Grading the Badgers: Wide receivers

The wide receiver position at Wisconsin was one that came into the season with high expectations. Senior receivers Jazz Peavy and George Rushing were supposed to lead the group while Quintez Cephus would have been great to watch develop.

Things didn’t pan out that way on the outside for the Badgers. Rushing didn’t play a snap all season and by the end of the year wasn’t around the team, Peavy played in the first four games before an injury and personal issues ended his season. He was also not with the team by the end of the year.

Cephus, however, took great strides in developing his game. He was Wisconsin’s most explosive threat on the outside. Cephus had 30 grabs for 501 yards and six touchdowns on the season before he suffered a leg injury requiring surgery against Indiana.

The absence of Cephus meant that Wisconsin was missing three of their scholarship wide receivers and had to rely on much younger players at that position than previously anticipated.

Sophomore A.J. Taylor, redshirt freshman Kendric Pryor, and freshman Danny Davis became the go-to threats for Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook.

Taylor was the only one of the three to play in all 13 games for Wisconsin this season. Both Pryor and Davis missed time due to injury. Pryor was involved in a moped accident during the preseason that caused him to miss time and Davis suffered a leg injury keeping him out of a game.

Of the three, Taylor had the best season. He finished with 23 catches for 370 yards and four touchdowns. Davis was close behind him, finishing the year with 21 catches, 362 yards, and two touchdowns.

Davis and Taylor did more damage through the air than Pryor, although the redshirt freshman was still effective. Pryor had 11 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown through the air. He was also utilized in the team’s rushing attack, collecting 63 yards and two touchdowns on five carries this season.

The group grew quite a bit during the season, transforming from an experienced group with an explosive playmaker in Cephus to an inexperienced group of talented athletes. The future is really bright at this position, especially if Cephus can return to the level of play he was at during the season before he saw his season end prematurely.

GRADE: B+ — This group faced one of the more difficult transformations on the 2017 Badgers. They stepped up to the plate at the end of the season and have a very high ceiling, especially when Cephus returns. Davis might have the highest ceiling of the young trio playing at the end of the season, but Taylor and Pryor should certainly be significant contributors moving forward at the wide receiver position.

Wisconsin’s wide receivers ready to show off their ammo

MADISON – Quintez Cephus went up and made a terrific touchdown catch over Indiana defensive back Tony Fields in the week 10 matchup between the Badgers and Hoosiers. That would be the last big play that Cephus made for Wisconsin in the 2017 season. Later in the game he injured his right leg requiring season ending surgery.

“I had just thought [Cephus] was just hurt,” fellow wide receiver A.J. Taylor said. “After the game that’s when I saw him in the wheel chair and he was giving everyone a high-five. Just after that they told us [he was done]. It does hurt, we needed him and we miss him but that is how it is.”

Before the injury, Cephus was the top target on the outside for Wisconsin’s offense. He finishes the season with 30 grabs for 501 yards and six touchdowns.

Taylor is one of the receivers tasked with having to pick up the slack from that position with the absence of Cephus. Against Iowa he only had one grab, but it was a good enough for a touchdown from five yards out to put the icing on a 38-14 victory.

Taylor isn’t alone in having to help fill the void left by Cephus’ injury, however. Fellow receivers Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor are seeing the field quite a bit and were productive against Iowa. While they’ve both been in and out of the lineup this season due to injuries, Wisconsin’s offense needs them now more than ever. They’re motivated to pick up the slack.

“If anybody says anything like [that wide receiver is a weak spot without Cephus] you just have to go out there, and you can’t think about it too much but you just have to make those plays and eventually they’ll stop saying that,” Davis said. “We’ll continue to make those plays on Saturday and shut everybody up.”

“Honestly, I don’t think so,” Pryor said when asked if Iowa expected the receiver group to play as well as they did without Cephus. “It’s just about us going out there, we just go out there and play ball and that eventually people will know that we’ll go out there and make plays.”

The extra motivation seemed to work for both Davis and Pryor. Davis was the team’s leading receiver for the day with four grabs for 74 yards, including a couple crucial grabs early in the game with Wisconsin trailing after Iowa’s Josh Jackson pick-six on the first drive.

Pryor made an impact as well. He only had two touches, with both of them finding the end zone. On Wisconsin’s fifth drive of the game he took a handoff from quarterback Alex Hornibrook around the left end and took it 25 yards to the end zone. That gave Wisconsin the lead and they never turned back. Two drives later he caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Hornibrook to put Wisconsin up 17-7 before the half.

The play of his fellow receivers seemed to appease the injured Cephus who took to Twitter during the game.

Wisconsin wide receiver Quintez Cephus took to Twitter during the second half of Wisconsin’s 38-14 win over Iowa on November 11, 2017.

“He told me after the game what he was tweeting,” Pryor said. “He came on the field after the game and was like ‘Kendric Pryor! Danny Davis! A.J. Taylor! We’ve got ammo!’ That’s pretty cool though, that just shows me he’s still engaged trying to just motivate us while he’s not able to be out there.”

With how well Wisconsin has been able to run the ball with freshman running back Jonathan Taylor this season people certainly are aware of the ammo the offense has, just not at the receiver position.

“We’ve got ammo,” Davis said, reciting Cephus’ tweet. “I thought that was pretty funny, man, because we do. We just have to go out there and showcase it on Saturday.”

While both Davis and Pryor were aware of the message Cephus was telling the Twittersphere, Taylor was unaware.

“I don’t know, I didn’t see it,” Taylor said upon learning of the tweets Cephus sent. “That’s dope, I like that. I didn’t even know about that, that’s hilarious.”

The Badgers can still perform well offensively without Cephus, Taylor knows they have the ammo to do so.

“We really just have to focus up and detail as much as we can. I mean, the biggest thing is just getting better each week and we’ve got to get better each day. We really just have to step up, step up and bring our A game.”

Wisconsin WR Quintez Cephus to miss the rest of the year

The expectation became reality today for the Wisconsin football team.

On Thursday’s injury report, wide receiver Quintez Cephus had gone from out for Saturday’s game against No. 20 Iowa to out for the season. It comes five days after he suffered a leg injury against Indiana that required surgery.

“You feel bad for him, certainly,” coach Paul Chryst told reporters. “[Quintez] will bounce back.”

Wisconsin is losing its No. 1 receiver in Cephus, who is tied with Troy Fumagalli with the most catches (30) on the team and leads the Badgers in receiving yards (501) and touchdowns (6). In fact, with Cephus out, along with seniors Jazz Peavy and George Rushing likely not playing again, Wisconsin must finish the year without three guys that have amassed 120 catches, 1,761 yards and 11 touchdowns in their careers.

That said, the Badgers have become accustomed to dealing with injuries and other guys filling in. In this case, that means sophomore A.J. Taylor, freshman Danny Davis and redshirt freshman Kendric Pryor. That trio has combined for 31 catches, 534 yards and three scores in their careers, most of which has come this season.

“I’m excited for them and their opportunity,” Chryst said. “Every time you say that it’s not like you’re not going to miss [the guy you lost]. You miss all the people. But, absolutely, I feel confident about the guys in that room stepping up and those around stepping up.”

Here’s a look at the full injury report in advance of Wisconsin’s game with No. 20 Iowa.

Wisconsin 45, Indiana 17: 2-minute drill

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — The Wisconsin defense forced three turnovers and fullback Alec Ingold scored three touchdowns as the Badgers beat Indiana 45-17 to move to 9-0 for the first time since 2004.

Play of the Game

Wisconsin trailed 10-7 midway through the second quarter when outside linebacker Tyler Johnson ripped the ball free from Morgan Ellison just before he hit the turf. Though officials initially said Ellison was down — and the whistle blew — a mad scramble for the ball ensued and the Badgers recovered. It then went to replay and officials determined it was indeed a fumble, giving Wisconsin the ball deep in Indiana territory. Two plays later, the Badgers took a lead they would not relinquish.

Game Balls

Offense: Jonathan Taylor

After missing nearly three quarters against Illinois with a leg injury, the freshman running back was a force against Indiana. He took his first carry for 45 yards and finished the day with 183 — his sixth game of at least 100 yards this season. Taylor showed great vision on his touchdown, taking a jet sweep, cutting up and then out to get free. Wisconsin’s offense is a different animal when he’s on the field, even if he wasn’t necessarily 100 percent.

Defense: Joe Ferguson

Subbing in for an injured D’Cota Dixon, the senior safety was involved in all three of Wisconsin’s takeaways. He recovered the pivotal fumble that led to a touchdown, and then had a pair of second-half interceptions that led to touchdowns. According to UW, Ferguson has been involved in six of Wisconsin’s 19 takeaways this season.

Dixon has been very good and the Badgers are better with him on the field, but Ferguson has been a nice fill-in when needed, including on Saturday.

Special Teams: Wisconsin’s punting unit

The duo of Connor Allen and Anthony Lotti combined to punt four times and none were returned. They also dropped two of them inside the 20-yard line, forcing the Hoosiers to start deep in their own territory.

In their own words
Wisconsin fullback Alec Ingold talks about his three touchdown day.

In Case You Missed It

— Wisconsin was hit hard by injuries on Saturday. The Badgers lost linebacker Chris Orr to a leg injury in the first quarter, safety D’Cota Dixon to a leg injury in the second quarter and then wide receiver Quintez Cephus also to a leg injury in the third quarter.

— Wide receiver Danny Davis returned to the field after missing the past two games with a leg injury. He finished with one catch for 10 yards.

— When Indiana went up 7-0 in the first quarter, it was the first time since the Big Ten opener that Wisconsin had trailed.

Inside the Numbers

15 — That’s the number of games Wisconsin has won in a row with Alex Hornibrook under center.

18 — That’s the number of pass break-ups cornerback Nick Nelson has this season, just one short of the school record.

14 — That’s the number of touchdowns Alec Ingold has in his career after scoring three on Saturday. He’s averaging a touchdown every six times he touches the ball.

10-0 — That would be Wisconsin’s record if it beats Iowa next Saturday. The Badgers have never been 10-0.

What’s Next

Wisconsin (9-0, 6-0) will welcome Iowa to Camp Randall Stadium next Saturday. The home team hasn’t won in the series since 2008.

Preview: (9) Wisconsin at Indiana

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers (8-0, 5-0) vs the Indiana Hoosiers (3-5, 0-5)

The time: 11 a.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Ind.

The TV coverage: ABC with Dave Pasch and Greg McElroy in the booth, and Tom Luginbill on the sideline.

The last time: Wisconsin ran for 554 yards, including 205 from James White, in a 51-3 win in 2013.

The series: Wisconsin leads 40-18-2

The line: Wisconsin -13.5

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

WR Quintez Cephus (head)
CB Madison Cone (leg)
S D’Cota Dixon (leg)
RB Chris James (leg)
RB Jonathan Taylor (leg)

OUT

Game:

TE Luke Benzschawel (leg)
DE Isaiahh Loudermilk (leg)
WR Jazz Peavy (leg)
FB Austin Ramesh (head)
WR George Rushing (leg)

Season:

S Patrick Johnson (arm)
RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
LB Jack Cichy (knee)
LB Zack Baun (foot)
RB Sam Brodner (knee)
LB Mason Stokke (leg)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) Make a statement

No one expected Wisconsin to be among the top four teams in the first College Football Playoff rankings, but it was still surprising to see one of the four remaining unbeaten Power 5 teams at No. 9. Obviously, a lot of that has to do with a lackluster schedule and there is nothing Wisconsin can do about it. What the Badgers do have control over, though, is how they play against the lesser teams on their schedule. And unlike No. 2 Alabama, whose schedule is just as bad as Wisconsin’s, they haven’t dominated that opposition. That needs to change starting Saturday so the Badgers can, at the very least, start passing the eye test for the selection committee.

2) Injuries pile up

At a time Wisconsin was hoping to be hitting its stride entering the final month of the season, the Badgers are instead trying to navigate through several key injuries. The headliner is running back Jonathan Taylor, who is battling an ankle injury that cut his day short against Illinois last week after 12 carries. He practiced some this week, but he remains questionable. Same goes for wide receiver Quintez Cephus, who was in a no-contact jersey as late as Wednesday with a head injury. Those two guys have accounted for half of the 32 touchdowns the Badgers have scored on offense this year. Missing one or both against Indiana would be less than ideal to say the least.

3) Speed it up

It feels like Wisconsin has faced up-tempo offenses nearly every week this season, but Indiana will be the fastest the Badgers have seen. The Hoosiers average 81.4 plays per game, the No. 6 mark in the country. All those plays are designed to not only stress a defense physically, but also mentally. The key will be communication, so getting safety D’Cota Dixon (leg) back in the lineup would be a nice boost.

4) Is this who Alex Hornibrook is?

When Wisconsin began Big Ten play in late September, it did so with a quarterback in Alex Hornibrook that had thrown eight touchdowns and just one interception during non-conference action. Now five games into the conference season, the sophomore has thrown just five touchdowns while tossing seven interceptions, including at least one in each conference game. His propensity to turn the ball over is the biggest concern facing the team. Is this who he is? Or is it something he can get figured out in the final quarter of the regular season?

5) Road success

Under Paul Chryst, the Badgers have excelled in true road games. Wisconsin is 11-1 since he arrived in 2015 with the lone loss coming last year at Michigan. Indiana presents a different kind of challenge, one the Badgers saw last week at Illinois — a lack of environment. As opposed to playing in front of 78,000 at Camp Randall Stadium, the much-less-than-capacity crowd expected at Memorial Stadium means the Badgers have to bring their own energy and not fall into the trap that catches so many teams in stale environments. They overcame it last week and will need to again.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Wisconsin has won its last nine games against Indiana by an average of 36.8 points per game — the largest margin between Power 5 teams since 2005.

The Badgers have had eight different players run for at least 100 yards against Indiana over the last night games: Brian Calhoun, P.J. Hill, David Gilreath, John Clay, Montee Ball, James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement

Wisconsin cornerback Nick Nelson has 14 pass break-ups so far this season, tied for the second-most in the country. The junior is still looking for his first interception.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Indiana 13 (8-0 on the season, 5-3 against the spread)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 28, Indiana 10 (8-0 on the season, 4-4 against the spread)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 31, Indiana 7 (8-0 on the season, 4-4 against the spread)

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’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.

Grades for Wisconsin at the quarter pole of the season

These types of articles are normally reserved for the middle of the season when you’ve likely got six or more games to judge a team on. But with Wisconsin’s bye coming after just three weeks — and no other break in the action until the first or second week of December — we decided to undertake an effort to grade what we’ve seen so far in a 3-0 start for the Badgers. Is it fair to do so with such a small sample size? Probably not. But here we go.

Quarterback: B+

Save for a rough outing late in the second quarter and most of the second half against Florida Atlantic, Alex Hornibrook has been fantastic in his second year as a starter. After throwing nine touchdowns all of last year, the sophomore has thrown eight already and is on pace to break Russell Wilson’s single-season school record of 33. And perhaps even more importantly, he’s got just one interception.

The competition will certainly pick up in Big Ten play, but Hornibrook looks like the quarterback many envisioned coming into the year.

Running back: A-

If we were grading this based on Jonathan Taylor alone, it would have easily been an A+. The New Jersey native has been terrific in averaging 146 yards per game — tops for any freshman in the country. He’s still learning and isn’t perfect, but his blend of power, speed and balance make him a terror for defenses.

The rest of the running back group has been up and down. Junior Chris James was anxious and struggled in his debut against Utah State, before bouncing back with a 100-yard outing in a win over Florida Atlantic. Sophomore Bradrick Shaw looked solid as the starter in the opener, but an injury kept him out in Week 2, and it seems unlikely he’ll get his job back this season considering what Taylor has done.

The freshman is the lead dog here and is the reason for such a high grade.

Wide receiver: B

All of the wide receivers have taken a significant leap from a year ago, especially Quintez Cephus. The sophomore already has three touchdowns and has become Wisconsin’s No. 1 option on the outside.

A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis and Jazz Peavy have all been involved and looked solid, but the overall grade suffers due to the drops in the first two weeks. Still, this group has the makings of being the deepest Wisconsin has had in recent memory. Their final grade figures to be much higher.

Tight ends: A-

Troy Fumagalli was outstanding in the first two games, gaining nearly 100 yards each week. He caught his third touchdown of the year against BYU in what was an otherwise quiet game for the preseason All-American. The senior has also been part of a strong rushing attack that is currently second in the Big Ten.

Outside of junior Zander Neuville’s impressive touchdown catch against Utah State, he and sophomore Kyle Penniston have not really been heavily involved in the passing game, combining for five catches through three games. They, like Fumagalli, still play a vital role in the run game.

LISTEN: The latest edition of our Wisconsin podcast ‘The Camp’

Offensive line: B

The numbers would suggest Wisconsin has been off the charts good along the line, as the Badgers rank 14th in the country in rushing at 275 yards per game and are giving up about one sack per game. But while they’ve been pretty good, in only one game — against BYU — were they the dominating unit many thought they would be. While the game was still in doubt, they opened huge running holes and allowed Hornibrook to have all day to pass. If they can get that kind of effort on a week-to-week basis, their end of the of season grade will jump significantly.

Defensive line: B+

Wisconsin’s defense isn’t designed for the linemen to have big numbers, and that has certainly played out for the group in the first three games as they’ve combined for just one tackle for loss. But they’ve played a role in helping the Badgers limit opponents to 90.6 yards per game on the ground, good enough for 15th in the nation.

They’ve done it largely without senior Chikwe Obasih (knee), who remains sidelined indefinitely . While it’s been a challenge without him, redshirt freshman Isaiahh Loudermilk has filled in nicely behind senior starters Alec James and Conor Sheehy.

Linebackers: A-

Teams have been able to run the ball early in games against Wisconsin, but that’s been more about scheme than anything physical. Once they’ve had a chance to digest what they’re seeing, it’s been lights out for opposing offenses.

At inside linebacker, sophomore Chris Orr leads the team in tackles coming off a missed season with a torn ACL, while junior T.J. Edwards has continued to evolve as a playmaker, coming up with three tackles for loss and two interceptions. Junior Ryan Connelly has been solid, too.

On the outside, senior Leon Jacobs leads Wisconsin with four tackles for loss, senior Garret Dooley has been solid on the edge, and junior Andrew Van Ginkel has proven to be the pass rusher the Badgers needed with his two sacks.

Secondary: B

Wisconsin has been up in its games, so the passing numbers for the opposition aren’t great indicators of how well the secondary is playing — and they are playing well. The only concern here is the issues they had in communication in the first two games, including on a play that resulted in a long touchdown for Florida Atlantic. But none of those things showed up against BYU, and it’s possible they just needed time to adjust with several new faces seeing the field for the first time.

Special teams: B+

The Badgers have been solid here, with kicker Rafael Gaglianone going 3 of 4 on field goals, while Anthony Lotti has dropped four of his 10 punts inside the 20-yard line. With kickoffs split between Zach Hintze and P.J. Rosowski, Wisconsin is allowing opponents to start — on average — at their own 22-yard line.

The return units with Nick Nelson and Taylor, especially the latter on kickoff, have been one or two blocks away from taking one back for a score.

Overall: A-

After an uneven first two weeks, Wisconsin showed against BYU what it can be and what many believe it will be. That’s reflected in the overall grade, as we add in the promise shown and the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately factor.

It’s still early, but Wisconsin’s young wide receivers have shown they can play

MADISON | Ted Gilmore was very excited about the three wide receivers the Wisconsin football team signed last February as part of their 2016 recruiting class. But even he admitted he wouldn’t know exactly what he had in them until they stepped on the field this fall.

“So many times in recruiting you think you have an idea of what you see on tape, and then once they get here, they’ve got to put it all together,” the second-year wide receivers coach said Sunday afternoon. “Is it what you thought it was? And it’s what we thought it was.”

Yes, after seven practices of fall camp it’s become clear that Quintez Cephus, A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor all have the potential to contribute sooner rather than later for the Badgers.

“I like all three of those guys,” Gilmore said. “I think we hit the jackpot.”

With last year’s leading receiver Alex Erickson catching touchdowns and returning punts for scores with the Cincinnati Bengals this preseason, the gaping hole of production left behind needs to be filled. It’s believed that senior Rob Wheelwright and junior Jazz Peavy will be the top two options, and it’s likely they will be when healthy. But neither of them are right now, and that’s left the door open for junior George Rushing, senior Reggie Love and the three first-year guys. And it’s the latter of that group that have stood out.

Head coach Paul Chryst said on Saturday that the trio deserved more reps, while also cautioning they still have a way to go. And Gilmore echoed that statement.

“They have earned more reps,” he said. “They’re flashy. They’re having some moments, and they have those freshmen moments where they turn right and should have went left. But the athleticism is there. The ability is there.”

And Gilmore is coaching that ability up, likely more so than a year ago when he had veterans in the lineup. He can be seen sprinting from spot to spot on the field, telling guys if they are lining up wrong or what route they’re supposed to run. He’s the first to congratulate them on good plays and also the first to make corrections. It’s all part of a process that will take a step up on Monday when the team scrimmages for the first time this fall.

“I can’t assume anything. And not that I do with the older guys, but sometimes they’ve earned the right to fail,” Gilmore said. “Right now I’m not giving (the young players) a chance to fail. I’m steering them the whole way and helping them out. When we scrimmage (on Monday), they’re on their own. I’m not going to stand behind them. I’m just going to see who knows it for speed.”

Cephus has flashed the most of the three, beating defensive backs with regularity. That’s he’s adapted so quickly is a tad surprising, simply because he played just one year of varsity football at his high school in Georgia. His first love was basketball and had scholarship offers from a number of schools, and even committed to Furman last September. Search Youtube, and you’ll find plenty of videos where the 6-foot-1, 195-pound, Cephus is throwing down rim-rattling dunks.

Though the skills he showed on the court don’t transfer seamlessly, his competitive spirit does. He’s battled the veteran defensive backs throughout the first week of camp and didn’t cede an inch.

“I knew there would be a learning curve, and there is,” Gilmore said. “He knows the base concepts, but when we have an adjustment he’s still struggling with that. But he’s a competitor. That’s what comes out. Even if (he) doesn’t know what he’s doing, he’s competing. I love that.”

While Cephus was a basketball star, Taylor was the star running back and the No. 1 ranked player in the state of Missouri. But Gilmore saw him and thought wide receiver.

“I was a little hesitant coming in,” Taylor admitted of the position switch. “But this summer really changed my whole mindset. I’ve been working and working, trying to get more consistent. And actually, I feel a lot more comfortable playing receiver now than I did my whole four years playing running back [in high school]. I feel more confident [now] than anything.”

And when he has a question, he’ll ask it. Though Gilmore sometimes tells him to shut it down and just play.

“A.J.’s a very smart kid. A.J. is one of those kids that can overthink things,” Gilmore said. “I just tell him stop being smart for a moment. Don’t overanalyze it.”

Pryor was recruited by some to be a defensive back, and he could still end up there at some point for Wisconsin. But just like the other two players, the Illinois product has flashed play-making ability that could see him and his fellow freshmen get on the field early.

“All three of them are in the conversation,” Gilmore said of potential playing time. “What that looks like, obviously we don’t know yet. But all three of them are in the conversation whether it’s with special teams (or) whether it’s in the rotation with the main wide outs. They have put themselves in position to talk about them when we talk personnel.”

Wisconsin football: Practice report 8/10

MADISON | The intensity of fall camp took at step up on Wednesday for the Wisconsin football team, as the players were sporting shoulder pads for the first time this year.

Forcing turnovers

In the spring, the Wisconsin defense forced a ton of turnovers, a lot of them coming via interceptions. That continued on Wednesday as there were at least four interceptions during team periods – two by senior Sojourn Shelton and and two more by junior Natrell Jamerson. Shelton took both of his interceptions back for would-be touchdowns.

Splitting reps

The quarterback competition really started on Wednesday as senior Bart Houston and redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook faced defenders for the first time in fall camp. They split first-team reps, with Houston usually going first. Hornibrook had the best throw of the day, finding freshman Quintez Cephus in tight coverage for a 40-yard gain.

In pads

It doesn’t really feel like football season until the pads go on, which happened on Wednesday. On the first play of full speed action this fall, junior defensive end Chikwe Obasih tossed a lineman aside, and gobbled up running back Corey Clement for what would have been a 3-yard loss.

Later in practice, tensions nearly boiled over when Cephus was blocking Derrick Tindal on a screen play and did so a little too long for Tindal’s liking. There was some pushing and shoving before the two got separated.

So far, Cephus has been the most impressive of the three true freshmen receivers.

“I can tell he wants it,” senior Rob Wheelwright said of Cephus. “Right after practice he was asking, ‘Man, we need to go look at this film. I want you to tell me what I did [right and wrong].’ He’s hungry. He’s ready to learn. And that’s really good seeing him compete.”

Making a change

Redshirt freshman David Edwards is making the move from tight end to right tackle this fall. Many schools recruited the former high school quarterback to be an offensive lineman, but Wisconsin said they’d give him a shot at tight end first. However, once the weight started going up – he’s put on 50 pounds since coming to Madison last summer – it was almost a foregone conclusion.

“I knew it was coming,” Edwards said of the move. “Everybody kind of joked about it since the day I got here.

“When I got here I was pretty skinny. I was about 240 [pounds]. By the end of [this past] spring I was about 260. Got back from [summer] break at 270. So it was just a natural progression.”

Edwards is working as the No. 2 right tackle behind redshirt sophomore Jake Maxwell. He’s looked solid in the first few practices, and even got some reps with the first-team line as the training staff tries to limit Maxwell’s workload coming off a leg injury in the spring.

Looking good

It’s not clear how much Taiwan Deal will be used this season, but the redshirt sophomore looks much quicker this fall than a year ago. On several plays, the 220-pound Deal made defenders miss in the hole and accelerated into the second level.

Transfer Chris James also look very much the part of future big-time weapon for the Badgers. He’ll have to sit this season due to NCAA rules, but James showed off his big-play potential on an outside run where he got the edge and took off for what would have been at least a 20-yard gain.

Held out

Wheelwright hasn’t made it through a single fall or spring practice without getting injured. So when the senior didn’t take part on Wednesday some eyebrows were raised. But he said there’s nothing to worry about, and they are just trying to give his body a chance to recover and be healthy for the season. Still, having to watch from the sideline is a bit frustrating for the Ohio native.

“Me having to watch these guys, first day of pads on, going against the defensive backs, and the DBs are hollering. You want to be out there to be like, ‘OK, lets quiet ya’ll up.’ But it’s all good for the long run.” Wheelwright said.

Wheelwright said he feels like he’ll practice on Thursday and Friday, and that sitting out will be just a “here and there” thing.

You can listen to the full post-practice interview with Rob Wheelwright below:

 

Injuries:

Still out:
ILB T.J. Edwards (foot)
OL George Panos (shoulder)

Limited:
Keelon Brookins (groin)