Connelly was all over the place on Saturday. He finished with six tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks.

Connelly often gets overlooked among Wisconsin’s inside linebackers, but he’s been fantastic in a staring role of late. He’s the team’s leading tackler, and like he did last year, has more than filled the injury void left by Jack Cichy and Chris Orr.

Special Teams: Rafael Gaglianone

Gaglianone moved to 12 of 14 on the year with his 32-yard field goal in the second quarter. He’s also remained perfect on extra points for the season after hitting all four on Saturday.

In their own words

Did you think 12-0 was a possibility:

TE Troy Fumagalli: “I did, but I didn’t think too much about it. I tried not to focus too much on that and not the season. With the experience we had coming back, with the players in the locker room, I thought this was possible.”

LB T.J. Edwards: “Oh, yeah. 100 percent. I know that if we come out and play our best game we can hang with anyone in the country.”

CB Derrick Tindal: “I been telling you that [since the start of the season]. I trusted my teammates, trusted by boys and feel like they are going to keep it going.”

Is Wisconsin a win away from making the College Football Playoff?

WR Kendric Pryor: “We have to focus on playing Ohio State next. After that, we can’t control [the way] the committee votes. We just go out there and just play ball. If they decide to put us in, they do. If they don’t, they don’t.”

When did you know the game was in the bag?

Tindal: “When the first quarter started. I felt confident before the game. I knew we were going to win.”

In Case You Missed It

— Tight end Zander Neuville left with a knee injury in the first quarter, while running back Bradrick Shaw left in the second quarter with a leg injury. Coach Paul Chryst didn’t have an update on either guy after the game.

— Fullback Austin Ramesh took a sweep for a 41-yard gain in the second quarter. It was the longest rush of his career.

— After being forced to miss four games with a leg injury earlier this year, running back Chris James got his first extended action and finished with 51 yards on seven carries.

— Saturday was the first time since 1922 that Wisconsin has shutout Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Inside the Numbers

13 — That’s the number of wins in a row Wisconsin has, the longest streak in the country

1 — That’s the number of Power 5 teams in the country that are unbeaten. Wisconsin is that one team.

1,806 — That’s the number of yards Jonathan Taylor has run for this year. It’s the third-most in FBS history for a freshman.

What’s Next

Wisconsin (12-0, 9-0) will head to the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis next Saturday to take on Ohio State (10-2, 8-1).