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: What to do with Randall Cobb?

0:00-14:22: Fight Card & Scott Takes

14:22-17:49: Gone in 60

17:49-28:16: College Football Happenings

28:16-31:00: Daily Action Zone

31:00-43:19: Danny Davis Suspension

43:19-48:06: News of the Weird

48:06-1:03:38: Rob Reischel Interview

1:03:38-1:13:20: Zach Heilprin

1:13:20-1:19:40: Final Thoughts

Wisconsin’s Cephus suspended, other receiver also named in complaint

MADISON — On Saturday evening, Wisconsin wide receiver Quintez Cephus announced he was taking a leave of absence from the football team amid the potential for criminal charges being filed against him.

On Monday afternoon, those charges were made public. Cephus has been charged with second-degree sexual assault of a intoxicated victim as well as third-degree sexual assault. Both are felonies and he’ll be in front of a judge for his initial appearance on Thursday at 10:30 a.m.

If he is found guilty, Cephus could face up to 25 years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine on the second-degree charge and up to five years in prison and a $25,000 fine on the third-degree charge.

The Madison Police Department issued a statement on the case after the charges were announced:

“Officers from the Midtown District were sent to a local hospital on April, 22, 2018, to meet with a woman who had come to the emergency room. Officers obtained statements and gathered forensic evidence from the woman who said she was the victim of a sexual assault.  

Detectives were next assigned to the case. The woman provided the name and address of the person she said assaulted her. She said the incident took place inside man’s apartment prior to her arrival at the hospital.  

The man, Quintez R. Cephus, age 20, Madison, was contacted.  Cephus was cooperative and provided a statement. During the early stages of the investigation, detectives learned the identity of a second woman, who had been present inside Cephus’ apartment on April 22nd. She told detectives she was also the victim of a sexual assault by Cephus.

Additional follow-up was done and the case was referred to the Dane County District Attorney for a charging decision.”

According to the criminal complaint obtained by the Wisconsin State Journal, Cephus admitted to having sex with both women. Fellow wide receiver Danny Davis was also named as being present and taking a photo of the two women, but he has not been charged with any crime.

Cephus was suspended for violating the UW Department of Athletics’ Student-Athlete Discipline Policy. According to a release, he’s suspended from competition and practice pending the availability of further information relating to his case.

This story will be updated as more details emerge.

With Cephus out, Wisconsin to begin season with both uncertainty and expectations

MADISON, Wis. – The wide receiving corps for the Wisconsin Badgers has been here before. The situation is certainly different, and murkier than in the past, but the result is the same.

On Saturday night when Quintez Cephus announced on Twitter that he would be taking a leave of absence due to an on-going legal battle over an incident that occurred in April of this year. Cephus is due in Dane County Court on Thursday, Aug. 23rd at 10:30 a.m. CT where he will be facing charges of 2nd Degree Sexual Assault-Intoxicated Victim and 3rd Degree Sexual Assault.

On Monday afternoon he was suspended from the football team for a violation of the UW Department of Athletics’ Student-Athlete Discipline Policy. The University announced that he will be suspended from competition and practice pending the availability of further information relating to his case.

In 2017 Cephus emerged as the top receiver for Wisconsin. He played in the team’s first nine games, starting eight of them, prior to a season-ending injury to his leg against Indiana in early November.

After that point A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis, and Kendric Pryor all emerged as viable options on the outside for quarterback Alex Hornibrook. They’ll need to be just as good, if not better, while the legal battle ensues for Cephus. There’s no doubting what Cephus has brought to the field when on it, but the drop off in overall talent at that position may not be as big as one may think.

The other issue at hand is that Davis was named in the criminal complaint as well, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. That was uncovered after media availability on Monday. Davis has not been charged of any crime as of Tuesday morning.

“We lose a lot of Q’s juice, a lot of his energy,” Taylor said about Cephus’ leave of absence. “What we’re going to have to do as an offense is really just come together, play as a team, take it one play at a time and get back to Wisconsin football and be gritty.”

An injury is rarely, if ever, a good thing for a team to endure. There’s no doubting that Wisconsin would have been better in 2017 with Cephus on the field and they would have been more talented with him in the lineup at the present as well. The bright spot for the Badgers is that as a group they know how to handle an absence, whether it’s due to an injury or something else.

“It’s definitely a different mentality, different mindset that comes along with that [uncertainty], but at the same time we have done it before,” Taylor said. “We have worked, we know how to work. I mean, we’re going to put our heads down and grind but it’s definitely different. Definitely different.”

Taylor added in that the group as a whole has been in contact with Cephus since Saturday night’s announcement. However, neither Taylor nor Davis would divulge much more information about the situation past that.

A few things that may have made 2017’s situation easier was the fact that there was certainty that Cephus would not be coming back and the fact that Wisconsin was already nine games into the season. Now, the Badgers have a fresh start, and incredibly high expectations. The Associated Press released the preseason poll on Monday and had the Badgers tied for their highest preseason ranking ever, No. 4.

That ranking is good enough for the best in the Big Ten, edging out Ohio State by one spot. Many pundits have picked Wisconsin to win the conference and advance to the program’s first ever College Football Playoff.

Wisconsin is certainly deserving of a ranking that high, although many will partly attribute it to the uncertainty surrounding Ohio State and coach Urban Meyer as he is on administrative leave for the time being.

“I bet you none of these guys know anything about that and they probably won’t,” Davis said following practice on Monday afternoon.

He was right, considering the Badgers were already on the practice field once the poll was released.

“We stay off that social media, stuff like that. That’s what Wisconsin does a great job of. Coach Chryst implements it a lot. We don’t care about the outside noise, we don’t care about none of that. We come as a whole team and we grind. We do everything we’ve got to do to be a better team. We take it one game at a time. I could give a damn about the AP Poll. We just go out there and play as a team and have fun.”

The Badgers now enter a season filled with both uncertainty and expectations, but as always, they’re going to feel as if there is something to prove.

“We have to come in with the mindset that we’ve got to shock, we’ve got to shock everybody,” Taylor said. “That’s just our mindset, we want to be the best. If we don’t go in with that kind of mentality, then I don’t think we can get that accomplished.”

The Joe & Ebo Experience: Will the Brewers Make the Playoffs?

0:00-6:55: Intro

6:55-11:08: Scott Takes

11:08-17:11: Brewers Weekend Recap

17:11-20:52: Daily Action Zone

20:52-29:07: Brewers & Quintez Cephus

29:07-43:40: Badger Insider RJ Brachman

43:40-49:33: Level of play in the NFL changing?

49:33-51:33: News of the Weird

51:33-58:22: Is the NFL looking out for the players?

58:22-1:02:00: A must win for the Milwaukee Brewers tonight?

1:02:00-1:11:01:  Badgers & The Big Ten

1:11:01-1:17:06: Closing thoughts

Top receiver for the Badgers to take leave of absence

The 2017 season for Wisconsin receiver Quintez Cephus was cut short due to a leg injury last November. Now, his 2018 season seems to be in jeopardy.

On Saturday evening Cephus issued a statement via Twitter that he will be taking a leave of absence due to an on-going legal matter.

In 2017 Cephus played in nine games, starting eight of them, while totaling 30 catches for 501 yards and a team-high six receiving touchdowns.

Cephus had been practicing with the first-team offense throughout fall camp. He approached coach Paul Chryst about the pending charges on Saturday prior to Wisconsin’s practice and Chryst relayed the message to the remainder of the team.

“Earlier today I met with [Cephus],” Chryst said after practice on Saturday night. “I know he was planning to releasing a statement and at this time I really don’t have anything more to add to that.”

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval made a statement on Saturday night regarding Cephus as well.

Wisconsin’s season opens up on Aug. 31st against Western Kentucky at Camp Randall Stadium. In his absence the Badgers will be relying on a receiving corps of A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis, Kendric Pryor, and Aron Cruickshank.

Cephus is due in Dane County Court on Thursday morning at 10:30 a.m. CT where he will face charges of second-degree sexual assault of an intoxicated victim and third-degree sexual assault..

If convicted, Cephus could face up to 25 years in prison and/or a $100,000 fine on the second-degree charge and up to five years in prison and a $25,000 fine on the third-degree charge.

This story will be updated as more details emerge.

What the future holds: Wide receiver

With the 2017 season in the books, it’s time to look ahead to 2018 for Wisconsin. Over the next few days we’ll be going position-by-position to see what the future holds for the Badgers.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to the players’ class in terms of what they’ll be in 2018. If someone was a sophomore in 2017, they will be called a junior here.

Wide receiver:

Returning: Quintez Cephus (JR), A.J. Taylor (JR), Danny Davis (SO), Kendric Pryor (RS FR), Adam Krumholz (RS SO), Jack Dunn (RS SO), Cade Green (RS FR), Emmet Perry (RS FR), Deron Harrell (RS FR)

Leaving: George Rushing

Arriving: A.J. Abbott, Taj Mustapha, Isaac Guerendo, Aron Cruickshank

Season grades

Biggest question: How will Wisconsin use its abundance of wide receivers?

This is definitely a good problem to have, especially with the Badgers feeling like a one-man bad at the position from 2012 to 2016. But it does present a challenge for wide receivers coach Ted Gilmore, who must mix and match a unit that is as deep as anything Wisconsin’s had in recent memory.

Before getting hurt at the beginning of November, Quintez Cephus was clearly quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s favorite weapon. He was on pace for 47 catches, 779 yards and nine touchdowns. He should be ready for summer workouts.

With Cephus out, A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor stepped up. Taylor had three of his five touchdowns in the final five games of the year, Davis capped his impressive freshman year with three scores in the Orange Bowl and Pryor, who was slowed early in the year after a moped accident in August, scored three vital touchdowns over a two week period against Iowa and Michigan.

The quartet gives Wisconsin one of the better units in the Big Ten. Now, the Badgers need to figure out a way to best utilize them.

Other notes:

If the future wasn’t bright enough for Wisconsin, there are several more incoming players that have people excited.

Isaac Guerendo and Aron Cruickshank further increase the athleticism at the position, with the latter likely having a chance to contribute in the return game and potentially in specialized offensive situations.

The other two incoming freshmen — A.J. Abbott and Taj Mustapha — were high school teammates in Michigan and will bring size and big-play potential to the table.

Cruickshank and Mustapha will both enroll early, allowing them to go through winter conditioning and spring practice.

Walk-on Adam Krumholz saw time when injuries hit in 2017, and the redshirt sophomore held his own.

Cade Green is another guy to keep an eye on. The redshirt freshman had a strong first few days of fall camp before getting injured. He suffered a foot injury during the year and was in a walking boot at the Orange Bowl. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him get an opportunity as Wisconsin’s punt returner with cornerback Nick Nelson now off to the NFL.

Predicted depth chart:

1) Quintez Cephus (JR), Kendric Pryor (RS SO)
2) A.J. Taylor (JR), Aron Cruickshank (FR)
3) Danny Davis (SO), Taj Mustapha (FR)

What the future holds:
Running back

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.