Observations from Wisconsin media day

MADISON — Basketball season is right around the corner for the Wisconsin Badgers. After a disappointing 2017-18 season, the team will be looking to be competitive in the Big Ten and reach the NCAA Tournament again after missing for the first time since 1998.

Here are three observations from media day held on Wednesday:

A healthy guard rotation

In 2017-18 the Badgers looked to have a promising rotation of guards early in the season with Brad Davison, Kobe King, D’Mitrik Trice, and Brevin Pritzl. Of those four, only Pritzl stayed healthy for the entire season. King and Trice both earned medical redshirts after undergoing season-ending surgeries following the ninth game of the season while Davison was able to put off shoulder surgery until the Monday after the Big Ten Tournament ended.

Davison did his best but was clearly hampered by his shoulder injury throughout the season as he was forced to play with a brace that attempted to keep the joint in place. The sophomore guard had his shoulder dislocate several times during his freshman season but has all that behind him now.

“The shoulder feels really good,” Davison said. It was a long process, it’s been about seven-and-a-half, almost eight months now. Feels really good, full range of motion, still trying to get full strength back in it just because it was immobilized for a while. I’m extremely happy with it, it feels good, I can move it. I’m really looking forward to getting after it this season with no brace.

“I just missed basketball in general. I think there were a lot of things I had to do to adapt and kind of change my game in order to still try to be effective. Not necessarily with the brace but just with the shoulder again. So, it feels really good to play basketball again the way I love to play and the way I know I can.”

Getting a healthy Davison back will be a huge lift for the Badgers, just as having both King and Trice will be a big help, too.

“I’m pretty closer to 100 [percent],” King said about his status. “A little bit to go, but I’m feeling better and better every week.

“Just mentally, coming off an injury and not being scared and not thinking about it too much. And then just a little bit of leg strength, but like I said it’s right there.”

While King isn’t quite ready to say he’s at 100 percent, Trice did say he’s been 100 percent since April and has been playing on the court since May.

Using a down season as motivation

It’s obvious that last season was a disappointment for this group. The Badgers have grown accustomed to making the NCAA Tournament and it’s not a secret that last year’s was the first without them since 1998.

That’s become a bit of motivation for the group. Wisconsin struggled with the injuries mentioned above as well as a bit of youth throughout the season. Ethan Happ expressed the thought that the Badgers may have been able to make a run at things had the season been a little bit longer. He makes a solid point as the Badgers did play their best basketball towards the end of the season including an upset victory over then-No. 5 Purdue at the Kohl Center and a victory in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament over Maryland.

Missing the tournament once should be more than enough motivation for this group to not let it happen again.

Happ’s NBA flirtation

Happ spent much of his offseason away from campus as he tested the waters of the NBA Draft prior to announcing that he would return to school for his final season of eligibility. The fifth-year senior worked out for several teams during the process including the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Bucks, and back-to-back NBA Champion Golden State Warriors.

That’s a process that can be taxing on most, but coach Greg Gard told the media that he thought it went about as well as it possibly could have for all parties involved.

“I thought going into it, it was going to be win-win,” Gard said. “It was very educational for him. It put him in position around people that I think helped elevate his game. I think also he brought those experiences back to our locker room with our younger guys and talked to them about what it was like to work out for Boston, or Golden State, or Milwaukee, just that whole experience. Obviously, that’s a world all 18-to-22-year-olds want to live. That’s a goal for everybody that’s sat in my office that we’ve recruited.”

Happ, and maybe a few others on the current roster will have some sort of future in the NBA, but it will be interesting to see what those futures entail. During much of the process – prior to his withdrawal from the draft – Happ was sitting in the late-second round in many mock drafts.

Wisconsin lands three on midseason All-America list

The Wisconsin Badgers have underachieved so far this season through six games with a 4-2 record including a 38-13 loss to Michigan this past Saturday night. The disappointment in terms of the team’s record doesn’t mean that there haven’t been some excellent individual performances on the team.

Three players were named to either the first or second midseason AP All-America list that was announced on Tuesday.

Running back Jonathan Taylor and offensive lineman Beau Benzschawel were the pair of Badgers that were named to the first team while offensive lineman David Edwards was named to the second team.

So far this season Taylor has totaled 950 yards on the ground, which ranks second nationally behind Memphis’ Darrell Henderson. He’s also the nation’s leader in carries with 143 rushing attempts through six games.

As far as the rest of the list goes, Alabama led the way with five players selected by the AP, including four on the first team. Michigan was tied for the lead in the Big Ten with three honorees as well. Ohio State finished behind both Michigan and Wisconsin with a pair of players named to the list.

The entire AP midseason All-America list can be found here.

Last hits: Michigan 38, Wisconsin 13

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Twenty last hits for the 20 pass attempts from Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook in the Badgers’ 38-13 loss to Michigan on Saturday night.

1. The 2019 College Football Playoff hopes and dreams of the Wisconsin Badgers were officially laid to rest on Saturday night at 9:14 p.m. CT at Michigan Stadium.

2. It was at that moment Hornibrook dropped back to pass on third and two, trailing 24-7 in the fourth quarter. Hornibrook was searching for tight end Jake Ferguson, a familiar third down target for the signal caller. He ended up finding Michigan defensive back Lavert Hill who took the ball 21 yards the other way for the game sealing touchdown.

3. Make no mistake, things looked bleak prior to that play, and Wisconsin was unlikely to come back regardless. To that point Michigan had held the Badgers’ offense to just 25 yards through the air on three completions. Wisconsin’s chances in this game were slim – just as its chances to run the table and find its way into the playoff.

4. While the final score was 38-13, and it certainly could have been worse. Early on Michigan was forced to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns and missed two attempts as well. Wisconsin’s defense certainly deserves some credit for that, especially when the Wolverines had to settle for a field goal attempt after a Josh Metellus interception set them up inside the red zone.

5. Several circumstances – depleted secondary, untimely penalties, the inability to pass and more – went against the Badgers, but at the end of the night, Michigan was the better team.

6. Scott Nelson was suspended for the first half and injured in the second, Faion Hicks left the game due to injury early, and D’Cota Dixon didn’t even suit up for Wisconsin. Defensively, Wisconsin performed admirably early on, but understandably wore down as the game went along. What were runs of a couple yards early turned into gains the kept drives alive late.

7. The Wolverines didn’t even torch the Badgers through the air, they didn’t need to. The running game was more than enough against a defensive line that was a weak point of Wisconsin before Isaiahh Loudermilk went down with a leg injury the week prior against Nebraska.

8. Michigan finished the night with 320 yards rushing. That’s approaching twice as many yards allowed rushing as the previous season-high of 190 yards that BYU gained in September at Camp Randall.

9. Furthermore, Wisconsin finished with a season-low in passing yards with 100. Now, the Badgers haven’t exactly lit it up through the air this season, but they haven’t had most days, either. Wisconsin could do nothing right through the air against Michigan. Even the 100 yards they finished with is a bit of an inflated number. In the fourth quarter Wisconsin was sitting at 25 yards passing before a 75-yard drive – exclusively through the air – that was capped with a garbage-time touchdown to make the score closer than the game actually was.

10. Hornibrook struggled, finishing 7-of-20 for 100 yards, a touchdown and a pair of interceptions. It was a tough night for him to say the least. This season he’s been able to avoid the costly mistakes that have plagued him. On Saturday night it was anything but that. Not only did he toss a pair of interceptions, but he also fumbled a snap that derailed a Wisconsin drive that was creeping into Michigan territory.

11. The game seemed to flip on a roughing the snapper penalty that kept a Michigan drive alive, but in a game that saw Michigan lead by as many as 31 points, does that really matter that much? That’s hard to believe.

12. Things got so bad for Wisconsin that the game operations staff tuned up “Jump Around” by House of Pain during the fourth quarter, just to poke fun.

13. The Badgers were out-talented and outplayed without question on Saturday night in Ann Arbor. It was the worst loss for Wisconsin since the 59-0 embarrassment handed to them by Ohio State in the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game.

14. “I think everybody is going to talk about our goals, but I don’t think anybody was in our team meeting room when we established them,” Hornibrook said. “I don’t even understand the talk of not having anything to play for, that kind of stuff. We’ve got a lot to play for, and we’re excited to play next week.”

15. Hornibrook is right, no one outside of the team was in that meeting room, and the Badgers still have things to play for. But one of the goals for this team was undoubtedly to make the playoffs and compete to win a national championship. There’s no question about that.

16. “We can still win a Big Ten Championship, win the West, there’s a ton of stuff to play for,” offensive lineman Michael Deiter said. “It’s not like we were saying it’s playoffs or bust for us. That was never our thing. The goal was to get to the playoffs, whether or not that’s possible I don’t know. It wasn’t ‘hey, guys, we have to make the playoffs, or the season is a wash.’ That was never the mentality and it’s not going to be now.”

17. Deiter, like Hornibrook, is correct in saying that. But at the end of the day, it’s going to be hard to label this season as anything but a disappointment after being blown out against Michigan paired with the earlier loss to BYU. The Badgers came into the season hoping, dreaming, and working towards a playoff appearance. That’s all but gone now.

18. The loss to BYU left only a small glimmer of light shining through the door to the playoffs. In front of 111,360 screaming fans, the Michigan Wolverines slammed the door shut, locked it, and threw away the key.

19. Before thinking that this is a hot take, the question worth asking is that if there has yet to be a two-loss team in the playoff, what has Wisconsin shown that gives hope the Badgers could be the first?

20. No legitimate answer to that question is coming through the door anytime soon.

Wisconsin at Michigan: Three keys

For the first time in the 2018 season the Wisconsin Badgers will square off with a ranked opponent as they travel to Ann Arbor to take on the No. 12 Michigan Wolverines.

Through the first five games the Badgers are 4-1, but only one of the opponents (Iowa) is a quality win. Saturday’s game against Michigan will certainly be the toughest test of the season for Wisconsin by a wide margin.

Here are three keys for Wisconsin to pull an upset over No. 12 Michigan

Offensive line play

After leaving much to be desired in the first three weeks, the Badgers were able to look something similar to what was expected of them offensively. When Wisconsin was returning all five starters from the offensive line in 2017, more was expected of the ground attack.

Against Nebraska the Badgers ran for nearly 400 yards as a team, including over 200 from Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor. That’s something that was expected somewhat regularly from Wisconsin this year.

Saturday against the Wolverines will be a far different test, considering Michigan has a far better defense than anyone that the Badgers have played to date. Devin Bush, Rashan Gary, and Chase Winovich would all probably have been the best defensive player that Wisconsin has gone up against to date, and they’re all on Michigan’s defense.

Wisconsin will need the offensive line to play its best game – by far – if the Badgers are going to have a chance.

Limit mistakes

If the Badgers lose the turnover battle in this game, then the chance of them winning plummets. Overcoming that wouldn’t be impossible, but it sure would be unlikely.

Lately, Wisconsin hasn’t had this problem, but it hasn’t exactly gone against a stellar defense as of late. If Michigan can force Wisconsin into mistakes and capitalize on them, it will be a long night for the Badgers, undoubtedly. Taylor has had fumbling issues before at running back – although those haven’t been as relevant in recent weeks – and if they pop up on Saturday night it will spell trouble for Wisconsin.

Airing it out

This season quarterback Alex Hornibrook has certainly been serviceable and better about protecting the football than he was in 2017. That being said, he hasn’t exactly torn up opposing defenses, either.

For the Badgers to find a way to beat Michigan that may need to change on Saturday night. There can be an argument that Michigan has one of the best front sevens in the country, meaning that the defensive backfield is the weak link on that defensive unit.

Considering how difficult it may be for the Badgers to run the ball against Michigan, Hornibrook may need to have his best game since the Orange Bowl to help Wisconsin beat the Wolverines.

Quintez Cephus suing UW

Quintez Cephus is suing the University of Wisconsin.

As first reported by the Wisconsin State Journal, Cephus has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging the school has violated his civil rights during its Title IX investigation into allegations that he sexually assaulted two women last April.

A wide receiver on the football team, Cephus is charged in Dane County Court with two counts of sexual assault, including a second-degree charge that could land him in prison for up to 25 years. He is due in court on Thursday morning for his arraignment on those charges.

The lawsuit alleges that Cephus hasn’t been able to take part in the Title IX investigation as its findings could impact his standing in the criminal investigation.

From the Wisconsin State Journal’s report:

“Defendants have knowingly and intentionally forced (Cephus) into the predicament of having to either waive his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by choosing to participate in the university process despite the potential harm to his criminal defense,” the lawsuit states, “or decline to participate in the university’s process thus leading to the inevitable finding of responsibility and severe sanctions.”

Among the sanctions is expulsion from school.

The lawsuit is calling for, among other items, a stop to the investigation until the criminal case is completed, an unspecified amount of money for emotional and psychological damage, as well as the financial damage done to his prospects of playing professional football.

Cephus took a leave of absence from the team on Aug. 18 and was charged two days later. He was immediately suspended from the team, though Wisconsin’s athletic discipline policy allows him to remain on the roster and still receive academic and health support as if he was with the team.

The Camp: Oct. 8, 2018

On this week’s episode of “The Camp,” Zach and Matt breakdown the win over Nebraska, discuss their biggest concerns in facing Michigan and answer your Twitter questions.

5:25 — What went wrong to allow more than 400 yards through the air?

11:21 — Something needs to change with the targeting foul that keeps guys out the following week.

19:58 — Wisconsin’s injury situation is far from ideal heading into its toughest game of the year.

25:00 — Jonathan Taylor is on pace to run for close to 2,300 yards…will he? Should Taiwan Deal get a few more carries?

33:18 — Nebraska fans are upset about what Paul Chryst got caught saying after one of Wisconsin’s touchdowns.

38:26 — Why is Wisconsin punting from Nebraska’s 35-yard line?

45:50 — Twitter question: Is there anyone out there that still thinks Wisconsin is a playoff caliber team?

Wisconsin vs. Nebraska: Grades

MADISON – The Wisconsin Badgers moved to 4-1 on the season with a 41-24 victory over Nebraska on Saturday night at Camp Randall. Here’s how each unit for Wisconsin graded out.

Offense – B+

The Badgers racked up a ton of yards on the ground and we finally saw running back Jonathan Taylor break a long run. His 88-yard touchdown scamper in the fourth quarter was his longest of the season and one that the Badgers needed to see. Taylor hasn’t shown the ability to break this type of run for much of the 2018 season and this was definitely a welcome sight.

He wasn’t the only one that saw success in the backfield, although his stat line of 221 yards on 24 carries and three scores was the most impressive. Both Taiwan Deal and Garrett Groshek had good nights running the ball, too. Deal finished with 74 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown, while Groshek had 73 yards on nine carries and a lost fumble.

Through the air, quarterback Alex Hornibrook was solid – as he has been for much of the year for Wisconsin. Hornibrook finished 13-of-24 for 163 yards and a touchdown. The big thing he seems to have cleaned up this season is the turnover issue. He’s only thrown two interceptions half way through this season. Through five games last year he had thrown four of his 15 picks.

His ball placement wasn’t terrific throughout the night, as he placed the ball behind his receivers on a couple different instances. Nothing to write home about for the signal-caller, but enough to get the job done, nonetheless.

Tight end Jake Ferguson looks to be comfortable in this offense as a pass catcher and someone that Hornibrook can rely on. He had the lone receiving touchdown on the day as part of a 4-catch, 47-yard performance.

Defense – D+

The numbers don’t tell the entire story for the Badgers, but it wasn’t pretty on this side of the ball. The Cornhuskers totaled 518 yards of total offense on the night, which is by far the most Wisconsin has allowed this season. That number is one far too large for Jim Leonhard’s unit, especially when 407 of those yards are through the air.

Wisconsin did an OK job containing the ground game of Nebraska, as quarterback Adrian Martinez was the only one who did any damage of note that way. It was the beat-up secondary that struggled.

It was a tough task for Wisconsin to shut down Nebraska wide receiver JD Spielman who finished with nine grabs for 209 yards and a touchdown. Morgan Stanley also had a big day with 93 yards on eight catches.

Things won’t be getting any easier for the Badgers moving forward as they’ll have to deal with Shea Patterson and Michigan next weekend and the secondary has serious questions. Both Deron Harrell and D’Cota Dixon left with injuries against Nebraska and Scott Nelson was ejected.

Harrell left due to a head injury, Dixon hurt his knee, and Nelson was ejected for targeting in the second half, which means he will not be eligible for the first half of the game against the Wolverines.

Special Teams – A-

Aron Cruickshank almost broke a kickoff return but was tripped up by the kicker, and advanced the ball out past the 25-yard line three times on returns. That’s something that has been missing from that unit so far. There have been times where it has been easy to criticize Cruickshank’s decision making on returns, but tonight wasn’t one of them.

Rafael Gaglianone was perfect on the night, which is far from surprising. He even tied the Wisconsin career record for field goals with Todd Gregoire.

Coaching – C+

Wisconsin needs to figure out a way to fix the problems that are occurring in the secondary, and fast. If an effort like this from those positions repeats next week against Michigan the Badgers are going to be in quite a bit of trouble.

This definitely was the bright spot of the season as far as an offensive performance, with the exception of punting from Nebraska’s 35-yard line in the first half.

Wisconsin Football Roundtable: Oct. 5, 2018

On this week’s episode of the Wisconsin Football Roundtable, our former BadgersMontee Ball, Anthony Davis and Travis Beckum — look back at the win over Iowa, discuss where Wisconsin is at this point in the season and talk about what they expect to see against Nebraska on Saturday.

Preview: (16) Wisconsin vs Nebraska

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers (3-1, 1-0) vs the Nebraska Cornhuskers (0-4, 0-1)

The time: 6:30 p.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.

The TV coverage: BTN with Kevin Kugler and J Lehman in the booth and Rick Pizzo on the sideline.

The last time: Jonathan Taylor ran for 249 yards and two touchdowns in a 38-17 win last October in Lincoln.

The series: Wisconsin leads 8-4

The line: Wisconsin -17

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

TE Luke Benzschawel (leg)
RB Bradrick Shaw (leg)
LB Andrew Van Ginkel (leg)
CB Faion Hicks (thumb)
CB Travian Blaylock (leg)
CB Caesar Williams (leg)

OUT

Game:

ILB Griffin Grady (leg)

Season:

DL Garrett Rand (achilles)
OL Blake Smithback (leg)
LB Mason Platter (leg)
TE Zander Neuville (leg)

SUSPENDED

WR Quintez Cephus

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) Keep it going

Wisconsin needed the week off after a physical game with Iowa, but there’s probably some Badgers that would have liked to keep the momentum going from a strong finish to that contest. The offense scored touchdowns on its final two possessions and the defense ended the game by forcing a pair of punts and picking off a pass. It was the best stretch of play from both units this season and they’ll look to build on that against Nebraska.

2) Is Nebraska really this bad?

Nebraska had never been 0-4 in its history, but that’s exactly where the Huskers are right now. And to be fair, if their season opener with Akron hadn’t been canceled, they could very well be 0-5. Scott Frost’s first year has not gone as planned, obviously. Sure, it was unlikely that he would turn Nebraska into a contender right away, but they have been historically bad. The offense has been inconsistent, the defense has been horrendous and it’s among the most undisciplined teams in the country. It’s obviously way too early to make any judgements on Frost, but even the most pessimistic Huskers’ fans have to be concerned at what they’ve seen so far.

3) Going jumbo

Against Iowa, the Badgers didn’t hide their game plan. For the first time this season, they rolled out a seven offensive linemen formation with Jason Erdmann and Logan Bruss joining the five starters. Wisconsin told the Hawkeyes it was going to pound away with the run and that’s exactly what happened. The Badgers ran for 210 yards against a defense that was allowing 42 per game coming in. It was probably the best effort of the year from the offensive line, which now faces a Nebraska defense ranked 80th in the country against the run. With tight end Zander Neuville, a key run blocker, set to miss the rest of the year, expect to see the Badgers trot out the same six and seven-man lines against the Huskers.

4) Getting it done late

Alex Hornibrook hasn’t been great all year, but he was against Iowa, especially in the fourth quarter. He led Wisconsin down the field on a 10-play, 88-yard drive to beat Iowa a week after putting the Badgers in position to kick a game-tying field goal against BYU. According to UW, Hornibrook is 18-for-23 for 245 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter this year. His numbers during the rest of games isn’t bad, but Wisconsin’s offense has a chance to reach its potential if the Hornibrook that shows up in the fourth quarter can be around in the first three quarters as well.

5) Secondary hurting

No position group has been hit harder by departures and injuries than Wisconsin’s secondary. They saw cornerback Dontye Carriere-Williams transfer out before the season, while safety Patrick Johnson also left the team. Both likely would have played important roles at some point this year. Now, two of their top cornerbacks — Caesar Williams and Faion Hicks — are listed on the injury report as questionable. Hicks was seen wearing a cast on his right hand, though defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard expects him to play. Williams has a leg injury and was asking for prayers on his Twitter account this week.

All of this is to say that an already young secondary may have to turn to true freshmen cornerbacks Donte Burton and Rachad Wildgoose at some point against Nebraska.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

— This will be Nebraska’s fourth trip to Madison since joining the Big Ten in 2011. Combined, those teams had one loss coming into those games, while the team visiting this year already has four.

— 2018 marks the 25-year anniversary of former coach Barry Alvarez’s first Big Ten and Rose Bowl championship team. More than 70 members of that team will be honored at halftime of Saturday night’s game.

— Wisconsin is 18-1 in its last 19 trophy games, including its win over Iowa two weeks ago. The Badgers and Nebraska will play for the Freedom Trophy on Saturday night, a trophy the Huskers have never won.

ZONE PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 35, Nebraska 17
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 34, Nebraska 14
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 38, Nebraska 10
Danny Cunningham’s prediction: Wisconsin 41, Nebraska 10