Wisconsin football: Midseason awards

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:

Wisconsin puts two on midseason AP All-American teams

MADISON — 18 months ago David Edwards was a former high school quarterback playing tight end for Wisconsin. On Tuesday, the Associated Press named him a midseason first-team All-American at right tackle for the Badgers.

The sophomore was one of four Big Ten players to make the list and the only one from Wisconsin. Edwards has started the last 13 games for the Badgers, taking over midway through 2016. With his help, the Wisconsin running game is tops in the Big Ten and ranked 13th in the country at 263.8 yards per game.

Earning second-team All-American recognition was running back Jonathan Taylor. The true freshman is third in the country in rushing at 164.3 yards per game, and he’s gone over 200 yards three times in the first six games.

Edwards and Taylor will try to help the fifth-ranked Badgers move to 7-0 for the first time since 2004 when they take on Maryland this Saturday.

Click here for the full AP team.

The versatile Michael Deiter, Alex Hornibrook works with Peyton Manning and a practice in Milwaukee

MADISON — What appeared to be a move out of necessity in the spring has turned into a legitimate possibility for the University of Wisconsin.

When the Badgers open fall camp on Saturday, junior Michael Deiter, who has started a total of 27 games at left guard and center the last two years, will be lining up at left tackle with the first-team offense. The Curtice, Ohio native saw time at the position near the end of spring when sophomore David Edwards went down with an ankle injury, but it was unclear if the move would be long-term. While things can certainly change before Wisconsin opens the season on Sept. 1 against Utah State, Deiter is penciled in as the replacement for All-American Ryan Ramczyk.

“I was more comfortable than I expected,” Deiter said of the move on Friday afternoon at Wisconsin’s local media day. “The transition wasn’t as intense as I thought it was going to be. It was pretty natural. I’m really excited to see what I can do at the start of camp out there.”

Edwards will open camp back at right tackle, which is where he started the final seven games of the 2016 season. He’s expected to battle redshirt freshman Patrick Kasl for that job.

LISTEN: OC Joe Rudolph on what Michael Deiter’s versatility could mean for him in the NFL

Wisconsin, especially during coach Paul Chryst’s tenure, has been focused on trying to get its best five players on the field along the line no matter the positions the guys are playing. By having Deiter at left tackle, and Edwards back on the right side, the coaching staff thinks, at least at this point, this is the best way to do it.

The move of Deiter could not be possible without the emergence of redshirt freshman Tyler Biadasz. Though he had never played center before coming to Wisconsin, the 6-foot-3, 316-pound, Biadasz took right to the position and the staff almost used him a year ago when injuries cropped up. In the spring, with several players sitting out, the Amherst, Wis., product took almost all of the first-team reps at center to put himself in the mix.

“Tyler wants it. You feel that, and the players feel that throughout the room,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said Friday. “He’s tough. He worked from day one. He wants the stress of making the right calls and executing. That’s why he’s got a right — and a great opportunity — to start at center.”

Practice in Milwaukee

Wisconsin will take fall camp on the road this year, with the school announcing Friday it will hold a practice in Milwaukee that will be open to the public. The team will then take in a Milwaukee Brewers game.

“I’ve always felt it would be great for Wisconsin to go to Milwaukee,” Chryst said. “You appreciate all the fans from the Milwaukee area that come here all the time.”

The practice will take place on Aug. 10 at Custer Stadium and should help to break up the monotony that takes hold during fall camp.

“I thought it’d be a good day for us,” Chryst said. “And then to be able to tie in something that would be a good experience for our players, go the Brewer game, I thought it’d be a good day.”

Alex Hornibrook with Peyton Manning

Named Wisconsin’s starting quarterback before spring practice, Alex Hornibrook continued his push to improve this offseason. The redshirt sophomore was among more than 40 college quarterbacks invited to take part in the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana in late June.

Started by former NFL quarterback Archie Manning in 1996, the camp is described as the premier offensive football skills camp in the nation for QBs, RBs, WRs and TEs. Two of Manning’s sons that went on to star in the NFL as quarterbacks — Peyton and Eli — are a part of it, which made it special for Hornibrook.

“The coolest thing was probably just being around Peyton and Eli,” Hornibrook said. “Those are two guys I’ve looked up to my whole life. Peyton is still my all-time favorite quarterback. To be able to be there and learn from him was an awesome experience.”

LISTEN: Alex Hornibrook talks about how he came to be a Peyton Manning fan.

Scholarship players missing

The Badgers can carry 105 players on their fall camp roster, so scholarship guys rarely get left off. But that will be the case this fall for a few of them.

Four guys — right tackle Jake Maxwell, linebacker Mason Stokke, cornerback Faion Hicks and running back Sam Broadner — were not on the roster distributed to the media on Friday due to injuries. Maxwell had offseason shoulder surgery and missed spring practice. Stokke sustained a knee injury and Chryst said during Big Ten media days in Chicago that he suffered a setback this summer. Hicks, an early enrollee, underwent shoulder surgery midway through spring practice. And Broadner suffered a knee injury in the spring game.

It’s unclear when, or if, any of the four will be able to join the team at any point during fall camp.

A fifth player, junior nose guard Jeremy Patterson, was also not included on the roster. A 3-star recruit out of Georgia, the 6-foot-3, 351-pound Patterson has been unable to get on the field for any meaningful snaps in his career and had been passed by some younger players in the spring.

Quote of the day

“Center, two guards, two tackles.”

— Rudolph when asked by a reporter what his lineup along the offensive line would be if they had a game tomorrow.

Wisconsin 23, Nebraska 17 (OT): 2-minute drill

Game Balls

Offense: Dare Ogunbowale

Saturday night belonged to the senior running back. He carried the ball just 11 times but ran for a season-high 120 yards, the fourth time he’s topped the century mark in his career, with half of them coming against Nebraska.

Showing patience and some elite quickness, Ogunbowale sliced through the Huskers defense time after time, doing most of his damage on draws, exploiting an aggressive front seven. On his final carry of the night, he followed left tackle Ryan Ramczyk and center Michael Deiter around the edge of the Nebraska defense for an 11-yard touchdown that proved to be the winning score.

Defense: Ryan Connelly, Leon Jacobs

Tasked with trying to replace Jack Cichy, the heart and soul of the defense, the two inside linebackers flew all over the field, finishing with a combined 22 tackles, two tackles for loss and a couple pass break-ups. They weren’t without their flaws — outside linebacker Vince Biegel says they had some communication issues — but put in a difficult situation they played at a very high level.

Special Teams: Corey Clement

It what wasn’t a banner night for the special teams, Clement’s 24-yard punt return in the first quarter stands out. The senior was able to shake off some would-be tacklers and set the offense up with great field position at their own 49-yard line. Two plays later the Badgers were in the end zone to take an early 7-0 lead.

Tweets of the Night

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Video of the Night

Quote of the Day

“There was a sense of calm and confidence that (we) had coming out there.

“We were not going to let another close one — (an) overtime night game — slip by our fingers again.”

Linebacker Vince Biegel on the defense’s mentality as they took the field in overtime with a 6-point lead

In Case You Missed It

— Wisconsin’s Rafael Gaglianone joined Nebraska kicker Drew Brown and the rest of the Huskers specialists for their pregame ritual of carrying the late Sam Foltz’s jersey to the sideline. Foltz, a punter at Nebraska, was killed, along with former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler, in a car accident in Wisconsin back in July.

— Redshirt freshman David Edwards, a converted tight end, made his first career start at right tackle in place of the injured Jake Maxwell.

— Cornerback Natrell Jamerson missed his sixth straight game as a result of a leg injury. However, the junior did take part in warm-ups and could be close to returning.

— Former Wisconsin defensive lineman Tim Krumrie was honored during the game for his enshrinement into the College Football Hall of Fame. Krumrie led Wisconsin in tackles in all four years he played, and was named All-Big Ten three times.

— Wisconsin used two different quarterbacks for a second straight week. Redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook got the start, but senior Bart Houston played significant reps and was in the game on the Badgers score in overtime. The two combined to 14 of 23 for 114 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

— Junior fullback Austin Ramesh sustained an arm injury in the second half and didn’t return.

Inside the Numbers

6 — That’s the number of freshmen the Badgers had on the field for Bradrick Shaw’s 21-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Along with four redshirt freshmen — Shaw, Hornibrook, Edwards and guard Jon Dietzen — a pair of true freshmen — A.J. Taylor and Quintez Cephus — were in the game as well.

37.2% — That’s Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong’s completion percentage in his three games against Wisconsin after managing to hit on just 12 of 31 throws on Saturday night.

3-2 — That’s Wisconsin Big Ten record, leaving them one game behind Nebraska in the West Division. If the Badgers win out, and the Huskers lose any of their final four games, Wisconsin will play for a Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis for the fourth time in six years.

10 — That’s the number of pass break-ups the Wisconsin defense had, including one that led to an interception.

What’s Next?

Wisconsin (6-2, 3-2) will travel down I-90/39 next Saturday to take on Northwestern (4-4, 3-2). The Badgers haven’t won in Evanston since 1999.

David Edwards looking to be the next TE to OL success story

MADISON | Imagine a world in which you were encouraged to eat your favorite unhealthy food every day with zero consequences.

Oh, you want a bacon double cheeseburger? Go for it.

How about loading your plate up with pancakes drenched in maple syrup? It’s all yours.

Or what about a heaping portion of chicken alfredo seven days a week? Yep, you can have that, too.

This is essentially the life that David Edwards – Wisconsin’s newest offensive lineman — is living in right now. For him, the food he can’t get enough of is Chicago-style deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s, a popular restaurant chain in the Chicago area, including a store in Edwards’ hometown of Downers Grove.

“It’s so good,” Edwards said with a huge grin following a practice this past week.

A “skinny” 240 pounds when he arrived on campus last summer, the 6-foot-7 Edwards has packed on 50 pounds, all of it needed as he makes the move from tight end to offensive tackle.

“It is fun,” Edwards said of the weight-gaining process. “Obviously you can’t only put garbage in your body, but when I was playing tight end I was monitoring my weight a little bit. But now I cut it loose and can eat whatever I want, whenever I want.”

And he’s done just that, eating up to four times a day, while he’s watched his weight steadily rise to where he tipped the scales at 290 pounds as the Badgers opened fall camp. He hopes to be 300 pounds before the start of the season and could potentially settle in at 315 to 320.

Edwards story is one that’s not unfamiliar to Wisconsin offensive line coach Joe Rudolph. In 2008, when he served as the team’s tight ends coach, a walk-on from West Allis came to campus as a “big” tight end. But like Edwards, it became pretty clear early on that a change would be needed.

“Ricky (Wagner) came in at 245 pounds,” Rudolph said of the former All-Big Ten left tackle. “Then he was 272 one morning and he got moved. David came in at 280 one morning, and we’re like, ‘Ah, this is probably going to be where he’s going.’”

Wagner made the move while redshirting during his freshman season. He played in 12 games in 2009 and went on to start 37 contests over the next three years, playing along an offensive line that was a key in winning back-to-back-to-back Big Ten titles. A fifth-round pick of the Baltimore Ravens in the 2013 NFL Draft, Wagner has been a mainstay at right tackle for them, having started 31 of a possible 32 games over the past two years.

The day Wagner was drafted marked the end of a journey that Edwards is just starting. Asked what advice he’d give Edwards, the 26-year-old Wagner was straight and to the point.

“You really got to learn fast or you’re not going to make it,” Wagner said this past week during a break at Baltimore’s training camp. “It’s definitely a good thing to get thrown into the fire early on because you learn fast.”

And that’s exactly what’s happening for Edwards. A former high school quarterback, the redshirt freshman has been working with the second-team offense at right tackle, while also getting some reps with the starters in place of redshirt sophomore Jake Maxwell. That means facing All-Big Ten performers like outside linebacker Vince Biegel and defensive end Chikwe Obasih on every snap.

“Everything happens a lot quicker,” Edwards said. “[You’ve] got guys in your face [right away].”

Perhaps no position group on the field needs great technique to play at a high level more than the offensive line. It takes time to learn those movements, and it’s something that neither Wagner or Edwards was ever exposed to in high school. So, outside of on-field work, how does one improve? They open their eyes.

“The biggest thing that helped me was just watching the guys in front of me, watching the starters on tape, pretending that’s you,” Wagner said. “If they do something good, look at why they had success on that play. If they did something wrong, figure out how they can improve it. It really puts yourself in their shoes on film.”

Edwards admitted that having the confidence he could make the move wasn’t necessarily there when the coaching staff told him of the position change back in June. The same could have been said of Wagner when he walked into a room with future first-round picks Gabe Carimi and Kevin Zeitler. But it didn’t last.

“It was kind of intimidating at first. But once I got there, all the guys were like coaches for me,” Wagner said. “They really took me under their wing and really made the transition as easy as possible for me.

“The guys really helped me out and accepted me as one of their own. And I think the offensive line, as a group, is such a tightknit family. It’s hard to fail once they accept you.”

Veterans along the current line accepted Edwards in a similar fashion. If he had questions, he could look to guards Beau Benzschawel and Micah Kapoi. And he’s also well aware of what Wagner accomplished and wouldn’t mind following in his footsteps.

“He’s a great person to look up,” Edwards said.

It’s also possible that the days of being a tight end aren’t completely over for Edwards. Over the past 20 seasons, including when head coach Paul Chryst was Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator, the Badgers have used offensive linemen as jumbo tight ends. Joe Thomas played there as a true freshman in 2003, and Bill Nagy lined up there in 2009 and 2010.

“He might go out there and play tight end for us in a bunch of games. And if we need him to play tackle, we feel like he can play tackle. And do a great job there,” Rudolph said. “He’s going to have a role on this team, but it’s probably going to be multiple (positions) this year.

“But I think his future is going to be at tackle, and I think he’s got a chance to be really good there.”