MADISON — The Wisconsin football team is seven games into a season that is looking like it will have at least 14 games. So this week serves as essentially the midway point for the Badgers. With that in mind, we thought it would be a good time to hand out some awards for what we’ve seen so far.
Biggest surprise: RB Jonathan Taylor
This may seem ridiculous now, but when the media’s access to fall camp practices came to a close on Aug. 12, Jonathan Taylor had done nothing to distinguish himself. In fact, despite there not being an official depth chart, it appeared that Taylor was fifth in line behind Bradrick Shaw, Chris James, Taiwan Deal and Rachid Ibrahim. But an injury to Deal and a dominating Friday night scrimmage changed everything. He was among three players listed as co-starters to open the season, made his first start in Week 3 against BYU and he hasn’t looked back, rushing for 1,114 yards and 11 touchdowns in just seven games. It’s scary to think about what Wisconsin’s offense would look like without Taylor in it.
Honorable mention: RB Garrett Groshek
Biggest jump: WR Quintez Cephus
It was apparent in the spring that Quintez Cephus had made significant improvements from his freshman year and expectations were high for him, but he’s performed even better than anyone could have hoped. The sophomore leads Wisconsin in receiving yards and touchdowns, while being tied with tight end Troy Fumagalli for the most catches. He’s become the clear cut No. 1 wide receiver and has quarterback Alex Hornibrook looking his way in key situations. The crazy thing is, he’s still so raw having not played a ton of football in high school. It wouldn’t be a surprise to continue to see him make significant jumps during his Wisconsin career.
Honorable mention: RT David Edwards, S Natrell Jamerson
Best coaching job: WR coach Ted Gilmore
We could just point you to the answer right above this as to why Gilmore has done the best job, but it’s not just Cephus that has made big strides. Now in his third year at Wisconsin, Gilmore has sophomore A.J. Taylor playing at high level, got true freshman Danny Davis ready to play from the jump and built — overall — perhaps the best receiver group the Badgers have had in recent memory.
Honorable mention: Outside linebackers coach Tim Tibesar hasn’t done a shabby job either in replacing two NFL draft picks and not seeing much of a drop-off in play.
Best individual performance: QB Alex Hornibrook BYU
Say what you want about the BYU defense, but what Hornibrook did that day is among the greatest statistical performances by a quarterback in Wisconsin history. He completed a school-record 94.7 percent of his passes (18 of 19) with the only incompletion being a drop, while throwing a career-high four touchdowns. That kind of effort against air with no defense on the field would be impressive. To do it against an FBS unit like BYU is pretty remarkable.
Honorable mention: Taylor vs Nebraska, LB Leon Jacobs vs Purdue
Best play: Jonathan Taylor 75-yard touchdown vs Nebraska
The Badgers had just allowed a long touchdown of their own right before halftime when Hornibrook handed the ball to Taylor and he burst through the right side of the line. Taylor turned on the jets to beat the cornerback and raced in for the score. The timing of the play, plus getting to see Taylor really open up and use his track speed, make it among the most needed and impressive plays of the year.
Honorable mention: Jacobs timely interception against Purdue
Best drive: at Nebraska
Nebraska had just tied the game at 17 in the third quarter on an interception return for a touchdown and Memorial Stadium was rocking. It got even louder after a penalty forced the Badgers to start from their own 7-yard line. All they did was go 93 yards in 10 plays to take the lead on their way to a 38-17 victory.
Best stat: Four interceptions returned for touchdowns
Through seven games, Wisconsin has returned four interceptions for touchdowns. For perspective, the Badgers had a total of five in the last seven seasons combined.
Here’s a look at all four in order: