Badgers drop in AP Poll again

Three straight weeks, three straight tumbles in the AP Top 25 for the Wisconsin Badgers.

This time, however, was much different than the previous two. In Weeks 1 and 2 Wisconsin won by 31 points each time, but didn’t look overly impressive in doing so. In Week 3 the Badgers lost at home to previously unranked BYU 24-21.

The loss was the first non-conference loss at Camp Randall Stadium for the Badgers since 2003, and it was enough to send Wisconsin all the way down to No. 18. This is the first time that Wisconsin has been outside of the top 10 since the 2016 season.

After defeating Wisconsin, BYU is no ranked No. 25.

Wisconsin returns to action next weekend on the road against Iowa.

Wisconsin’s season stands at a crossroads following loss to BYU

MADISON — Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst is about to find out how his team handles adversity.

For one of the first times in his 44-game tenure, the Badgers were both outplayed and out coached in a 24-21 loss to BYU on Saturday. Though it’s a new season, this was the same program that Chryst and Co. had embarrassed just a year ago, rolling into Provo and dispatching the Cougars 40-6. It was, as some players called it, a jump off point for a 12-0 regular season and an Orange Bowl victory.

This year, though, it could very well serve as a crossroads for Wisconsin’s season. Either it’s a wake-up call for a team that started the season with College Football Playoff aspirations or it’ll be the point we all look back on as the beginning of the end.

As you’d imagine, the overwhelming message from Chryst and his players afterwards was about what is still in front of them.

“You still got a whole season left,” quarterback Alex Hornibrook said. “I think that’s just the way that everybody is wired in this locker room. A loss isn’t deflating. It’s not going to defeat you. Just like everything in life, really. That’s the wrong mindset if that’s how you’re looking at it.”

From an outside perspective, it’s impossible to look at it any other way, though. When you lose a non-conference home game for the first time since 2003, that’s deflating. When you lose as a three-touchdown favorite for just the second time in 15 seasons, that’s deflating. And when it seems like the other team played with more energy and urgency than a top-10 team with expectations off the charts, that’s deflating.

That doesn’t mean it has to be the end of the season, obviously. Things became a lot more difficult and the margin for error has decreased with the loss, but the opportunity for a playoff berth is still there. Wisconsin’s schedule sets up where it could have a number of marquee wins to overshadow what happened Saturday.

“All our goals are still there,” safety D’Cota Dixon said. “Everything is still in front of us.”

It is, but there is a significant difference is having a chance to accomplish those goals and that chance being realistic. There is no way the Badgers win their division, much less the Big Ten title, with efforts like the one it put together against BYU. You’ll be hard pressed to win a lot of games when your quarterback tosses a brutal interception in your own territory, you have a false start on a key fourth-and-1 play or your veteran safety makes a wrong pre-snap call that leads to a 31-yard touchdown pass by a wide receiver. You shouldn’t need to take out four of your five starters along the offensive line — a group that was labeled one of the best in the country coming into the season — to give the offense a spark or whatever the real reason was for doing it.

Those types of mistakes led to what is certainly the most embarrassing loss since Chryst took over in 2015 and one that has to make everyone that saw it revaluate what this team is capable of. We all thought what we saw the offense do last December to Miami would be the norm this season. That hasn’t been the case. And, yeah, Wisconsin lost seven starters on defense, but Jim Leonhard is still calling the shots and will find guys to fill the void without a drop-off. As it turns out, the Badgers might not be the reloading type that some suggested they were.

Is all the hand wringing for one loss an overreaction on our part? Perhaps. Wisconsin has dealt with slip-ups like this in the past and come out OK. Ranked in the top-10 to start 1999, the Badgers went 1-2 to open the year, including a loss at Cincinnati. That team rallied for eight straight wins, a Big Ten title and a victory in the Rose Bowl. More recently, Wisconsin lost its Big Ten opener to Northwestern in 2014 to fall to 2-2 only to roll off seven straight victories on its way to a Big Ten West title. It’s evidence that there are ways back from early-season disappointment.

Still, the game was a bit jarring. Wisconsin hadn’t played great in the first two weeks, but it was the same way last year before the team kicked it into gear. On Saturday, you kept waiting for someone to make a play — cause a turnover or break off a long run — and it just didn’t happen. Instead, it was BYU that made plays when needed and it was the reason the Cougars snapped Wisconsin’s 41-game non-conference home winning streak. In doing so, they also showed, as guard Beau Benzschawel said, that the Badgers aren’t invincible and that they can’t just roll their helmets out and expect teams to lay down for them.

Wisconsin will have the chance to prove what happened against BYU was an aberration when it faces Iowa this Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. It’ll be the site where the Badgers restart their push for a berth in the College Football Playoff or it will serve as the burial ground for their season.

Badgers beat at their own game in loss to BYU

MADISON – Well, it happened.

After two weeks of uninspiring, unimpressive performances the Wisconsin Badgers were knocked off 24-21 by the BYU Cougars at Camp Randall.

Wisconsin entered Saturday with a non-conference home winning streak dating back to 2003 and hopes of an undefeated season and left the field with neither of those things still intact. Wisconsin is a more talented team than BYU, in the opinion of most, but that certainly did not show on this sundrenched Saturday afternoon.

Don’t get things twisted, Wisconsin deserved this. The Badgers opened up the season at No. 4 in the AP Top 25 before dropping one spot in after each of the first two games. The sixth-ranked squad wasn’t impressive in either of their 31-point victories over Western Kentucky and New Mexico and they certainly weren’t in this loss.

BYU came into Saturday’s game as 22.5-point underdogs by the oddsmakers in Las Vegas. The Cougars weren’t supposed to be able to give Wisconsin a close game, much less knock them from the ranks of the unbeaten.

It’s easy to point at the missed field goal by Rafael Gaglianone with under one minute remaining that would’ve tied the game as the reason for Wisconsin’s loss, but it’s deeper than that.

Wisconsin wasn’t just beat on Saturday. The Badgers were beat at their own game. BYU came into Camp Randall and was the more physical team, seemed to out scheme the Badgers, and looked more prepared. The Cougars used tons of misdirection offensively – including a multitude of jet sweeps and end arounds, which is a Wisconsin staple – to keep Jim Leonhard’s unit off balance.

BYU even scored on a trick play, and it was very similar to one that the Badgers had seen before, just not by BYU. In Week 1, Western Kentucky ran a very similar double-pass to the one that the Cougars used to take a 14-7 lead over Wisconsin in the second quarter.

Offensively, Wisconsin’s highly touted offensive line struggled against a physical front. BYU’s linebackers had little trouble navigating blockers throughout the day as they held Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor to a season-low 117 yards on the ground.

BYU’s three starting linebackers were all among the game’s five leading tacklers. Sione Takitaki led the way with 13 total stops on the day. It seemed as if he was around the ball on every play.

Maybe Wisconsin was caught looking ahead to next weekend’s showdown under the lights on the road against Iowa. Maybe Wisconsin hasn’t fully moved on from the success that was the 2017 season. But right now, the Badgers don’t look like the force, or playoff contender, that many expected them to be.

Those dreams aren’t dead, but the Badgers have some soul searching to do because another performance like the one against BYU will be enough to put the nail in Wisconsin’s coffin.

“I think all of our goals that we want to achieve are still right in front of us,” linebacker T.J. Edwards said after the loss. “It starts with beating Iowa and winning the West which is never an easy thing to do. We have a big opponent next week and you don’t really think big picture, you just go week-to-week. That’s something we do really well.”

Edwards is right, if Wisconsin finishes out the season with 10 consecutive wins, there is still a chance they find themselves in the College Football Playoff. That’s entirely possible, especially with trips to Penn State and Michigan as resume boosters.

The problem for Wisconsin, however, is that this team has shown little to inspire the confidence to believe that’s a realistic possibility.

Wisconsin vs BYU: Three keys

The Badgers enter Week 3 at 2-0 on the young season with plenty of room to grow. Wisconsin has won by 31 points in each of the first two weeks, but the Badgers haven’t necessarily looked as dominant as expected thus far.

Even with these victories the Badgers have slipped from their preseason No. 4 ranking down to No. 6 in the latest AP Top 25.

Wisconsin hasn’t been tested as far as the opposition being able to match he level of talent that the Badgers hold. That won’t change this week as there’s little doubt that Wisconsin is a better team than this week’s matchup, BYU.

Take care of the football

This has been written every week, and Wisconsin hasn’t yet done it. The Badgers turned the ball over twice last week against New Mexico courtesy of a Jonathan Taylor fumble and an Alex Hornibrook interception.

Hornibrook’s interception came on a weird play, as it looked like the ball either slipped out of his hand or was deflected just as it was being released. That’s an odd play that isn’t entirely on Hornibrook.

Taylor’s fumble is something that needs to stop. Through 16 career games he’s now lost eight fumbles and put the ball on the ground 10 times. There hasn’t been an instance where one of his mistakes has cost Wisconsin a game, and one this week likely wouldn’t either, but if this problem persists then Wisconsin is going to pay for it.

Taylor is an incredibly talented running back and this seems like the only significant hole in his game right now, but it’s one he needs to figure out much sooner than later.

Opening up the passing attack

Against New Mexico Hornibrook only threw 11 passes. That number should go up moving forward. Partly, it could be Wisconsin keeping some of its air attack under wraps for the time being. They haven’t been tested to the point where they need to show everything in the offensive arsenal yet.

This could be a week where Wisconsin shows a little bit more on the offensive side of the ball. Again, they may not need everything against BYU, but they’re going to soon.

It will also be helpful to the passing game that wide receiver Danny Davis is set to return from his 2-game suspension. Davis will be able to add more experience and big play ability to the offense and bolster the receiving group.

Looking dominant

This isn’t so much a key to victory as it is something that the rest of the college football world wants to see.

As mentioned above, Wisconsin hasn’t looked as dominant as expected. Truthfully, that’s OK at this point in the season as long as those underwhelming performances are coming in victories. A loss could potentially doom them, but if the Badgers are unbeaten in December with a few underwhelming performances early on, no one will remember.

Regardless, it would be a good thing to see this team start to perform as expected, especially with a legitimate test on the horizon in Week 4 on the road at Iowa.

Preview: (6) Wisconsin vs BYU

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers (2-0) vs the BYU Cougars (1-1)

The time: 2:30 p.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.

The TV coverage: ABC with Bob Wischusen and Brock Huard in the booth and Allison Williams on the sideline.

The last time: Wisconsin got four touchdown passes from Alex Hornibrook in a 40-6 win in Provo in 2017.

The series: Wisconsin leads 2-1

The line: Wisconsin -22.5

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

K P.J. Rosowski (leg)
OLB Tyler Johnson (leg)

OUT

Game:

TE Luke Benzschawel (leg)
ILB Griffin Grady (leg)
DE Kraig Howe (leg)
ILB Mike Maskalunas (leg)
S Reggie Pearson (leg)
RB Bradrick Shaw (leg)

Season:

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

SUSPENDED

WR Quintez Cephus

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) Jump off point

A year ago, Wisconsin was 2-0, and while it had blowout wins over Utah State and Florida Atlantic, the Badgers had not been overly impressive. There were some that thought coach Paul Chryst’s group wasn’t as good as its top-10 ranking suggested. That narrative changed when they went out to Utah and dominated BYU 40-6.

“We went down there and [made] a statement,” cornerback Madison Cone said. “I felt that was the game that our team took off.

“That was a big confidence booster to launch us into the [season] we had.”

A year later, with BYU coming to town, Wisconsin is once again 2-0 with two blowout wins where not everything looked pretty. Can the Badgers put together a complete game and look more like the top-5 team everyone expected at the start of the season? If so, it would bode well for them heading into Big Ten play next week at Iowa.

2) Welcome back

A week after getting tight end Zander Neuville back, Wisconsin will add the services of wide receiver Danny Davis to the mix. The sophomore was suspended for the first two weeks of the season in relation to an incident where fellow wide receiver Quintez Cephus was charged with sexual assault.

Davis was among the Badgers best weapons on offense as a true freshman last year, catching 26 passes for 418 yards. He also scored five touchdowns, including three in the Orange Bowl. Though suspended, Davis was able to practice the last couple of weeks and his teammates believe he’ll hit the ground running against BYU.

“He’s a big playmaker. He’ll make those really contested [catches], the ones you don’t he can get and he’ll come down with it,” wide receiver AJ Taylor said of Davis. “That ignites the offense.”

3) Big and physical

Wisconsin’s offense is preparing for its most physical game of the season to date. BYU’s front is loaded with big and experienced players, including 340-pound nose tackle Khyiris Tonga and 6-foot-9, 275-pound defensive end Corbin Kaufusi.

“[They have] big guys in the middle,” left tackle Cole Van Lanen said with a laugh. “Really big guys.”

They do, but the Badgers have some really big guys of their own and they are guys considered by some to be a part of the best offensive line in the country. It’s a group that paved the way for 417 yards on the ground last week against New Mexico — the most by Wisconsin since 2014 — and it’s one that would love a repeat performance against the Cougars.

4) No looking back

Before lighting up the Orange Bowl last December, Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s best game of his career came against BYU. He went 18 of 19, breaking the single-season school record for completion percentage, and had four touchdowns in a 40-6 win. But asked about that effort this week, Hornibrook was not in a mood to reminisce.

“I don’t think anything carries over,” Hornibrook said. “[And] I’m not really worried about last year.”

Hornibrook is off to a solid start this year, throwing for 405 yards and three touchdowns.

5) Protect the ball

Jonathan Taylor leads the country in rushing yards per game (199.0), but he’s also at the top of the list in terms of fumbles lost. The sophomore has coughed the ball up twice this year, losing both of them. Add that on to the six fumbles he lost last year and it’s fair to say the Heisman Trophy candidate is fumble prone. Taylor and the Badgers have put a ton of effort into solving the issue, but it remains one. And while the greatness of Taylor overshadows the issue, it just feels like something that could cost Wisconsin a game at some point this season.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

A victory on Saturday would be win No. 700 for Wisconsin as a program. Only four other Big Ten teams have accomplished that — Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska.

Six true freshmen have played so far this season — Travian Blaylock, Donte Burton, Aron Cruickshank, Taj Mustapha, Rachad Wildgoose and Bryson Williams. That’s already the most during Paul Chryst’s tenure.

Alex Hornibrook has won 88 percent of the games he’s started. That’s the best mark in school history, with the next closest being Scott Tolzien at 80.8 percent.

ZONE PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 31, BYU 10
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 38, BYU 7
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 48, BYU 14
Danny Cunningham’s prediction: Wisconsin 34, BYU 17

Wisconsin Football Roundtable: Sept. 14, 2018

On this week’s episode of The Wisconsin Football Roundtable, our former players — Montee Ball, Anthony Davis and Travis Beckum — look back at the Badgers’ win over New Mexico and preview their matchup with BYU.

Case against Wisconsin WR Quintez Cephus will proceed

MADISON — The sexual assault case against Quintez Cephus will proceed.

The Wisconsin wide receiver was in court Tuesday for his preliminary hearing and Judge Jill Karofsky found probable cause to bound Cephus over for trial on charges of second-degree sexual assault of an intoxicated victim and third-degree sexual assault. The 20-year-old is accused of assaulting two different women on April 22.

Prior to the hearing, the judge denied a motion by the defense to dismiss the second-degree charge. Cephus’ attorneys filed the motion claiming the state had failed to include key evidence in the criminal complaint, namely video from Cephus’ apartment building that they said showed the alleged victims not to be as intoxicated as the criminal complaint suggests. They further argued that because of what was on the video, the first woman, whose statements make up much of the criminal complaint, was not a credible witness.

But the judge determined that even if the videos were included in the complaint, there was still probable cause to proceed based on the stories of the two women, along with a statement by Danny Davis, Cephus’ teammate and roommate, that he witnessed one of the women sitting on the floor of a campus bar prior to the alleged assaults and believed her to be intoxicated.

“I don’t expect anyone to roll over in this case and for this to be a plea [bargain] next week,” Assistant District Attorney William Brown said before the judge handed down her ruling. “This is likely to be a trial. It seems they are hotly contesting every fact of this case and I believe this probably will be a trial. But this isn’t the stage in the proceedings to challenge those facts. That should be done in front of a jury.”

One of Cephus’ attorneys, Kathleen Stilling, confirmed Brown’s thinking.

“I can agree with the state on one thing. Every fact is going to be hotly contested,” Stilling told reporters afterwards. “We think, and believe, that at the end of this case, when all the facts are known, that what we’ve said from the very beginning will be demonstrated. That all three people, who were in that room that night, knew exactly what they were doing.”

Cephus, who was suspended from the team when the charges were filed, spoke for the first time on Tuesday.

“I’m innocent,” Cephus said. “I know the truth. They know the truth. I look forward to clearing my name and fighting for who I am.”

The next step in the case is an arraignment where Cephus is expected to enter a plea on the two charges.

Jonathan Taylor takes home Big Ten honor

For the third time in his career Jonathan Taylor was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week on Monday.

Against New Mexico the sophomore had a career day as he rushed for a new career-high 253 yards and three scores on 33 carries in Wisconsin’s 45-14 victory over the Lobos. Taylor became the first player for Wisconsin to rush for 250 yards or more since Melvin Gordon accomplished the feat back in the 2015 Outback Bowl against Auburn.

As a team Wisconsin ran for 417 yards, setting a new high for the Paul Chryst era.

Taylor topped the 100-yard mark for the 12th time in his 16-game career with the Badgers. It was the sixth time he’s crossed 150 yards and the fourth time he has gone over 200 yards in a single game. The lone downside to Taylor’s season thus far is he’s fumbled twice, losing both of them.

For the season Taylor has 398 yards rushing and five touchdowns on 51 carries. Wisconsin takes on BYU in Week 3 this Saturday at Camp Randall. Kick off is set for 2:30 p.m. CT.

The Camp: Sept. 10, 2018

On this week’s episode of “The Camp,” Zach and Matt look back at the win over New Mexico, talk about the return of Danny Davis and answer your Twitter questions.

2:05 — The good and bad of Jonathan Taylor’s game

8:55 — Who is the best running back in Wisconsin history?

13:47 — Sold or not sold

1) Jonathan Taylor will hit 2,000 yards this season.
2) Jonathan Taylor won’t lead the country in fumbles.
3) Wisconsin’s offensive line is at its best when Cole Van Lanen is at left tackle as opposed to Jon Dietzen.
4) AJ Taylor will lead Wisconsin in receptions and yards this season.
5) Scott Nelson will have more career interceptions than Jim Leonhard (21).
6) Matt Bernstein would have scored on the play Alec Ingold ran for 39.
7) Alec Ingold is the best No. 45 in Wisconsin history

29:28 — What the return of Danny Davis could mean for Wisconsin