MADISON — Wisconsin graduate assistant Al Johnson has been named the head coach at East Central University, the school has announced.
Johnson was in his second year as a graduate assistant at Wisconsin during the 2017 season. He helped out offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph with offensive line duties during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Johnson was a stand-out offensive lineman for Wisconsin from 2000-2002. He was a three-year starter and was named All-Big Ten as an honorable mention for the 2000 and 2001 seasons. He was named to the All-Big Ten second team for the 2002 season. Johnson was then selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the second round of the 2003 NFL Draft.
East Central University is a Division II institution located in Ada, Okla.
INDIANAPOLIS – Ohio State’s football program is nationally regarded as one of the historic powers of the sport. The Buckeyes have won eight national championships, possess seven Heisman trophies, and have won the Big Ten 35 times in the program’s history. The program is filled with star power, both currently and traditionally. Head coach Urban Meyer is considered one of the best in the world at his profession, and the program is truly elite. The operation run in Columbus, Ohio is one that nearly every program in the country strives to be. Very few can boast more impressive historical resumes.
For as good as Wisconsin has been in recent memory, they don’t have the historical relevance that the Buckeyes do. That won’t matter on Saturday when the two teams square off in the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis.
The Badgers aren’t trying to close the gap on Ohio State as a program, they’re trying to win one game and earn their first appearance in the College Football Playoff.
“It’s tough, obviously they have a lot of talent, but we have a lot of talent,” linebacker T.J. Edwards told the media. “The [recruiting] stars and stuff, it doesn’t mean much going into this game. We know we’re going to get their best and that’s not really something we’re focused on because we know we can match just about anything in the country.”
Since 2000, Wisconsin has had 38 recruits that have garnered either four or five stars, per 247. Ohio State has had 227 such players. The Buckeyes currently have more four and five-star players on their current roster than the Badgers have had in the past 17 years.
This isn’t something that’s new. Looking at the top eight in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings, the Badgers are far behind the other seven teams. There are currently six players on Wisconsin’s roster that garnered a four-star rating out of high school, and none that were five stars. Ohio State has 62 such players rostered.
Ohio State is as successful of a program as they are in part due to the gaudy number of immensely talents players they’ve brought in. Wisconsin does things much differently. The Badgers develop kids and take an incredible amount of pride in their walk-on program. Very few, if any, other major college football programs have had this much success with that method.
The Buckeyes enter the game favored by nearly everyone. Despite their two losses this season, they get the benefit of the doubt. The Badgers are routinely criticized for going unbeaten through a primarily weak schedule, despite having two more wins against bowl-eligible teams than Ohio State does. Part of the reasoning for that is due to the amount of respect Ohio State gets natural talent the Buckeyes have, and possibly a little bit of disrespect of the way Wisconsin develops their talent.
The Buckeyes are going to continue to be in the national spotlight, and they’ve earned that. The Badgers shouldn’t be slept on, however. Wisconsin has been one of the best in the country over the past decade. They’ve won 100 games over the past 10 years, which is no small feat. In fact, only a few teams have won more games in that span, and Ohio State (110 wins) is one of them.
“I think it’s another great opportunity to prove that we are legit, that we are the team that we think we are,” tight end Troy Fumagalli, a former walk-on, said of the matchup with the Buckeyes. “I think it’s another great opportunity with another great team.”
The Buckeyes have an immense amount of talent. They’re one of the most talented in not only the Big Ten, but the country as well. At times, however, they haven’t shown up. There have been a number of occasions this season where Ohio State has failed to play up to their capabilities. Their 55-24 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes was the most drastic instance. On a weekly basis, the world can question as to which Ohio State team is going to show up.
The Badgers had moments where they didn’t play to their highest potential against lesser opponents, but still found a way to win. That’s the sign of a team that has things figured out despite not always being the most talented on the field.
Ohio State hasn’t had a game this season where they haven’t had the talent edge. Even in their two losses, the Buckeyes could make the argument that they had more individually talented pieces. In all of their wins, the Badgers have been able to say that the sum of their parts is greater than the individual pieces.
INDIANAPOLIS – Wisconsin heads into Saturday’s matchup with Ohio State searching for their first Big Ten Championship since 2012. The Badgers enter the game perfect on the season at 12-0, but haven’t faced a team quite as talented as the Buckeyes to date.
The Buckeyes come into the contest at 10-2 on the season. At times, they’ve looked like one of the best teams in the country, but on other occasions they’ve looked rather pedestrian.
Here are three keys to a Badger win on Saturday night:
1. Ohio State defensive lineman Nick Bosa was awarded as the Big Ten Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the year earlier this week. The matchup between Bosa and the Wisconsin offensive line will be a very interesting one to watch on Saturday. So far, this season Bosa has 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks and both of those marks pace the Buckeyes.
“I think [Ohio State] and Michigan had some of the best edge rushers I’ve seen this year,” offensive lineman Michael Deiter said earlier this week. “One-hundred percent it will be my biggest challenge, especially on this stage, out there at tackle.”
Not only was Deiter speaking about Bosa, but also defensive end Sam Hubbard. Hubbard was a consensus second-team All-Big Ten this year and has 10 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks on the year. Things don’t end there for the Buckeye defensive line, Tyquan Lewis was also a consensus first-team selection, and Dre’mont Jones was named to the third-team by the media.
Wisconsin likely has the best offensive line that Ohio State has faced this season, but this will be a true battle of strengths. The Badgers must be able to open holes for freshman running back Jonathan Taylor to help keep quarterback Alex Hornibrook out of obvious passing situations. When the Badgers do fall into obvious throwing situations, the offensive line must keep Hornibrook upright.
2. Hornibrook’s favorite target this year has been senior tight end Troy Fumagalli. He leads the Badgers with 38 grabs on the season for 471 yards and four touchdowns despite missing some time due to injury. On the contrary, Ohio State has struggled defending tight ends in the play-action passing game at times this season.
Against Iowa, the Buckeyes allowed a combined nine catches for 125 yards and four touchdowns to tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant of the Hawkeyes. Those two aren’t necessarily mirror images of Fumagalli, but the area of weakness remains on the Buckeye defense. As recent as last week there were multiple instances of intermediate routes being open for Michigan’s offense. Wolverines’ quarterback John O’Korn was unable to find his teammates, however.
Hornibrook should be able to find Fumagalli in key situations, just as he has often attempted to do this year. That’s an area of weakness that the Badgers should look to exploit.
3. When Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett was removed from the game against Michigan last week immediate uncertainty surrounding the quarterback position for the Buckeyes emerged. Backup Dwayne Haskins entered the game for Ohio State and helped them to win the game.
News broke during the week that Barrett had surgery on his knee on Sunday following the Michigan game but is expected to play against Wisconsin. His effectiveness is yet to be seen. Ohio State head coach told the media that Barrett had practiced throughout the week and is cleared to play, but never declared Barrett the starter.
Barrett is a quarterback that’s able to extend plays and escape the pocket when things break down around him. If his knee isn’t right and his running ability suffers because of that, Wisconsin’s already stout defense could be in even better position. The Badgers would be able to key on running backs Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins in running situations and presumably be able to get to Barrett easier when the pocket collapses.
Barrett has been inconsistent throwing the ball, even when he’s been healthy. Wisconsin’s defense could take control of the game and force Barrett into mistakes and make things much more difficult than they normally do. Wisconsin’s chance at winning improves exponentially if those things happen.
Prediction: Early in the week I was leaning towards taking the Buckeyes, and I did go on record picking them before news of Barrett’s knee procedure broke. His health is my deciding factor, it takes an incredibly special athlete to be able to play in a football game six days after having surgery. While I commend Barrett for having the guts to try and suit up with his teammates, I don’t think he’ll play well enough for the Buckeyes to win.
MADISON – Wisconsin freshman running back Jonathan Taylor has been named the Big Ten Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year, the conference announced. This is the first time a Badger has won the award since linebacker Chris Borland and running back James White won back-to-back awards in 2009 and 2010. In total, Taylor is the sixth Badger to take home this honor since the award was instituted in 1986.
This season Taylor set a new Big Ten record for the most Freshman of the Week honors given out by the conference. He earned the award eight times, breaking the previous record of seven set by Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett in 2014.
Taylor, a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, has accumulated 1,806 yards to date and 13 touchdowns. He has an opportunity to become the FBS leader in rushing yards by a freshman, needing 303 yards to pass Ron Dayne’s mark of 2,106 from 1996. Taylor currently sits in third place on the freshman list, Adrian Peterson had 1,925 in 2004 at Oklahoma.
He’s eclipsed the 100-yard mark in nine of Wisconsin’s 12 games, including going over the 150-yard mark five times, including three games of over 200 yards.
Taylor did not win the Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year, nor the Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year. Those awards went to Saquon Barkley of Penn State. This is the second consecutive year that Barkley has taken home each honor.
The College Football Playoff top 25 is set to be released for the final time in the regular season on Tuesday night. There will be plenty of shakeup this week following both No. 1 and No. 2 from last week taking their first losses of the season.
The final rankings that determine the participants in this year’s College Football Playoff will be released on Sunday, December 3, the day after the conference championships are finished.
Here is our weekly Zone top ten, as voted on by myself, Ebo Thoreson, and Zach Heilprin.
1. Clemson (30 points) – The Tigers looked dominant in their win over South Carolina on Saturday evening. It’s hard to argue that anyone is playing better football right now, except for maybe Auburn. The Tigers have a date with the Miami Hurricanes on Saturday night for the ACC crown. If Clemson wins they’ll earn a spot in the playoff, if they lose, the committee will have an awfully tough decision to make.
2. Oklahoma (26 points) – Quarterback Baker Mayfield didn’t start for the Sooners in the regular season finale against West Virginia, but that didn’t matter as they were still able to roll over the Mountaineers. They take on TCU this week for the Big 12 Championship. It’s ironic that the sole purpose of adding the extra game was to try and help the conference be represented in the playoff, and a TCU upset win could knock the conference out of it.
3. Wisconsin (24 points) – The Badgers might finally be starting to impress some people nationally. They took care of business against Minnesota this past weekend to finish the season with a perfect 12-0 record for the first time in program history. Their biggest test comes this week when they take on Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game. A win over the Buckeyes and there is no scenario where Wisconsin fails to make the playoffs.
4. Auburn (22 points) – Auburn is the hottest team in the country, at the moment. In the past three weekends, they’ve beaten the No. 1 team in the country on two separate occasions. Their win over Alabama in the Iron Bowl was a dominating one, and sets them up to make the playoff if they can beat Georgia, again, in the SEC Championship game this weekend. That would also cap off one of the more impressive four week runs in recent memory.
5. Alabama (18 points) – The Crimson Tide suffered their first defeat at an extremely inopportune time. They didn’t look like a typical Nick Saban led squad against Auburn in the Iron Bowl. That loss means that their season is finished and the chances of them making the playoff are completely out of their control. The best bet for Tide fans is that Ohio State tops Wisconsin in a close game and the committee picks the Tide over a two-loss Buckeye team.
6. Georgia (15 points) – The Bulldogs dominated their in-state rivals, Georgia Tech, this past weekend. Their only loss to date is the thrashing they took at Auburn a few weeks back. They get the opportunity to avenge that loss and grab a seat at the playoff table with a win over the Tigers this weekend in the SEC Championship.
7. Ohio State (11 points) – The Buckeyes have been one of the most inconsistent teams in the country this season. They’ve looked really good at times, but they’ve also looked putrid at times. Despite their 31-point loss at Iowa this season, there is still talk of a potential playoff berth for the Buckeyes if they can beat Wisconsin this weekend. However, it might take another 59-0 win in order to do so.
8. Miami (8 points) – The Hurricanes suffered one of the more head-scratching defeats of the season when they lost on the road against Pitt to close out their regular season last Friday afternoon. They’ve got a date with the Clemson Tigers in the ACC Championship this weekend. If they can win that game, it might be enough to sneak into the semi-finals.
9. USC (5 points) – The Trojans are a new addition to our top 10 this week. Since their blowout loss to Notre Dame in South Bend earlier this season they’ve been on fire. While the playoffs might be out of reach for them, a win over Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship would cap off a solid season for them.
10. Penn State (4 points) – The Nittany Lions had a rather uneventful end to their regular season, thrashing Maryland by a score of 66-3. Penn State has beaten a bunch of really bad teams by large margins, but failed to knock off either of their two ranked opponents this season, Ohio State and Michigan State.
Others receiving votes: TCU (2), Central Florida (1)
Taylor’s eighth Big Ten Freshman of the Week award gives him most all-time in the Big Ten. He was tied with Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, who won the award seven times in 2014. Taylor has now won the honor four weeks in a row and seven of the last eight weeks. The sole week during that stretch he did not win the award was against Illinois when he only played in the first half due to an ankle injury.
Taylor earned this award with 149 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries against Minnesota. It was the ninth time he has crossed the 100-yard mark in a game this season. He currently leads the Big Ten in rushing yards with 1,806 through 12 games. Taylor also has 13 rushing touchdowns for Wisconsin.
His mark of 1,806 yards is also the third most in FBS history for a freshman He sits behind only Adrian Peterson (Oklahoma, 2004) who had 1,925 yards and Wisconsin great Ron Dayne who finished with 2,109 yards in 1996.
MADISON – Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor wanted to come in and make an impact for the Badgers. He just didn’t know when he would be able to.
“I always knew that I could make an impact,” Taylor told reporters. “It was just a matter of time of once I learned everything and once I just caught up to the speed of the game and got into the whole college flow.”
Taylor has certainly gotten into the flow of the collegiate game. He has not only been the best players on Wisconsin’s offensive unit this season, but one of the country’s best, as well. He’s currently third in rushing yards in the entire country with 1,657. That’s impressive for anyone, let alone a player that was dominating high school opponents 12 months ago.
He’s gone from dominating high school teams to tearing up the Big Ten in a short time, and he’s been deservedly recognized for his efforts. Tuesday, he was named a finalist for the Doak Walker award. That honor goes to the country’s most outstanding running back and has every year since 1990. A true freshman has never won the award and Taylor is trying to become the first. The other two finalists are Saquon Barkley of Penn State and Bryce Love of Stanford.
Taylor not only could become the first freshman to win the Doak Walker, but also become the Big Ten record holder for most Freshman of the Week awards won. After the Badgers defeating Michigan in week 12 he was honored by the conference for the seventh time. That tied him with J.T. Barrett of Ohio State for the most ever. A strong performance against a Minnesota defense that has allowed 4.6 yards per carry on the season would likely give him his record-breaking eighth award.
“I was definitely surprised, just getting that many Big Ten Freshman of the Week [awards], I didn’t know what to say, I was just like, ‘that’s crazy’,” Taylor said when he was told that he had the opportunity to break Barrett’s record this week. “It came down to me focusing every week and just doing the best that I can. Focusing on how can I help the team this week, how can I help the team get out with a W?”
He’s done more than just help the team, at times, he’s carried the team.
To say that his focus is on breaking the Big Ten ecord would be a disservice to Taylor and the rivalry that Minnesota and Wisconsin share on the field.
“It should be fun, but we definitely talk about respecting the rivalry, so we’re going in and trying to give them our best shot,” Taylor said.
Taylor giving Minnesota his best shot could catapult him further on to the national scene than he already is. He’s already had three games where he has gone over 200 yards, and two more over 150 yards. Add another one to that list and the possibilities are endless.
He’s impressed those across the country, obviously, with the national attention he’s gotten. He’s also impressed teammates of his, including fellow freshman Danny Davis.
“It’s been crazy, man,” Davis said. “Some of the stuff he does is unreal. You continue to do that, and this is just a stage for him to continue to keep getting better as the years progress. I’m excited to play with him.”
Taylor’s sights aren’t only on breaking Barrett’s record and being a Walker finalist, however.
“Every kid dreams about winning the Heisman,” Taylor said. “Coming in that wasn’t my main, I always talking about how my focus was just staying ready and just being ready whenever my number was called.”
Wisconsin has had a great history of backs to win both the Walker and the Heisman. Ron Dayne, Montee Ball, and Melvin Gordon have all won the Walker award, with Dayne doubling as the Heisman winner. While it’s uncertain, if not unlikely that Taylor joins them this year, it would surprise no one to find Taylor among those names by the end of his time at Wisconsin.
MADISON — Every week for Wisconsin the games begin getting bigger. Last week, they faced a ranked team for the first time all season. The result was a 38-14 throttling of the visiting No. 20 Iowa Hawkeyes.
That win vaulted the Badgers up three spots to No. 5 in the most recent College Football Playoff Rankings. Iowa was knocked out of the rankings after their loss, but that opened up the door for this week’s opponent, Michigan, to come in at No. 24.
Wisconsin enters the matchup with a 10-0 (7-0 Big Ten) record, their best start to a season in program history. Michigan comes in at 8-2 (5-2) with losses to Michigan State and Penn State this season.
Battle of strengths:
Both of these teams do the same things well. Wisconsin and Michigan follow the same winning formula. Play outstanding defense and run the ball effectively.
The Badgers and Wolverines both are in the top four in fewest yards allowed per play in the country. Wisconsin is second at 4.1 yards per play, and Michigan is fourth at 4.3 yards per play. Both teams also follow the old-school Big Ten saying of ‘three yards and a cloud of dust’ when it comes to the opponents rushing attack. Wisconsin allows 2.8 yards per carry, good enough for fourth in the country. Michigan is 14th in that category, allowing 3.3 yards per carry.
On the opposite side of the ball, both squads average over 200 yards per game on the ground. Wisconsin is led by freshman running back Jonathan Taylor who has had five games of over 150 yards this season.
Michigan has employed a couple of different running backs at times this season. Karan Higdon, Chris Evans, and Ty Isaac are all over the 500-yard mark for the year. Isaac has missed the past two games for Michigan and is listed as questionable for the matchup with the Badgers. That trio all averages 5.5 yards per carry or better. Higdon has been the most productive of the three, with 854 yards and 10 touchdowns on 129 carries. Higdon and Evans recently were named Big Ten Co-Offensive Players of the Week for the team’s week 10 win over Minnesota where the two combined for 391 rushing yards and four scores on 29 carries.
For Wisconsin, they’ve leaned on Taylor’s production all season long. He currently leads the Big Ten in rushing with 1,525 yards and 12 touchdowns.
How the game will be won:
While the teams have very similar formulas, each has done something better than the other. As of late the biggest difference has been that Michigan has taken care of the ball better than the Badgers have. Sophomore quarterback Brandon Peters has started each of the last three games for Michigan. He hasn’t been tasked with leading his team to victory through the air, but rather been asked to not make mistakes and complete play action passes when called upon. He has thrown for only 325 yards in his three starts on 27-of-45 passing, but he’s yet to throw an interception while tossing five touchdowns.
Wisconsin’s biggest issue as a team has been taking care of the football. Last week against Iowa they were able to overcome four turnovers thanks to an excellent defensive performance. Teams cannot consistently hand over the football and expect to win the way Wisconsin did last week. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook has thrown at least one interception in each of Wisconsin’s seven Big Ten games this season. If there was ever a week where the Badgers would like him to be better about taking care of the ball, it’s this one.
Kickoff at Camp Randall is predicted to be 38 degrees with a 45% chance of precipitation. The temperature is supposed to remain the same all afternoon long, however the chance of precipitation decreases as the day goes on.
How to watch:
The game will be televised nationally on FOX. Kickoff is at 11am and coverage begins at 10:30am. Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Joel Klatt (color), and Jenny Taft (sideline) are on the call.
This game looks like an old-fashioned Big Ten football game that warms the hearts of the old-school fan. Strong defense and running game keeps the game under four hours and Wisconsin continues their perfect season with a 17-14 win after trailing in the fourth quarter for the first time this season.
Peavy played in four games this season, totaling five catches for 55 yards and three rushing attempts for seven yards. He last played in week five against Northwestern. He had been appearing on the injury report handed out by Wisconsin with a right leg injury beginning in week six. Thursday, we was absent from the list.
Rushing injured his left leg in the preseason and has not appeared in a single game this season. He was taken off the injury report Thursday as well.
“For different reasons both are not with the team right now,” Chryst said Thursday. “Certainly different reasons. There’s a lot going on in these guy’s lives. All that matters is that they’re doing alright. It was kind of decided for both to kind of help them navigate everything to take some time away.”
Peavy is a fifth year senior and Rushing is in his fourth year at the program. Since Rushing has not appeared in a game this season, redshirting is a possibility.
“This is his fourth year and he’s going to graduate this year, but we haven’t had those discussions,” Chryst said about Rushing.
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.
“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.”