Grading the Badgers: Offensive line and tight ends

The key to any good offense starts up front with the offensive line and Wisconsin had a very good one in the 2017 season. Three Badgers offensive lineman were recognized as All-Americans for the season with Michael Deiter, David Edwards, and Beau Benzschawel claiming a place on one of the various teams.

In the last 10 seasons, Wisconsin has had 14 offensive linemen recognized as All-American. The offensive identity of the team is always to have a good rushing attack. Wisconsin certainly fulfilled that this season as the Badgers were able to run for 229.5 yards per game, good enough for 21st nationally.

While Deiter, Edwards, and Benzschawel were all deserving of the national recognition that they received, it’s also worth noting that center Tyler Biadasz was also recognized as a consensus All-Big Ten third team member for his season.

While it’s tough for the common person to be able to break down individual offensive line play, it’s easy to tell that the offense typically will only go as far as the men up front take it. Wisconsin was able average over 30 points per game this season which certainly wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of this outstanding offensive line.

To simplify things even more, running back Jonathan Taylor would not be nearly as successful as he was without an offensive line this good.

The offensive line also provided what was arguably the most entertaining moment of the season when Deiter caught a lateral from quarterback Alex Hornibrook against Illinois and rumbled 4 yards into the end zone.

The tight end is often thought of as an extension of the offensive line in the type of offense that Wisconsin runs. The Badgers certainly utilized that position this season with Troy Fumagalli as the main threat. Fumagalli, like three of the offensive linemen, was named an All-American by several outlets for his season.

Despite missing two games due to a leg injury, he was the leading receiver for Wisconsin in 2017. He totaled 43 catches for 516 yards and reached the end zone four times. Fumagalli was Hornibrook’s security blanket throughout the season, often being found on third down for conversions or in the red zone.

Wisconsin also received contributions from Zander Neuville and Kyle Penniston throughout the year at the tight end spot. Those two primarily served more purpose as run-blockers, although they did combine for 16 catches for 137 yards and three touchdowns on the year.

GRADE: A – Simply put, offensive lines don’t get the amount of love that they deserve, but Wisconsin had one of the best in the country this season. The Badgers do not reach the heights offensively that they did this season without a really strong group up front.

Wisconsin 81, Western Kentucky 80: Last shots

MADISON – Wisconsin got back in the win column with an 81-80 victory over Western Kentucky University on Wednesday night at the Kohl Center in controversial fashion.

Twenty last shots for the 20 3-pointers attempted by Wisconsin on Wednesday night against Western Kentucky

1. Wisconsin (5-7) has struggled to close out games this season. They’ve been close in contests against Xavier, Baylor, UCLA, and Temple but haven’t found a way to win those games. In the victory over Penn State there was more a feeling that the Nittany Lions simply ran out of time rather than Wisconsin put them to bed.

2. It’s tough to say that the Badgers put the Hilltoppers away in this one, but a win counts all the same.

3. The Hilltoppers tied the game at 80-80 on a floater from Darius Thompson with 2.0 seconds remaining on the clock. Thompson took the ball and went the length of the floor before advancing into the lane and getting the ball over the out stretched arms of Wisconsin’s Khalil Iverson.

4. Following that basket, the officials went to the monitor to check what the clock should read. On the floor, it stopped at 0.9 seconds remaining, but upon review 1.1 seconds were added. Once that was settled, Wisconsin called a timeout to set up an inbounds play. The Badgers needed to go the length of the floor in order to attempt to win the game in regulation.

5. The play called wasn’t one that’s commonly seen. Wisconsin guard Brevin Pritzl took the ball out of bounds with the ability to run the baseline due to Thompson’s made basket on the other side of the timeout. Guard Brad Davison’s job on the play was to set a screen on the man guarding Pritzl, or so it seemed.

6. “My job was to let him run me over,” Davison said. “Then it would be a foul on him. Really good play call by coach and it worked perfectly. We’ll take it.”

7. “I just did my job and ran back-to-back [along the baseline] and made sure that he got hit,” said Pritzl of the inbounds play.

8. Western Kentucky coach Rick Stansbury wasn’t pleased with how the end of the game played out, to say the least. His postgame press conference was easily the most entertaining of the season in any game involving the Badgers.

9. “Everybody will talk about that last play but there’s plenty of plays that could have happened before that. That last play gets magnified,” said Stansbury following the game. “I think if you check the film, the guy setting the screen is out-of-bounds. His foot’s out of bounds. That automatically makes him an illegal screener. But again, that play will get magnified. That play didn’t beat us.”

10. Stansbury’s team showed resiliency throughout the night. The Hilltoppers currently have only seven scholarship players available, and eight players were dressed on Wednesday night.

11. “I’m going to say this as nice as I can, again. I’m not going to put the blame on one play. But, as it turns out, it was an important play, it was an obvious play. If he’s out-of-bounds he’s an illegal screener, and he’s out-of-bounds. That’s just where that is. If it’s one of those plays, we’re supposed to go to the monitor last two minutes to look at things. To me, that’s an important thing to go to the monitor for. [The referees] said he couldn’t go. What else is more important for to go to the monitor for late in the game?”

12. Upon further review, at least on Twitter, it did not seem as if Stansbury had a gripe, although it was a very close play.

twitter.com/TJhoeft14

13. The controversial ending will certainly overshadow some parts of the game. Wisconsin had multiple opportunities to thwart the comeback hopes of WKU. They held double-digit leads in both halves only to see the Hilltoppers come all the way back to either tie or take the lead. In the first half, Wisconsin was up 29-20 with 6:24 left. The Hilltoppers closed out the half on an 18-5 run to take a 38-34 lead into the locker room.

14. In the second half, the Badgers held a 65-54 lead with 9:08 remaining following a made free throw by forward Ethan Happ. Over the next 4:20 WKU went on a 17-6 run to tie the game 71-71 with 4:48 remaining. Wisconsin had the opportunity to make the end of the game rather uneventful, but lacked the killer instinct needed to do so. That’s something common among young teams, which Wisconsin certainly qualifies as.

15 .The Badgers had their best game of the season on the offensive end to date. They shot the ball incredibly well from the outside, knocking down 12-of-20 3-pointers on the evening. Pritzl and forward Aleem Ford combined to go 8-of-10 from behind the arc. Davison and guard T.J. Schlundt each hit two 3-pointers as well. When looking at the box score, this area jumps out as the clear reason as to why Wisconsin was able to come away victorious against WKU.

16. By shooting 60% from behind the arc Wisconsin was well above their season average in that area. They have been rather pedestrian from 3-point range throughout the season, entering the night shooting 33% as a team. Some say 3-point shooting is contagious and it definitely seemed that was for Wisconsin.

17. It’s very rare for a team to perform better from deep than at the free throw line, but that’s exactly what Wisconsin did. The Badgers finished the night 13-of-23 on free throws, which computes to 56.5%.

18. Happ was part of the reason the free throw percentage is that low. He finished the night 3-of-8 shooting at the free throw line. Happ finished with 17 points, four rebounds, and six assists for Wisconsin. He was 7-of-12 shooting from the floor.

19. Happ and Pritzl were the leading scorers for Wisconsin, they each had 17 points on the night. Davison chipped in 16 and Ford finished with 14 to push Wisconsin to four players in double-digits.

20. The Badgers are out of game action until December 23 when UW-Green Bay comes to Madison, Wis.

Grading the Badgers: Running backs

Wisconsin’s template for success on the field has always been to play strong defense and run the ball effectively. The 2017 season may have been the height of that due to a number of different things, especially the group of running backs.

At the beginning of the season, many thought that running backs Chris James and Bradrick Shaw would shoulder the load of Wisconsin’s rushing attack. James followed coach Paul Chryst to Wisconsin from Pittsburgh and sat out the 2016 season due to NCAA rules. Shaw saw action in 11 games as a redshirt freshman and was productive. He rushed for 457 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Wisconsin looked to be in a good place at the running back position.

Then, Jonathan Taylor emerged onto the scene.

Taylor saw action in the season opening game against Utah State in a reserve role. He had 9 carries for a team-high 87 yards and a touchdown. He never looked back, starting the remaining 12 games and becoming one of the country’s most explosive running backs.

Taylor finished the season with 1,847 yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman. He was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the country’s top running back. Taylor also finished in sixth-place in the voting for the Heisman Trophy.

Taylor was able to set the record for the most times that a player was awarded the Big Ten Freshman of the Week. He was an 8-time recipient, eclipsing Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett’s previous record that was set in 2014. Taylor also won the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week twice.

While the backfield primarily belonged to Taylor, both James and Shaw were able to contribute during the season, although both missed time due to injuries.

Shaw was the opening day starter, and he finished the year with 96 carries for 365 yards and scored three touchdowns. He missed two games due to a leg injury that ruled him out for the season.

James played in 7 games, racking up 217 yards on 39 carries on the season. He didn’t start, but did cross the 100-yard mark against Florida Atlantic early in the season.

Another back to step up to the plate was walk-on Garrett Groshek. The former high school quarterback transitioned to running back during his redshirt season in 2016. He then saw action in all 13 games during the 2017 season. While much of his time was spent on special teams, he did contribute in the backfield with 57 carries for 294 yards and reached the end zone twice.

Wisconsin also utilized senior Rachid Ibrahim in obvious passing situations. He, like James, transferred to Wisconsin from Pittsburgh where he played under Chryst in 2013-14. For Wisconsin, he did a terrific job of protecting quarterback Alex Hornibrook in passing situations. He played in 12 games, totaling 31 touches for 183 yards on the year.

Taylor was the star of the backfield and rightfully so. He was one of the best backs in the country all year long. It will certainly be interesting to see how he improves as he grows older and matures at Wisconsin. A full offseason in the strength and conditioning program at Wisconsin could elevate him to an even higher level.

GRADE: A – Taylor was historically good as a freshman. His only issue was putting the ball on the ground from time to time. With all the other good he did that’s something that can be looked past for the time being. The rest of the group did a good job when Taylor wasn’t in the game, but there’s no doubt who the star is.

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 graduate assistant named East Central University head coach

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.

Wisconsin’s Jack Cichy declares for NFL Draft

MADISON — Wisconsin linebacker Jack Cichy announced that he will not petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility and instead has declared for the 2018 NFL Draft, he writes in The Players Tribune.

Cichy, a former walk-on, missed the final seven games of the 2016 season with a torn pectoral and all of the 2017 season with a torn ACL. He had high expectations nationally for this season, as he was named to several preseason watch lists, including for the Bednarik Award, Nagurski Award, and Lott IMPACT Trophy.

In his career he played in 25 games for Wisconsin, totaling 121 total tackles, including 15 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Cichy was also named Defensive MVP for Wisconsin’s 2015 Holiday Bowl victory over USC. He had a team-high nine tackles and three sacks against the Trojans.

Cichy played as a true freshman in 2013 and then redshirted in 2014. After missing the entire 2017 season he would have been able to apply for a medical redshirt.

He was awarded a scholarship prior to the 2015 season.

Wisconsin puts 5 on AP All-American teams

For the second time ever, Wisconsin had five players earn some form of All-American recognition from the Associated Press.

Considered the most prestigious All-American team, the AP selected linebacker T.J. Edwards to the first team, running back Jonathan Taylor and tight end Troy Fumagalli to the second team and guard Beau Benzschawel and tackle David Edwards to the third team.

Edwards becomes the first defensive player from Wisconsin since Erasmus James in 2004 to earn first-team honors. He finished the regular season second on the team in tackles with 75, including 11 tackles for loss. He added two sacks and tied for the team lead in interceptions with four.

Earning second-team honors, Taylor joins Ron Dayne as the only true freshman running backs from Wisconsin to be named to any team by the AP. With one game to play, Taylor has rushed for 1,883 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Named the Big Ten Tight End of the Year, Fumagalli earns second-team recognition from the AP after leading Wisconsin with 43 catches for 516 yards.

Benzschawel and Edwards started all 13 games at right guard and right tackle, respectively, for the Big Ten West Champions. They helped Wisconsin produce the second-best rushing attack in the conference at 229 yards per game.

The Badgers will take on Miami on Dec. 30 in the Orange Bowl.

Wisconsin loses guard Kobe King for the season

MADISON — The bad news keeps coming for the Wisconsin basketball team.

On the same day guard D’Mitrik Trice was to undergo surgery on his foot that will keep him out indefinitely, Wisconsin announced Monday that freshman guard Kobe King will have season-ending knee surgery.

King injured his left knee during practice on Friday. After not being present during the first half of Saturday’s game against Marquette, the La Crosse native sat behind the bench during the second half of that loss.

“I’m disappointed that I’m not able to finish the season with my teammates,” King said in a tweet sent by UW. “But following my surgery, I plan to attack my rehab as aggressively as possible & come back stronger than ever. While I’m out, I look forward to watching our team continue to grow this season”

A prized recruit in the 2017 class, King was averaging 5.2 points and 1.4 rebounds for the Badgers over the first 10 games of the season. King is eligible to apply for a medical hardship waiver after the season. If granted, he would still have four years of eligibility remaining.

“I feel awful for D’Mitrik and Kobe,” coach Greg Gard said in a tweet sent by UW. “Fortunately, there is a silver lining that we were right under the minimum number of games to apply for a (medical hardship).”

The loss of King, combined with the uncertainty around Trice, is a significant hit for a team that was struggling to find its way even with that duo on the floor. As of now, the only true guards Wisconsin has coming off its bench are junior T.J. Sclundt, who played a career-high 13 minutes against Marquette, and true freshman walk-on Walt McGrory, who was expected to redshirt this season.

The Badgers are just 4-7 on the year, a mark that has them at three games under .500 for the first time since 2001. They’ll host Western Kentucky on Wednesday.

Wisconsin posts assistant coach position

MADISON — Wisconsin is looking for a new assistant football coach.

In reaction to the NCAA voting to allow a 10th on-field assistant coach as of early January, the Badgers posted the opening on the university’s job site Dec. 7. Applicants must have their resume in by Dec. 14, with an anticipated start date of Jan. 9, 2018.

It’s unclear how the Badgers will use the extra spot. Coach Paul Chryst said Friday that other coaches he’s spoken with have said they are using it to hire a special teams coach, but Wisconsin already has one with Chris Haering.

One possibility, and probably the most likely addition, would be the promotion of Jon Budmayr. The former Wisconsin quarterback served as a graduate assistant his first year with Chryst in Madison, and then spent the past two seasons as a quality control coach. During that time, he’s almost been considered UW’s quarterbacks coach, even helping with recruiting at different points.

Wisconsin could also look to split up the secondary duties. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard has overseen the entire unit the last two years, but former UW defensive back Antonio Fenelus, a quality control coach this season, has worked pretty heavily with the cornerbacks and could elevated to that full-time role.

“It goes back to, how do you get the best group of people. And then how do [you] divide and use everyone’s strengths,” Chryst said.

Marquette 82, Wisconsin 63: Last word

MADISON — Marquette got 47 points combined from guards Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey on its way to a dominating 82-63 victory over a shorthanded Wisconsin team on Saturday at the Kohl Center.

Player of the Game: Rowsey

Saddled with foul trouble in the first half, the senior had 18 of his 24 points after the break. When the Badgers had trimmed the lead to 6 with 15:54 left, Rowsey went on a personal 8-2 run to push it back to double digits. Wisconsin had zero answer for Rowsey.

The good: Brad Davison

The freshman seems to play his best when the rest of the team is struggling and that was again the case on Saturday. Playing with a brace protecting an injured left shoulder, Davison scored a career-high 20 points, 11 of which came from the free throw line, and continued to throw his body around like he has all year. He played a team-high 38 minutes and was a driving force in keeping Wisconsin within striking distance until the final 10 minutes.

The not so good: Injuries

The injuries didn’t happen during the game, but they were certainly evident during it. Wisconsin learned late Friday morning that starting guard D’Mitrik Trice would be out indefinitely to undergo foot surgery, and then found out late Friday night that guard Kobe King will miss significant time with a knee injury. It left the Badgers without two key perimeter defenders on Saturday and leaves them extremely thin in the backcourt moving forward.

Stat of the game: 14 of 22

That was Marquette’s day from beyond the arc. It included Sam Hauser hitting 4 of 5 and Rowsey going 5 of 6. More than a couple of those were uncontested as the Badgers defense really struggled to close out on shooters.

What they said:

Ethan Happ was asked how the team can turn the season around:

“Stay together. That’s the biggest thing. We’ve had struggles my first two years playing here. That’s what we did. We just stayed together and kept fighting. Didn’t hang up the shoes. We’re going to keep doing that and keep playing.”

In Case You Missed It:

— T.J. Schlundt played a career-high 13 minutes, hitting the only 3-pointer he took. His father, Terrell, played for Marquette.

— Wisconsin honored six football players during a break in play, including running back Jonathan Taylor and linebacker T.J. Edwards.

— Most of the 2018 recruiting class for the Wisconsin football team was in attendance at the game as many took their official visit to Madison this weekend.

— Wisconsin’s top basketball target in 2020, forward Jalen Johnson (Sun Prairie, Wis.), attended the game.

What’s Next

Wisconsin (4-7) welcomes Western Kentucky (6-2) to the Kohl Center on Wednesday.