Wisconsin Football Roundtable: Oct. 13, 2017

Former Badgers Anthony Davis, Matt Bernstein and Gabe Carimi join us weekly on the Wisconsin Football Roundtable.

This week the guys take a look back at the win over Nebraska, the play of running back Jonathan Taylor, look ahead to Northwestern and tell us what game on Wisconsin’s schedule scares them the most.

Leg injury expected to keep Wisconsin RB Chris James out of action against Purdue

MADISON — It appears as though Wisconsin will be without running back Chris James on Saturday against Purdue.

A post on the junior’s Snapchat account read, “Not playing this week but I know [my] brothers will take care of business.”

James was listed as questionable with a leg injury on the report the team released Thursday. He left last week’s game against Nebraska in the first half and did not return. Through five games, the Pittsburgh transfer has tallied 148 yards rushing and 36 yards receiving.

With James not expected to play, graduate transfer Rachid Ibrahim figures to see more time as he takes over as Wisconsin’s third-down back. In relief of James against the Huskers, Ibrahim ran seven times for 51 yards, and on the season he’s got 102 yards on 21 carries.

Wisconsin already ruled wide receiver Jazz Peavy out for the game with a leg injury.

The 2004 Wisconsin-Purdue game proved to be turning point for both programs

MADISON — It’s been nearly 13 years since Robert Brooks’ knee knocked the football from Kyle Orton’s grasp late in the fourth quarter of a top-10 matchup, but the moment remains an important piece of history in the story of two football programs. One — Wisconsin — that would go on to great things after Scott Starks picked that loose ball up and returned it for a game-winning touchdown. The other — Purdue — would go into a funk that it has yet to emerge from.

It was third-and-3 with 2:49 left in the game and a first down likely would have sealed a 17-14 victory for the No. 5 Boilermakers. All eyes were on Ross-Ade Stadium that afternoon seeing as it was hosting a pair of 6-0 teams and ESPN’s College GameDay was in town. The only thing the late Joe Tiller and Purdue needed was three yards to put themselves on a path to a Big Ten title and potentially more.

That didn’t happen, of course.

The words that night of Wisconsin’s play-by-play man, Matt Lepay, tell the story of what took place, while at the same time unknowingly describing the exact moment one school set its bright future in motion and the other its slide into irrelevance.

“Here’s the snap…here’s the boot to the right…Orton on the run…gets the first down…as he got helicoptered…ball is loose…Badgers have it…here comes Starks…at the 20, at the 10, at the five…touchdown, Wisconsin!”

It was, as ESPN’s Mark Jones pointed out as Starks was getting mobbed in the end zone by his teammates, a “cataclysmic turn of events.” While he meant that game specifically, it proved to be more than just that.

Wisconsin would turn its victory into a 9-4 season, and after going just 9-17 in the Big Ten from 2001 to 2003, the Badgers have gone 79-33 in conference play since Orton’s fumble. They’ve won three Big Ten championships, three division titles, are currently positioned as the No. 7 team in the country and are the overwhelming favorite to go to the conference title game for a fifth time in its seven-year existence.

Purdue, though, never recovered, losing its next three games in 2004 and not challenging for a Big Ten title since. In fact, since the ball squirted free from Orton’s clutches, the Boilermakers are 32-73 in the conference and have just one winning season. Prior to that year, they had four in their last seven seasons under Tiller, including a berth in the 2001 Rose Bowl.

“They were having another one of those storybook seasons,” former Wisconsin running back Anthony Davis said this week on the Wisconsin Football Roundtable. “To lose that way on that night, that derailed them. That definitely derailed them that season and possibly their program. These types of games have a lasting impact.

“They haven’t put it together since [then].”

It was a monumental shift, one that essentially ended Orton’s Heisman Trophy chances, something he didn’t soon forget. According to several former players, Orton went out of his way to ignore them at a variety of events in the months and years after the game.

“I can remember seeing Kyle Orton afterwards at different functions and that guy would not speak to us,” said Davis, who ran for 66 yards and a touchdown that night. “He would not look in our direction. He got off the elevator one time. We were on the elevator, he got off the elevator. Wouldn’t ride the elevator with us. He just despised us after that.”

If Orton had known what would become of the Purdue program, one that let Tiller go in 2008, sent his replacement, Danny Hope, packing in 2012, and then fired his successor, Darrell Hazell, last year, he probably would have been even more upset with the Badgers, who certainly aren’t apologizing.

“It was a great feeling,” Davis said of Orton giving them the cold shoulder.

But there is optimism in West Lafayette this year, more so than at any point under Hope or Hazell. Former Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm has brought energy and toughness to the Boilermakers, who are 3-2 as they prepare for a visit to Wisconsin on Saturday. The two losses came against ranked teams and were tight affairs for the most part, with Brohm’s group losing by a touchdown to Louisville in the opener and leading Michigan at halftime before losing 28-10.

Those games, even though they were losses, have some believing that Brohm is the man that can help bring back the excitement around the program last seen in the early 2000s. Heck, a win Saturday against a top-10 Wisconsin team could very well be looked back at in a few years and pointed to as the day that Purdue football made itself relevant again. But at this moment, as the Badgers look for a 12th straight victory in the series, that cool and wet October night in West Lafayette is nothing but a horror story for the Boilermakers, while at the same time serving as one of the more important games in Wisconsin football history.

Wisconsin WR Jazz Peavy to miss Purdue game

MADISON — Wisconsin will not have the services of wide receiver Jazz Peavy on Saturday against Purdue.

The school released its final injury report for the week and Peavy was listed as out with a right leg injury. Coach Paul Chryst told reporters that it’s something that’s been bother the senior for a while, but he did practice some this week and it isn’t expected to be something that keeps him out long term.

Peavy has not been as involved in Wisconsin’s offense this year as he was as a junior, as sophomore Quintez Cephus has ascended to the No. 1 spot. Still, his absence will mean more chances for younger receivers, including sophomore A.J. Taylor, freshman Danny Davis and redshirt freshman Kendric Pryor.

“It’s another opportunity for guys to step up,” Chryst said. “You always want all your players, but you want them to be at their best. Obviously, Jazz isn’t able to do that. [We’ve] done it at a lot of other positions, and [now] that [wide receiver] group has to step up. And those around have to step up.”

Peavy has five catches for 55 yards this season.

The rest of the injury report:

QUESTIONABLE:

OL Jon Dietzen (leg)
RB Chris James (leg)
OL Micah Kapoi (arm)
K P.J. Rosowski (leg)

OUT

RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
S Patrick Johnson (arm)
DE Chikwe Obasih (leg)
WR Jazz Peavy (leg)
WR George Rushing (leg)

Badgers doing their best to stay focused

For the first time since 2011 the Wisconsin Badgers are unbeaten through five games on the gridiron. Unlike that 2011 season, the 2017 version of the Badgers have an incredibly manageable schedule the rest of the season.

Wisconsin should be a favorite in every game remaining on their schedule, with the closest matchup talent-wise coming in the second to last game of the season, when the University of Michigan comes to Camp Randall. Truthfully speaking, Wisconsin shouldn’t have trouble with Purdue, Maryland, Illinois, or Indiana before they take on Iowa November 11.

Having a schedule like this can give some teams a reason to look ahead, and potentially overlook an opponent, which is something Wisconsin can ill-afford to do.

“I’ve been a part of it and your experiences help guide you.” Head coach Paul Chryst told the media during the week following the win against Nebraska. “I think that’s why you spend a lot of time talking to them about [not looking ahead] and yet in the end every person has to make a choice about how they want to approach it. You try and do all that you can, but at some point, they have to choose. That’s where your veteran leadership has to help.”

The Badgers are starting to attract national attention, moving up to seventh in the Associated Press Poll, their highest ranking since the Big Ten Championship game last December. With the road that’s in front of them, they should climb higher as the season goes on.

“We always have an end goal and things like that, but we know our goal every week is to win that game at hand.” Linebacker TJ Edwards told the media. “I think our team has such good guys who relay that message to the younger guys to not get ahead of ourselves so that’s not really a problem with us.”

For some, it might be easier than others to not look past the week at hand, as Chryst said. One who doesn’t think it’s a challenge is offensive lineman Michael Deiter.

“It’s easy, it’s the same approach as every other season. It’s just another week.” Deiter said. “The 5-0 [record] is nice, that’s good, but we have Purdue this week. There’s no reason to get ahead. You can’t go anywhere beyond the season if you don’t win every game during the season. You can really trip yourself up if you get caught looking forward. It’s just a week to week thing with us and I think we’re good at that.”

The Badgers have high expectations for themselves, which they should. A five-game winning streak to start the season is not something that should be looked upon lightly, especially when one of the wins comes at Nebraska. If they’re going to hit their lofty goals, they’re going to need to keep their focus on a weekly basis.

“Obviously your mind is going to wander and do things like that just because you have such high expectations for this team, and things like that.” Edwards said. “We come in here on Sunday and Monday and know what our goal is at the end of the week.”

Jonathan Taylor Takes Home Big Ten Honor

For the second week in a row, the Wisconsin Badgers have a player honored as one of the Big Ten’s finest. This week, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week has been awarded to freshman running back Jonathan Taylor for his performance against Nebraska in week six. Last week, Natrell Jamerson took home the conference’s Defensive Player of the Week award.

Taylor rushed for a career-high 249 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries en route to a Wisconsin 38-17 win in Lincoln.

One of the game’s biggest moments came shortly after Nebraka’s Stanley Morgan, Jr. scored on an 80-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Tanner Lee. After the ensuing kick off was a touchback, the Badgers lined up at their own 25-yard-line. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook took a shot gun snap and handed the ball off to Taylor who then raced around the right side all the way into the end zone for a 75-yard score to give the Badgers a 17-7 lead.

Taylor’s effort Saturday night made him the second true freshman in Wisconsin history to total over 200 yards on the ground in multiple games, joining Ron Dayne who did it in 1996.

This is the second time this season Taylor has been awarded both honors, the first was week two against Florida Atlantic University where he totaled 223 yards on 26 carries, reaching the end zone a career-high three times.

This is the third Offensive Player of the Week honor for Wisconsin this year, quarterback Alex Hornibrook took home the award for his performance in week three against BYU.

Wisconsin adds a QB in its 2019 class

Both of Graham Mertz’s parents went to Minnesota, but despite that connection and actually receiving a scholarship offer from coach P.J. Fleck and the Gophers last week, the 2019 quarterback will attend Wisconsin, committing to the Badgers Sunday night.

“I am beyond blessed to be in the situation that I am, and I am truly grateful for the opportunity that Coach Chryst and Coach Budmayr have given me,” Mertz wrote on Twitter. “With this being said, I would like to announce that I am committed to play football at the University of Wisconsin!”

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound, Mertz (Leawood, Kan.) chose the Badgers over offers from Minnesota and Kansas, and was drawing interest from several more Power 5 schools.

“I am extremely thankful to all of the schools that have recruited me throughout this process,” he wrote. “I also want to thank by coaches, Andy Sims and Justin Hoover, for helping me achieve my lifelong goal of playing college football. In addition to my coaches, I also want to thank by wonderful family who has supported me all of my life.”

Mertz is the second commitment in Wisconsin’s 2019 class, joining 3-star athlete Leo Chenal (Grantsburg, Wis.).

Jonathan Taylor Shines in his Biggest Spot

The University of Wisconsin has a long tradition of great running backs. That’s no secret. To put Jonathan Taylor up with the likes of Ron Dayne, Montee Ball, and Melvin Gordon after five games would be irresponsible. That being said, he’s certainly on track to reach that level of greatness.

Taylor is already the best freshman back in the Big Ten, and may only trail Saquon Barkley of Penn State as the league’s best back. Barkley is a bona fide Heisman Trophy contender, and deservedly so. Taylor, while not quite in the forefront of the Heisman discussion, could very well find himself in New York for the trophy presentation in December if he keeps at his current pace.

He helped that cause in Wisconsin’s 38-17 victory against Nebraska in Lincoln in week six. Taylor rushed for 249 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries in his first taste of a Big Ten road game. Nebraska isn’t the easiest place to play at night, especially for a freshman. Taylor thrived in that difficult environment.

When Wisconsin needed a big play, Taylor was the one to step up. Nebraska cut Wisconsin’s lead to three points on a Tanner Lee 80-yard touchdown strike to Stanley Morgan, Jr. with 1:20 remaining in the first half. The Badgers needed a response to weather the storm in a hostile road environment.

On Wisconsin’s first offensive snap after the Morgan, Jr. touchdown, quarterback Alex Hornibrook took a shotgun snap from his own 25-yard-line and handed the ball to Taylor on an inside zone play.

11 seconds later Wisconsin was winning 17-7.

Few athletes in the country have the ability to change the game the way Taylor did against Nebraska. Even fewer freshman have that ability. Another that comes to mind in the Big Ten is Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins. Dobbins is a very talented freshman for the Buckeyes who burst on the scene week one with a big game against Indiana. While he certainly has a similar talent level to that of Taylor, Dobbins has lacked the consistency that Taylor has shown during his brief career.

In the biggest test of his young career, at home against Oklahoma, Dobbins was held in check with only 72 yards and a score. When the lights shined brightest, Taylor stepped up to the plate and delivered when his team needed him most.

This doesn’t mean that things cannot change, because they certainly may.  Right now Taylor is the best freshman in the Big Ten, and he’s not very far behind Barkley for the best back. The sky is the limit for the true freshman from Salem, NJ.

“The offensive line, tight ends, fullbacks, receivers did a heck of a job,” Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst said following the win over Nebraska. “I thought [Taylor] was special tonight.”

He was special, and he has been for a majority of the season for the Badgers. If Wisconsin is going to potentially win the Big Ten and participate in the College Football Playoff Taylor is going to need to continue to be special.

“I think he’s continuing to get better.” Chryst said.

That’s a scary thought for not only the rest of the Big Ten, but the rest of the country as well.

(9) Wisconsin 38, Nebraska 17: 2-minute drill

LINCOLN, Neb. — Freshman Jonathan Taylor ran for 249 yards and two touchdowns as Wisconsin hammered Nebraska 38-17 Saturday night at Memorial Stadium to move to 5-0 for the first time since 2011.

Play of the Game

Nebraska had just gotten the stadium rocking with an 80-yard touchdown catch and run from wide receiver Stanley Morgan to get within 10-7 late in the second quarter. But Wisconsin had an answer — or more accurately — Taylor had an answer. On the first play of the ensuing drive, the running back got the handoff, burst through a hole on the right side and outran the safety for a 75-yard score to give the Badgers the momentum back.

Game Balls

Offense: Jonathan Taylor

In his just his fifth college game, the New Jersey product topped the 200-yard mark for a second time this season. And he did it by averaging 10 yards per carry, showing off both his power, speed and agility that made him so productive in high school. It’s becoming more clear by the day that Wisconsin got an absolute steal in Taylor.

Defense: CB Nick Nelson

Facing what was the best group of wide receivers Wisconsin had seen so far, the Badgers’ top cornerback had perhaps his best game of the year. Nelson finished with a team-high three pass breakups, and was draped all over Nebraska’s pass catchers. Nelson has been good this season, but Saturday night he took it to another level.

Special Teams: Zach Hintze

Wisconsin kicked off seven times and Hintze put five of them in the end zone, while popping another one up that allowed the coverage team to get down and stop Nebraska at its own 17-yard line.

Video of the game

Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst talks to the media after the game
Linebacker Chris Orr on his interception return for a touchdown

In Case You Missed It

— Wisconsin’s captains were wide receiver Jazz Peavy, tight end Troy Fumagalli, safety Natrell Jamerson and defensive end Alec James.

— Walk-on Jason Erdmann replaced an injured Jon Dietzen at left guard late in the first half.

— After missing last week’s game against Northwestern with a leg injury, Fumagalli returned to the lineup and had three catches for 31 yards.

— After Nebraska tied the game at 17 with 10:43 left in the third quarter, Wisconsin ran the ball on 29 of the next 31 plays, outscoring the Huskers 21-0 in that stretch.

Inside the Numbers

131 — That’s how many points Wisconsin has outscored Nebraska in the seven games since the Huskers entered in the Big Ten in 2011. The Badgers are 6-1 in those games.

75 — That’s how long Jonathan Taylor’s second quarter touchdown run was — the longest play from scrimmage for the Badgers since an 88-yard catch and run by Melvin Gordon in 2014 against Iowa.

14 — That’s how many players have run for 200 yards against Nebraska. Of the 14, three of them are Badgers — Montee Ball (2012), Melvin Gordon (2012, 2014) and Jonathan Taylor (2017).

20 — That’s how many straight night games Nebraska had won at Memorial Stadium — a streak the Badgers stopped on Saturday night.

353 — That’s how many yards rushing Wisconsin had for the game, the most in a road game since 2012.

3 — That’s how many interceptions Wisconsin has returned for touchdowns this year, matching the most for the program in the last 20 years. The Badgers also had three in 1999 and 2010.

0 — That’s how many points Wisconsin’s defense allowed in the second half — the fourth time this year the Badgers haven’t allowed the opposing offense to score after halftime this year.

What’s Next

Wisconsin (5-0, 2-0) will return home to face Purdue (3-2, 1-1) at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday.

Preview: (9) Wisconsin at Nebraska

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers (4-0, 1-0) vs the Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-2, 2-0)

The time: 7 p.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.

The TV coverage: BTN with Kevin Kugler and Matt Millen in the booth, and Lisa Byington on the sideline.

The last time: Dare Ogunbowale ran for 120 yards and the game-winning touchdown in overtime as the Badgers beat Nebraska 23-17 at Camp Randall Stadium last October.

The series: Wisconsin leads 7-4

The line: Wisconsin -11.5

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

TE Troy Fumagalli (leg)
DE Isaiahh Loudermilk (leg)
K P.J. Rosowski (leg)

OUT

Game:

RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
DE Chikwe Obasih (knee)
WR George Rushing (leg)

Season:

LB Jack Cichy (knee)
LB Zack Baun (foot)
RB Sam Brodner (knee)
LB Mason Stokke (leg)

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) Claim the West

There is still plenty of football to be played, but the winner of Saturday night’s game will grab the inside track to the Big Ten West title, and that’s especially true of Wisconsin. While Nebraska still has games against Ohio State and a road trip to Penn State, this has the potential to be the toughest road game left on the Badgers schedule. Get by this one, hold serve at home against Iowa and Michigan, and Wisconsin will put itself in position to be a legitimate College Football Playoff contender.

2) The real Alex Hornibrook

Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook’s numbers are very good. He leads the Big Ten in pass efficiency, ranks second in completion percentage and already has as many touchdowns this year (9) as he had all of last year. But he’s also been a little shaky at times, specifically after making a mistake. Coach Paul Chryst said after last week’s win, in which the sophomore quarterback threw one touchdown but also two interceptions, that Hornibrook needs to trust what he’s seeing and let it rip. The Badgers have been able to overcome the inconsistency so far, but the margin shrinks on the road in Big Ten play.

3) The Blackshirts are back?

It took 1 1/2 games, but it appears Nebraska’s defenders are warming up to the new 3-4 scheme that Bob Diaco brought with him when the Huskers made him the highest-paid assistant in school history this offseason. After giving up 42 points in the first half at Oregon, Diaco’s defense has allowed just two touchdowns since then, including keeping Illinois out of the end zone last week. The big question, though, is whether that’s a product of good defense or subpar offenses? Wisconsin will figure out the answer to that question one way or the other on Saturday night.

4) Bringing the pressure

Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson got acquainted with the Wisconsin defense last week to the tune of eight sacks — the most for the Badgers since 2001. Hitting those numbers again this week aren’t likely, but Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee can expect plenty of people in his face. And as opposed to Thorson, who could pull the ball down and run a little bit, Lee is not mobile. It would be a surprise if the Huskers don’t find a way to get the ball out of Lee’s hand quickly or run some draws and screens to try and slow Wisconsin’s rush.

5) Walking into a hornet’s nest

Nebraska doesn’t lose home games at night. The Huskers have won 20 straight games at night in Memorial Stadium, and the environment, like it is at Camp Randall Stadium, changes when the lights come on. Add in the fact Wisconsin is No. 9 in the country, is a double-digit favorite and the mounting pressure on coach Mike Riley to deliver a marquee win, and the Badgers should expect a scene unlike most of the players on the team have dealt with before. It’ll be key for Wisconsin to buck its trend of slow starts and not give Nebraska any extra energy in a stadium that will already be full of it.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

— Nebraska is a double-digit underdog at home for the first time since 2008 against Missouri. The Huskers lost that game 52-17.

— Despite missing the Northwestern game, tight end Troy Fumagalli leads the team in targets, catches (15), yards (236) and is tied for the lead in touchdowns (3).

— Wisconsin has outscored Nebraska by 110 points in their six meetings since the Huskers entered the Big Ten in 2011.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 27, Nebraska 20 (4-0 on the season, 3-1 against the spread)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 31, Nebraska 13 (4-0 on the season, 2-2 against the spread)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 28, Nebraska 13 (4-0 on the season, 2-2 against the spread)