Wisconsin WR returning for another senior season

Two-and-a-half games wasn’t enough for Kendric Pryor.

The Wisconsin wide receiver announced Sunday he was taking advantage of the NCAA’s waiver giving all fall athletes an extra year of eligibility and returning to Madison for 2021.

Pryor played in just three games in 2020 due to injury. He got a full game against Illinois, but left the Michigan and Indiana games early with upper body injuries, both of which were believed to be head injuries.

In the games he did play, Pryor had eight catches for 119 yards, while also carrying twice for nine yards. In his career, the Illinois native has 67 catches for 849 yards and five touchdowns. He’s also been a big part of the running game, adding 368 yards and another five touchdowns on the ground.

Without Pryor and fellow receiver Danny Davis, the Wisconsin passing game struggled mightily and led to the Badgers scoring less than 10 points in three straight games for the first time since 1990.

With Pryor returning all eyes turn to Davis. He missed the final five games with an undisclosed injury. Last month, offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said he believed Pryor and Davis would return for another shot at their senior years.

On Saturday, tight end Jake Ferguson, linebacker Jake Sanborn and cornerback Faion Hicks — all juniors — announced they would be coming back in 2021.

Wisconsin’s game at Penn State postponed

Wisconsin won’t face Penn State on Sunday as expected.

The two schools announced Saturday the game was being postponed.

UW statement:

The men’s basketball game between Wisconsin and Penn State, scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 3, is being postponed, as mutually agreed upon by both teams due to health and safety concerns. The two schools will work with the Big Ten Conference to reschedule the game.
 
The Badgers will be off on Sunday before resuming practice on Monday ahead of their game Thursday against Indiana at the Kohl Center.

The Big Ten built the schedule with potential COVID-19 postponements in mind, leaving dates open later in the calendar that will likely allow for the schools to make the game up.

Wisconsin’s most productive players returning for senior seasons

Wisconsin’s most productive players on offense and defense will return for the 2021 season.

Junior tight end Jake Ferguson and junior linebacker Jack Sanborn announced Saturday they will be back in Madison for their senior years.

A first-team All-Big Ten pick, Ferguson led the Badgers in receptions (30), yards (305) and touchdowns (4) in 2020. With his career totals of 99 catches, 1,168 yards and 10 touchdowns, the Madison native will have a chance to finish his career as the second-most productive tight end in Wisconsin history.

Sanborn returns after earning All-Big Ten honors while leading a top-10 Wisconsin defense in tackles. He also had four tackles for loss and a sack. Sanborn was named the Duke’s Mayo Bowl MVP in Wisconsin’s 42-28 victory.

Cornerback Faion Hicks also announced he would be coming back for his senior season.

Wisconsin running back enters transfer portal

Nakia Watson’s time in Madison has come to an end.

As first reported by Josh Schafer of 247Sports, the Wisconsin running back has entered the NCAA’s transfer portal.

Watson started four of Wisconsin’s seven games, but did not play in the final two contests of the season for undisclosed reasons. He carried 53 times for 191 yards (3.6 yards per carry) and three touchdowns this year. The Texas product finished his career with 522 yards and five touchdowns.

Though Watson was the starter to open the year, true freshman Jalen Berger had overtaken him by the end of the season and appears to be the future of the position. The New Jersey native led Wisconsin in rushing with 301 yards despite not playing in three games.

Watson has three years of eligibility remaining and will be allowed to play immediately wherever he ends up transferring.

In addition to Berger, Wisconsin’s running back depth chart still includes sophomore Isaac Guerendo, redshirt freshman Julius Davis, while the Badgers also added three running backs in their 2021 recruiting class.

It’s possible that senior Garrett Groshek returns for a sixth season and Wisconsin is also reportedly in the mix for former 4-star recruit Markese Stepp, who announced his transfer from USC last month.

(6) Wisconsin 71, (21) Minnesota 59: Last word

No. 6 Wisconsin responded to its first Big Ten loss of the year with an overwhelming effort in a it-wasn’t-as-close-as-the-score-indicates 71-59 win over No. 21 Minnesota on Thursday night at the Kohl Center.

Player of the Game: Micah Potter

Wisconsin forced the ball into the paint early and Potter was the biggest beneficiary. He scored 10 of his 18 points and grabbed nine of his 11 rebounds in the first half as the Badgers took a 7-point lead at the break. All but three of his shots came from inside the 3-point line as Wisconsin outscored the Gophers 40-18 in the paint.

As a team, the Badgers shot 50.8% from the field, including 65.4% in the second half.

The good: The defense

Three days after a disastrous second-half performance against Maryland on the defensive end of the floor, the Badgers held Minnesota to its lowest point total of the year. The Gophers shot just 31.3% from the floor, the second-worst they’ve been this year, and only 7-for-31 (22.6%) on 3-pointers, which was the lowest in conference play.

Guard Marcus Carr came into the game averaging 24.0 points per game but Wisconsin held him to just 10 points on 3-for-13 shooting. His first points in the second half didn’t come until there was just 2:22 left.

The not so good: Defensive rebounding

Wisconsin won by double digits and dominated the second half, but it could have been even more if the Badgers kept Minnesota off the offensive glass. The Gophers finished with 16 offensive rebounds and it led to 19 second-chance points.

Stat of the Game: +24

Wisconsin was that many points better than Minnesota when guard D’Mitrik Trice was on the floor. He finished with 14 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals. The senior was also the main defender on Carr for much of the night.

In Case You Missed It

— Wisconsin was without freshman Ben Carlson again due to what the team is calling an upper body injury. The forward hasn’t played since Dec. 15 and has seen the floor for just 4 minutes since Dec. 4.

— Aleem Ford had 14 points and has now scored in double figures in five straight games, the longest streak in his career. In that streak he’s averaged 12.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

What’s next?

Wisconsin (9-2, 3-1) will hit the road on Sunday to face Penn State (3-4, 0-3)

Wisconsin 42, Wake Forest 28: Duke’s Mayo Bowl 2-minute drill

Wisconsin erased a 14-0 first quarter deficit and went on to beat Wake Forest 42-28 in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl on Wednesday in Charlotte.

Game Balls

Offense: Graham Mertz

Mertz’s numbers weren’t big — 11 for 17 for 130 yards and one touchdown — but he didn’t make any mistakes with the football either. For a second straight game he didn’t throw an interception or have a fumble. In addition to his one passing touchdown, he also ran for a pair of scores on quarterback sneaks.

Perhaps his biggest play came when the Badgers were trailing 14-0 in the first quarter and had a fourth-and-1 on their own side of the field. Instead of punting, the Badgers counted on Mertz and the offensive line to pick it up on a sneak and they did. It led to the Badgers first touchdown of the day.

Defense: Jack Sanborn

Wisconsin’s defense gave up a ton of yards, 518 to be exact, but they made huge plays all day, including Sanborn. He finished with a team-high 11 tackles, had two tackles for loss and he tallied one of the four interceptions the Badgers had. He was part of a front seven that limited the Demon Deacons to 111 yards on the ground and just 3.2 yards per carry. For his efforts the linebacker was named the Duke’s Mayo Bowl MVP.

Special Teams: Jaylan Franklin, Devin Chandler

The Badgers trailed 14-7 when Franklin took advantage of a dropped snap by Wake Forest and blocked a punt inside the 10-yard line. He jumped on top of it and Wisconsin soon scored a touchdown to tie the game.

In the second half, after Wake Forest had taken a 21-14 lead, Chandler broke free for a 59-yard kickoff return, giving the Badgers excellent field position. Five players later they were in the end zone to tie the game once again.

Best Video

Wisconsin got a really nice trophy for its win over Wake Forest but it did not make it very long in the locker room. As Mertz was dancing among his teammates, the crystal ball on the top of the trophy fell off.

The Duke’s Mayo Bowl said it will replace it, though the Badgers did get creative in fixing it themselves.

Best Tweets

In Case You Missed It

— Wisconsin played without a host of starters on both sides of the ball. It included wide receivers Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor, left tackle Cole Van Lanen, right guard Logan Bruss and defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk.

— Redshirt sophomore Michael Furtney made the first start of his career at right guard.

— Former 5-star recruit Logan Brown replaced senior Jon Dietzen at left tackle in the second quarter.

— Nose tackle Keeanu Benton suffered a leg injury in the third quarter and was eventually taken by a cart to the locker room. He later returned to the sideline on crutches.

Inside the Numbers

4 — That’s how many interceptions the Badgers had. It tied a UW bowl record set three other times. All four interceptions came in the second half. Coming into the game Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman had thrown just one interception in the first eight games of the year.

13 — That’s how many turnovers the Badgers forced this year. They turned 10 of those into points, including three of them on Wednesday.

34 — That’s how many straight games tight end Jake Ferguson has caught a pass after catching one on Wednesday. The belief is that Ferguson will declare for the NFL Draft, meaning he’ll leave Wisconsin having caught a pass in every game he’s played in during his career.

19 — That’s how many seasons in a row Wisconsin has finished with a winning record, including this year’s 4-3 mark.

42 — That’s how many points Wisconsin scored. It’s the most the Badgers have ever scored in a bowl game.

What’s Next

Wisconsin players will get three weeks off before winter conditioning begins in Madison.

Duke’s Mayo Bowl Preview: Wisconsin vs Wake Forest

THE BASICS

The teams: The Wisconsin Badgers (3-3) vs the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-4) in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl

The time: 11 a.m. CDT, Wednesday

The place: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, N.C.

The TV coverage: ESPN with Taylor Zarzour and Matt Stinchcomb in the booth, and Marty Smith on the sideline.

The last time: N/A

The series: First meeting

The line: Wisconsin -7.5

The Badgers injury report:

DOUBTFUL

WR Danny Davis
WR Kendric Pryor

QUESTIONABLE

OL Cole Van Lanen
RB Nakia Watson
RB Jalen Berger (COVID-19)
DL Isaiahh Loudermilk

THE BREAKDOWN: 5 THINGS TO WATCH

1) Finish with momentum

Wisconsin is going for its fifth bowl victory in Paul Chryst’s six seasons as coach and you can expect them to play to win. Though some fans may want to see younger players in what many believe is a meaningless game, that’s not how the Badgers will approach it. Wisconsin hasn’t had a losing season since 2001 and don’t want to see that streak end at the hands of a middle of the road ACC team. Not only is it important to send the departing players out with a win, it also gives the program a good feeling heading into an uncertain offseason.

2) The return of Jalen Berger

Though Garrett Groshek was the difference in Wisconsin’s overtime win against Minnesota earlier this month, the Badgers best running back is Jalen Berger. And after having to miss two games due to a positive COVID-19 test, the true freshman is expected to return to the lineup on Wednesday against a Wake Forest defense that ranks 91st in the country against the run.

Despite playing in just three of UW’s six games, Berger leads the Badgers in rushing with 267 yards and is averaging 5.9 yards per carry. It’s unclear how much work Berger will get after missing so much on-field time, but after believing we’d seen the last of him due to the COVID-19 diagnosis, any glimpses of what the future holds for the New Jersey product is a big plus.

3) Graham Mertz stepping up

Mertz is expected to make his seventh career start on Wednesday despite being knocked out of the Minnesota game in the third quarter. The hope, at least for the Badgers, is he can build on the last — and best — two throws of that game — a deep sideline route to Jack Dunn and a strike down the middle to Jake Ferguson.

Mertz will once again likely be without his two top receivers in Kendric Pryor and Danny Davis. That means more of Dunn, along with true freshmen Chimere Dike and Devin Chandler. Helping matters should be a weak Wake Forest defense, which ranks 107th in the country against the pass.

4) Slowing Wake Forest

Wake Forest’s defense is a sieve, ranking 107th in the country in total defense and 78th in scoring defense. But their offense is going to be a big test for the Badgers. The Demon Deacons come in averaging 435 yards of offense and 37 points per game. Both totals are by far the best among the offenses Wisconsin has faced this season.

Led by quarterback Sam Hartman, Wake Forest will challenge the Badgers with its pace. The Demon Deacons run 80.3 plays per game, the eighth most in the nation. Hartman has thrown for 1,906 yards, 10 touchdowns and just one interception. His main target is junior Jaquarii Roberson, who has caught 54 passes for 795 yards and five touchdowns.

Though second-leading rusher Kenneth Walker III (579 yards, 13 touchdowns) decided in early December to sit out the remainder of the year, Christian Beal-Smith (650 yards, four touchdowns) will test the Badgers run defense after it gave up 151 yards to Minnesota’s Mo Ibrahim the last time out.

5) Last ride

While a number of seniors, and at least one junior, are yet to make a final decision on whether to return for the 2021 season, it seems likely that quite a few guys will be making their final appearances in a UW uniform on Wednesday.

That includes, assuming they’re healthy enough, left tackle Cole Van Lanen and defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk. Safety Eric Burrell is also likely off to the NFL and the same goes for fullback Mason Stokke. After returning for a sixth season, guard Jon Dietzen is expected to retire for good after the game.

Others that could be playing their final game include cornerback Caesar Williams, running back Garrett Groshek, outside linebacker Noah Burks, defensive end Garrett Rand, safety Madison Cone and junior tight end Jake Ferguson.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

This will be Wisconsin’s 19th straight year playing in a bowl game. Only Georgia (24) and Oklahoma (22) have longer current streaks. The Badgers are 9-9 in bowl games during the streak.

Wisconsin leads the nation in total defense, allowing 263.5 yards per game. That would be the third-best mark in school history since 1959.

According to UW, the top four players at wide receiver and running back coming into the season have each missed at least one game this year and a total of 20.

ZONE PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 21, Wake Forest 20
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 27, Wake Forest 24
Nelson Raisbeck’s prediction: Wisconsin 24, Wake Forest 20

Maryland 70, (6) Wisconsin 64: Last word

A rough first half offensively gave way to an ugly second half defensively for Wisconsin as Maryland handed the sixth-ranked Badgers their first Big Ten loss 70-64 on Monday night.

Player of the Game: Eric Ayala

Maryland’s leading scorer came to play in the second half, scoring all 17 of his points after halftime. The guard went 5-for-8 from the field, including hitting his last four shots of the game. He was 2-for-3 from beyond the arc, perhaps none bigger than one as the shot clock expired to give Maryland a 48-45 lead with 7:27 left. It was a lead the Terrapins would not relinquish the rest of the game on their way to the upset.

The good: D’Mitrik Trice on offense

Trice had another big game offensively, following up his 29-point performance against Michigan State with a 25-point effort against Maryland. That included 15 after halftime and he was one of just two players to score in double figures. Trice, like most of the Badgers, had a rough night defensively, but he did more than his share on the offensive end.

The not so good: Second-half defense

What was that? One of the best defenses in the country got shredded by Maryland after halftime, especially in the final 16:14 of the game. The Terrapins trailed 31-24 and had missed 11 straight shots going back to the first half. But a layup from Ayala jump started them and they made 16 of their final 19 shots, most of them coming around the basket. Of the 16 makes, 13 were either dunks or layups. They finished with 38 points in the paint despite playing much of the night with no one taller than the 6-foot-7 Donta Scott on the floor.

Stat of the Game: 53.3%

That’s what Wisconsin shot from the free throw line. Only three players actually made it to line — Trice, Brad Davison and Tyler Wahl. Trice went 6-for-7, but Davison twice missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Wahl was just 2-for-6. The struggles come less than a week after going 15-for-15 against Nebraska.

Best Tweets:

In Case You Missed It

— Wisconsin played without freshman Ben Carlson again due to what the team is calling an upper body injury. The forward hasn’t played since Dec. 15 and has seen the floor for just 4 minutes since Dec. 4.

— Freshman Johnny Davis score four points and grabbed three rebounds in 18 minutes. The Badgers were 10 points better than Maryland when he was on the floor and he was the only UW player to post a positive plus/minus number.

— Senior Trevor Anderson continued his hot shooting from outside to start the season. He went 2-for-2 on 3-pointers and is now 8-for-9 on the year.

— The game snapped Wisconsin’s 15-game home winning streak and its 10-game Big Ten winning streak. It was also the second time a top-10 Badgers squad has lost to an unranked team this year.

What’s next?

Wisconsin (8-2, 2-1) will try to bounce back as they host No. 21 Minnesota (9-1, 2-1) on New Year’s Eve.

Badgers: RB Jalen Berger likely to play Wednesday, WRs Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor likely out

It appears Wisconsin will once again be shorthanded on offense when it takes the field against Wake Forest on Wednesday in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.

Coach Paul Chryst told reporters Monday that wide receivers Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor “haven’t done much” in the lead up to the bowl game. Their lack of work on the field likely means they will miss the game. Davis hasn’t played since Nov. 14 due to an undisclosed injury, while Pryor has missed all but a half of the last four games with what the program called an upper body injury.

In their absence, the onus will fall on senior Jack Dunn and true freshman Chimere Dike to pick up the slack. Dunn had the best game of his career the last time out in the win over Minnesota. He caught seven passes for 76 yards and a touchdown. Dike has started all but one game this year and has 10 catches for 154 yards and a score. Another true freshman, Devin Chandler, along with sophomore AJ Abbott and senior Adam Krumholz, could also see increased playing time.

There was good news from Chryst, too. He said running back Jalen Berger has practiced during bowl prep. The true freshman missed the last two games after testing positive for COVID-19 the day before the Badgers played at Iowa. Had the Big Ten still had its 21-day sit rule for a positive test in place, Berger wouldn’t be eligible to play. But the league changed its policy earlier this month, moving it to 17 days, which will allow for Berger to take the field.

Despite playing in just three games, Berger is Wisconsin’s leading rusher with 267 yards. He’s averaged 5.9 yards per carry, which is the best among the Badgers running backs.

Kick on Wednesday in Charlotte is slated for 11 a.m.