Wisconsin’s Quintez Cephus shines while playing for late father

MADISON — This season the University of Wisconsin football has had a relatively inconsistent passing game. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook has been up and down, tight end Troy Fumagalli and wide receiver Jazz Peavy have been in and out of the lineup with injuries, and freshman wide receiver Danny Davis has been learning on the fly. The most consistent part of the air attack has been sophomore wide receiver Quintez Cephus.

Cephus entered the season with very limited experience and an extremely tumultuous offseason in which he had to deal with the murder of his father, Andre Taylor, last April. Understandably, there have been difficult moments for him, just as there are for anyone who loses a loved one unexpectedly.

“My teammates have been there for me through the season, through all my trials and tribulations,” Cephus said. “My coaches, everybody, have always been a shoulder for me to lean on. I’m thankful to be where I am and to have the people around me that support me.”

While he’s been able to lean on teammates and coaches for support mentally and emotionally, the offense has been able to lean on him at times as well.

“I’m just pumped for him,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “Quintez busts his tail, and he gives everything he possibly can with a smile on his face and great energy. I think a lot of things are coming his way and I love it. I think he’s got a great heartbeat to what this offense needs to be. I love his energy and I love what he’s bringing to this offense and this team.”

So far on the season, Cephus has put up the best receiving numbers on the team for the Badgers. He’s made 23 grabs for 401 yards and five touchdowns in the first six games of the season. Everything he’s doing this season comes with a heavy heart and his late father on his mind.

“Any time I make a good play or a bad play I want to make him happy. Either way it goes. He’s always with me. Any moment whether it’s good or bad I’m always thinking about him.” Cephus said.

The Badgers are sitting at 6-0 for the first time since 2011 and are currently ranked fifth in the AP Top 25. Cephus has played a big role in that success, and it’s something he thinks his father would be proud of.

“It’s crazy to think about, but I know he would be really excited for me. He would probably be talking about me right now if he was here,” Cephus said. “[Despite] everything that’s has happened to me, as I pray and talk to God, I think things are going to work out for me. As long as I keep working hard and have faith, I think things will continue to be great for me.”

Before deciding on Wisconsin as his destination to play football, Cephus was actually committed to Furman to play basketball. The Macon, Ga., native loves LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, and still has passion for the game of basketball that almost led him to the hardwood rather than the gridiron.

“I was about to go there [Furman],” Cephus said. “I was committed and signing day was coming. At the last second I wanted to come here and I know my dad wanted me to come here and play football. I felt like that was the right decision for me.”

Cephus made a decision that not only the Badgers are happy with, but one that honors his late father as well.

Wisconsin’s defense comes up big in win over Purdue

MADISON, Wis. | As afternoon turned to evening Saturday the Wisconsin Badgers improved to 6-0 on the season, defeating Purdue 17-9 at a soaked Camp Randall Stadium.

Much like the weather, the game between the Badgers and Boilermakers was ugly throughout. Wisconsin was able to beat Purdue for a 12th straight time thanks to its defense overcoming those adverse conditions and the difficult situations they routinely found themselves in.

On a weekend where college football saw two top-10 teams lose to unranked opponents on Friday, and several more unbeaten teams fall on Saturday, Wisconsin saw a plethora of things go wrong offensively, yet came out with the win because the Badgers did so much well defensively.

A pair of Alex Hornibrook interceptions, a fumble by Jonathan Taylor and a blocked punt forced the Badgers to step up defensively to keep them ahead in the game. That challenge was met. The unit is at the point where they expect to not only win games, but be the reason the team can win in an ugly fashion, the way they did Saturday.

As far as being able to succeed in stressful situations, that’s something the defense has shown they can be counted on for.

“We most definitely take pride in it as soon as we take the field and we’re in that position,” linebacker Chris Orr said following the win. “Everybody is saying ‘They don’t get in the end zone’ or ‘They only leave [with] three at the most.’ It’s most definitely something we take pride in.”

Purdue came away with two field goals in four red zone trips on the day. Their other two trips ended in a Leon Jacobs interception and a missed field goal. Both red zone stops the Badgers got could not have come at a better time for the team.

After the Badgers were forced to punt from their own 47-yard-line, punter Anthony Lotti had his kick blocked by Purdue’s Garrett Hudson. The ball was then scooped up by Race Johnson of the Boilermakers and returned 18 yards. Johnson had a clear path to the end zone, however he came up injured on the play and fell to the turf at Wisconsin’s 15-yard-line.

That was the break the Badgers needed. Over the next four plays, they pushed the Boilermakers back 10 yards, to the 25-yard-line. It was from that spot that kicker JD Dellinger missed the 42-yard attempt.

The other crucial possession came late in the game. After Wisconsin went three-and-out deep in its own territory, the Badgers were forced to punt the ball back to Purdue, holding a 17-9 lead. Elijah Sindelar drove the Boilermakers down the field, reaching the Wisconsin 7-yard line before Jacobs made Sindelar pay for poor decision and throw, coming up with the interception.

“I thought he was throwing it away,” Orr said. “I saw Leon [Jacobs] and the receiver and first I thought, because [Jacob’s] got frying pans for hands, he was going to drop it. But he caught it.

“That was probably the biggest play of the day. Definitely sealed the game for us defensively.”

Wisconsin entered the game ranked No. 8 in the country in red zone defense, allowing teams to score on just 66.7 percent of the ventures inside the 20. The Badgers were even better on Saturday.

“It’s just attitude,” Orr said. “You have to tell yourself and tell your teammates, ‘They’re not going to get in the end zone no matter what. We’re going to fight, claw, scratch battle.’”

Coach Paul Chryst thought the defense was the biggest reason the Badgers were able to come out on top.

“I thought our defense was sensational,” Chryst said.

Another impressive part of the second-half defensive effort was that it came without star linebacker T.J. Edwards. The junior was ejected from the game on a targeting call shortly before halftime. It was tough to lose a leader like Edwards, but the defense was able to rally around his absence.

“Obviously, it sucks losing a linebacker like T.J. [Edwards],” linebacker Garrett Dooley said following the game. “Great player, great leader, but the good news is we have other inside linebackers who have proven to make plays and step up in big spots.”

Before leaving the field, Edwards was able to have one last act of leadership for the day.

“[Edwards] just said, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing. I know you guys are going to keep balling out there and win this game,’” Dooley said.

Just like a great defense does, the Badgers overcame all the adversity that was thrown at them against Purdue. That’s something that cannot be overstated for this unbeaten squad.

Jonathan Taylor Takes Home Big Ten Honor

For the second week in a row, the Wisconsin Badgers have a player honored as one of the Big Ten’s finest. This week, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week has been awarded to freshman running back Jonathan Taylor for his performance against Nebraska in week six. Last week, Natrell Jamerson took home the conference’s Defensive Player of the Week award.

Taylor rushed for a career-high 249 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries en route to a Wisconsin 38-17 win in Lincoln.

One of the game’s biggest moments came shortly after Nebraka’s Stanley Morgan, Jr. scored on an 80-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Tanner Lee. After the ensuing kick off was a touchback, the Badgers lined up at their own 25-yard-line. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook took a shot gun snap and handed the ball off to Taylor who then raced around the right side all the way into the end zone for a 75-yard score to give the Badgers a 17-7 lead.

Taylor’s effort Saturday night made him the second true freshman in Wisconsin history to total over 200 yards on the ground in multiple games, joining Ron Dayne who did it in 1996.

This is the second time this season Taylor has been awarded both honors, the first was week two against Florida Atlantic University where he totaled 223 yards on 26 carries, reaching the end zone a career-high three times.

This is the third Offensive Player of the Week honor for Wisconsin this year, quarterback Alex Hornibrook took home the award for his performance in week three against BYU.

Jonathan Taylor Shines in his Biggest Spot

The University of Wisconsin has a long tradition of great running backs. That’s no secret. To put Jonathan Taylor up with the likes of Ron Dayne, Montee Ball, and Melvin Gordon after five games would be irresponsible. That being said, he’s certainly on track to reach that level of greatness.

Taylor is already the best freshman back in the Big Ten, and may only trail Saquon Barkley of Penn State as the league’s best back. Barkley is a bona fide Heisman Trophy contender, and deservedly so. Taylor, while not quite in the forefront of the Heisman discussion, could very well find himself in New York for the trophy presentation in December if he keeps at his current pace.

He helped that cause in Wisconsin’s 38-17 victory against Nebraska in Lincoln in week six. Taylor rushed for 249 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries in his first taste of a Big Ten road game. Nebraska isn’t the easiest place to play at night, especially for a freshman. Taylor thrived in that difficult environment.

When Wisconsin needed a big play, Taylor was the one to step up. Nebraska cut Wisconsin’s lead to three points on a Tanner Lee 80-yard touchdown strike to Stanley Morgan, Jr. with 1:20 remaining in the first half. The Badgers needed a response to weather the storm in a hostile road environment.

On Wisconsin’s first offensive snap after the Morgan, Jr. touchdown, quarterback Alex Hornibrook took a shotgun snap from his own 25-yard-line and handed the ball to Taylor on an inside zone play.

11 seconds later Wisconsin was winning 17-7.

Few athletes in the country have the ability to change the game the way Taylor did against Nebraska. Even fewer freshman have that ability. Another that comes to mind in the Big Ten is Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins. Dobbins is a very talented freshman for the Buckeyes who burst on the scene week one with a big game against Indiana. While he certainly has a similar talent level to that of Taylor, Dobbins has lacked the consistency that Taylor has shown during his brief career.

In the biggest test of his young career, at home against Oklahoma, Dobbins was held in check with only 72 yards and a score. When the lights shined brightest, Taylor stepped up to the plate and delivered when his team needed him most.

This doesn’t mean that things cannot change, because they certainly may.  Right now Taylor is the best freshman in the Big Ten, and he’s not very far behind Barkley for the best back. The sky is the limit for the true freshman from Salem, NJ.

“The offensive line, tight ends, fullbacks, receivers did a heck of a job,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said following the win over Nebraska. “I thought [Taylor] was special tonight.”

He was special, and he has been for a majority of the season for the Badgers. If Wisconsin is going to potentially win the Big Ten and participate in the College Football Playoff Taylor is going to need to continue to be special.

“I think he’s continuing to get better.” Chryst said.

That’s a scary thought for not only the rest of the Big Ten, but the rest of the country as well.

Wisconsin releases depth chart ahead of season opener

MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin football team opens the season on Friday night, and on Sunday the team released its official two-deep depth chart.

Among the noteworthy decisions are the inclusion of four true freshmen slated to get reps in the two-deep: LS Adam Bay (starter), QB Jack Coan (backup), WR Danny Davis (backup), RB Jonathan Taylor (committee).

With Jack Cichy out for the year with a torn ACL, Ryan Connelly and T.J. Edwards will get the start at the two inside linebacker spots. Hawaii transfer Nick Nelson will supersede Jazz Peavy as the main punt returner, while A.J. Taylor will take the majority of the kick returns over Chris James.

You can see how the depth chart compares to Zach Heilprin’s predictions here.

OFFENSE
QB | Alex Hornibrook, Jack Coan
RB | Bradrick Shaw OR Chris James OR Jonathan Taylor
FB | Austin Ramesh, Alec Ingold
WR | Jazz Peavy, A.J. Taylor
WR | Quintez Cephus, Dannby Davis
TE | Troy Fumagalli, Kyle Penniston/Zander Neuville
LT | Michael Deiter, Cole Van Lanen
LG | Jon Dietzen, Micah Kapoi
C | Tyler Biadasz, Brett Connors
RG | Beau Benzschawel, Jason Erdmann/David Moorman
RT | David Edwards, Patrick Kasl

DEFENSE
DE | Alec James, Chikwe Obasih
NT | Olive Sagapolu, Garrett Rand
DE | Conor Sheehy, Isaahh Loudermilk
OLB | Garret Dooley, Andrew Van Ginkel
ILB | Ryan Connelly, Arrington Farrar
ILB | T.J. Edwards, Chris Orr
OLB | Leon Jacobs, Tyler Johnson
CB | Derrick Tindal, Dontye Carriere-Williams
SS | D’Cota Dixon, Joe Ferguson
FS | Natrell Jamerson, Patrick Johnson
CB | Nick Nelson, Lubern Figaro

SPECIAL TEAMS
P | Anthony Lotti, Connor Allen
FG | Rafael Gaglianone, Zach Hintze
KO | P.J. Rosowski, Zach Hintze
LS | Adam Bay, Josh Bernhagen
H | Connor Allen, P.J. Rosowski
PR | Nick Nelson, Jazz Peavy
KR | A.J. Taylor, Chris James

Wisconsin falls to Melbourne United on late 3-pointer

MELBOURNE, Australia — The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team faced its first test of adversity on the international trip, falling 90-89 to Melbourne United Saturday night on a late 3-point shot.

The Badgers were 3-0 on their foreign exhibition tour, seemingly on their way to a fourth win after grabbing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. But Melbourne’s Jerry Evans sank a 3-pointer from the corner with 2.4 seconds left to leave Wisconsin in shock.

“We were in situations throughout the game that we haven’t been in,” Wisconsin head coach Greg Gard told UWBadgers.com. “End of game and quarter situations, foul trouble we had to deal with. We did a lot of learning, which is exactly why you come on trips like this, to put yourself in some adverse situations and see how guys react on the fly.”

Wisconsin rallied from a 14-point second quarter deficit by scoring on 11 of its first 12 possessions to start the second half. That included scoring 32 points on 17 possessions in the third quarter.

It’s been a youth movement for the Badgers, who were led in the loss by 19 points from D’Mitrik Trice, 18 points from Kobe King, followed by Ethan Happ with 14.

“You have to learn from wins and losses,” Happ said after the loss. “The biggest thing is, we need to slow down when they’re making their run. We need to slow down on both ends where we need to hone in and get a stop or we need to hone in and get a bucket at the rim. We need to play inside-out down the stretch and make more plays.”

The Badgers failed to make it a two-possession game down the stretch. Their final two possessions included a shot clock violation and a partially blocked shot from Brevin Pritzl, for what would have been the winning basket.

The five-game tour concludes Tuesday against the Sydney Kings at 2:30 a.m. CT.

Brevin Pritzl scores 27 in win over New Zealand Breakers

AUCKLAND — The University of Wisconsin men’s basketball team started the five-game international series with an 85-75 exhibition win over the New Zealand Breakers.

Sophomore guard Brevin Pritzl led the Badgers with 27 points on the way to victory, supported by 17 points from junior center Ethan Happ. Freshman guard Brad Davison added 13. Wisconsin and New Zealand were tied 57-57 heading into the final quarter, where UW pulled away, outscoring the Breakers 28-18.

Wisconsin will have a day off before facing Tauranga City Basketball Thursday at 1:30 a.m. CT. The Badgers will play their final three games in Australia against Hawthorn Magic, Melbourne United, and Sydney Kings.

https://twitter.com/BadgerMBB/status/896387353392156672

LISTEN: Wisconsin football will play Notre Dame at Lambeau Field and Soldier Field

CHICAGO — It’s official. The Wisconsin and Notre Dame football teams are set to meet for the first time since 1964. The universities have agreed to a two-year, neutral-site football series beginning in 2020.

The Irish and Badgers will play Oct. 3, 2020, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Sept. 25, 2021, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Wisconsin Director of Athletics Barry Alvarez was one of four to make the announcement at a news conference in Chicago Monday morning.

Green Bay Packers President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Murphy was also present at the news conference.

University of Notre Dame Vice President & James E. Rohr Director of Athletics Jack Swarbrick also said it will be a great event.

 

The Irish and Badgers have played on 16 previous occasions, with Notre Dame leading the series 8-6-2. Notre Dame earned a 31-7 victory in the most recent meeting between the schools on Sept. 26, 1964, in Madison, Wisconsin, in Ara Parseghian’s debut as head coach for the Irish. The Irish and Badgers met for the first time on the gridiron on Nov. 10, 1900, when Wisconsin shut out Notre Dame, 54-0. The Badgers captured the first three all-time meetings (1900, 1904, 1905) with the Irish.

Neutral site matchups are nothing new to the Notre Dame-Wisconsin series. The 1904 and 1905 games were played in Milwaukee, while legendary Irish head coach Knute Rockne led Notre Dame to a 19-0 victory over the Badgers on Oct. 19, 1929, at Soldier Field.

Notre Dame has played 12 games at Soldier Field, most recently in 2012 when the Irish routed Miami, (Fla.), 41-3, in a Shamrock Series matchup. The Irish own an all-time record of 10-0-2 in the current home of the Chicago Bears.

Wisconsin has played three games at Soldier Field. In addition to the ’29 meeting with the Irish, the Badgers defeated Great Lakes in 1942 and Northern Illinois in 2011.

Interestingly enough, 2020 will mark Notre Dame’s first-ever appearance at legendary Lambeau Field, which is named after Curly Lambeau – former Irish player and eventual founder of the Green Bay Packers. Wisconsin has played just once in the stadium, last year’s 16-14 victory over No. 5 LSU.

The Wisconsin-Notre Dame meeting in 2020 will mark just the second major college football game in the history of Lambeau Field, and the second college game of any kind since NCAA Division III St. Norbert faced Fordham in 1983.

The 2020 and 2021 games against Notre Dame are the only future regular season games for the Badgers currently slated to be played in NFL stadiums.

 

Ex-Badgers WR Wheelwright signed by Chiefs

KANSAS CITY — Former University of Wisconsin wide receiver Robert Wheelwright has found his new home after signing a one-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Wheelwright spent the last thee-plus months as a free agent after being released by the New York Giants in May. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the Giants in April after some initial confusion over his “Carolina Panthers” Tweet that same night.

The Columbus, Ohio native joins fellow former Badger quarterback Joel Stave on the Kansas City roster after Stave was added to the Chiefs practice squad last November. Wheelwright finished his senior year with a career-high 448 yards on 34 receptions, though he only had one touchdown.

The NFL.com scouting report on Wheelwright wasn’t very promising heading into the NFL Draft. He was described as having a habit of making mental errors.

Summary: A bit of an underachiever. Wheelwright has all of the physical tools, but hasn’t quite lived up to his four-star status. Was a dependable receiver for the last two seasons for the Badgers. Doesn’t play as big as his size suggests. Will likely play the X in the NFL, despite playing the Z in Madison. Needs to get stronger, and develop more of a mean streak. Will get a camp invite, and could stick as a practice squad player for a year or two before getting a chance at a main roster.

Walk-ons Henry Houden and Ricky Finco leaving UW football team (AUDIO)

MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin tradition of emerging from walk-on status to folk hero has come to an end for in-state wide receivers Henry Houden and Ricky Finco.

UW officials confirmed Sunday morning that Houden and Finco will be leaving the football team, but will remain enrolled at the university. No reason was given for their departures.

Houden, a blooming scout player out of Madison Memorial High School, saw injuries take a toll on his contributions to the team. The news on Finco’s departure comes the day after catching a 70-yard touchdown from Kare Lyles on the first day of fall camp.

Finco was rated as the No. 18 recruit out of Arrowhead High School, per 247 Sports. He won a WIAA Division 1 State Championship in 2013 before going on to play one season at UW Whitewater. He told the Wisconsin Sports Zone Network last spring that being a Badger was a lifelong dream.

Finco played in 12 games for the Badgers last season, returning two punts for 16 total yards.

While no details were given on why exactly Houden and Finco are walking away, the Wisconsin State Journal’s Jason Galloway believes it could have something to do with declining opportunities for the Wisconsin natives.