Grades for Wisconsin at the quarter pole of the season

These types of articles are normally reserved for the middle of the season when you’ve likely got six or more games to judge a team on. But with Wisconsin’s bye coming after just three weeks — and no other break in the action until the first or second week of December — we decided to undertake an effort to grade what we’ve seen so far in a 3-0 start for the Badgers. Is it fair to do so with such a small sample size? Probably not. But here we go.

Quarterback: B+

Save for a rough outing late in the second quarter and most of the second half against Florida Atlantic, Alex Hornibrook has been fantastic in his second year as a starter. After throwing nine touchdowns all of last year, the sophomore has thrown eight already and is on pace to break Russell Wilson’s single-season school record of 33. And perhaps even more importantly, he’s got just one interception.

The competition will certainly pick up in Big Ten play, but Hornibrook looks like the quarterback many envisioned coming into the year.

Running back: A-

If we were grading this based on Jonathan Taylor alone, it would have easily been an A+. The New Jersey native has been terrific in averaging 146 yards per game — tops for any freshman in the country. He’s still learning and isn’t perfect, but his blend of power, speed and balance make him a terror for defenses.

The rest of the running back group has been up and down. Junior Chris James was anxious and struggled in his debut against Utah State, before bouncing back with a 100-yard outing in a win over Florida Atlantic. Sophomore Bradrick Shaw looked solid as the starter in the opener, but an injury kept him out in Week 2, and it seems unlikely he’ll get his job back this season considering what Taylor has done.

The freshman is the lead dog here and is the reason for such a high grade.

Wide receiver: B

All of the wide receivers have taken a significant leap from a year ago, especially Quintez Cephus. The sophomore already has three touchdowns and has become Wisconsin’s No. 1 option on the outside.

A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis and Jazz Peavy have all been involved and looked solid, but the overall grade suffers due to the drops in the first two weeks. Still, this group has the makings of being the deepest Wisconsin has had in recent memory. Their final grade figures to be much higher.

Tight ends: A-

Troy Fumagalli was outstanding in the first two games, gaining nearly 100 yards each week. He caught his third touchdown of the year against BYU in what was an otherwise quiet game for the preseason All-American. The senior has also been part of a strong rushing attack that is currently second in the Big Ten.

Outside of junior Zander Neuville’s impressive touchdown catch against Utah State, he and sophomore Kyle Penniston have not really been heavily involved in the passing game, combining for five catches through three games. They, like Fumagalli, still play a vital role in the run game.

LISTEN: The latest edition of our Wisconsin podcast ‘The Camp’

Offensive line: B

The numbers would suggest Wisconsin has been off the charts good along the line, as the Badgers rank 14th in the country in rushing at 275 yards per game and are giving up about one sack per game. But while they’ve been pretty good, in only one game — against BYU — were they the dominating unit many thought they would be. While the game was still in doubt, they opened huge running holes and allowed Hornibrook to have all day to pass. If they can get that kind of effort on a week-to-week basis, their end of the of season grade will jump significantly.

Defensive line: B+

Wisconsin’s defense isn’t designed for the linemen to have big numbers, and that has certainly played out for the group in the first three games as they’ve combined for just one tackle for loss. But they’ve played a role in helping the Badgers limit opponents to 90.6 yards per game on the ground, good enough for 15th in the nation.

They’ve done it largely without senior Chikwe Obasih (knee), who remains sidelined indefinitely . While it’s been a challenge without him, redshirt freshman Isaiahh Loudermilk has filled in nicely behind senior starters Alec James and Conor Sheehy.

Linebackers: A-

Teams have been able to run the ball early in games against Wisconsin, but that’s been more about scheme than anything physical. Once they’ve had a chance to digest what they’re seeing, it’s been lights out for opposing offenses.

At inside linebacker, sophomore Chris Orr leads the team in tackles coming off a missed season with a torn ACL, while junior T.J. Edwards has continued to evolve as a playmaker, coming up with three tackles for loss and two interceptions. Junior Ryan Connelly has been solid, too.

On the outside, senior Leon Jacobs leads Wisconsin with four tackles for loss, senior Garret Dooley has been solid on the edge, and junior Andrew Van Ginkel has proven to be the pass rusher the Badgers needed with his two sacks.

Secondary: B

Wisconsin has been up in its games, so the passing numbers for the opposition aren’t great indicators of how well the secondary is playing — and they are playing well. The only concern here is the issues they had in communication in the first two games, including on a play that resulted in a long touchdown for Florida Atlantic. But none of those things showed up against BYU, and it’s possible they just needed time to adjust with several new faces seeing the field for the first time.

Special teams: B+

The Badgers have been solid here, with kicker Rafael Gaglianone going 3 of 4 on field goals, while Anthony Lotti has dropped four of his 10 punts inside the 20-yard line. With kickoffs split between Zach Hintze and P.J. Rosowski, Wisconsin is allowing opponents to start — on average — at their own 22-yard line.

The return units with Nick Nelson and Taylor, especially the latter on kickoff, have been one or two blocks away from taking one back for a score.

Overall: A-

After an uneven first two weeks, Wisconsin showed against BYU what it can be and what many believe it will be. That’s reflected in the overall grade, as we add in the promise shown and the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately factor.

(10) Wisconsin 40, BYU 6: 2-minute drill

PROVO, Utah — Playing in the state of Utah for the first time in its history, No. 10 Wisconsin rolled to a 40-6 win over BYU on Saturday at Lavell Edwards Stadium. The Badgers used a balanced attack to pile up 491 yards and limited the Cougars to just 192 as they moved to 3-0 for a second straight year.

Play of the Game

Danny Davis had shown an ability to get over the top of defenses but him and quarterback Alex Hornibrook had yet to hook up. They did on Saturday, as the wide receiver hauled in a contested deep ball midway through the first quarter for a 50-yard gain. The play was reviewed but was upheld.

“The ball hit my hands, fell into my body, and [then] was on his body, so I ripped it away from him and ended up grabbing it,” Davis said.

But did he actually catch it?

“Yeah, I caught it,” he said. “Catch is a catch, baby.”

The play started what was the first of three straight touchdown drives as Wisconsin built a 24-3 lead on its way to a complete victory.

Game Balls

Offense: QB Alex Hornibrook

Alex Hornibrook heard some things in the postgame media room following the Florida Atlantic game that he didn’t like. Not anything to do with his arm strength — he’s used to that. No, some in the media were questioning his accuracy after completing just 8 of his final 19 passes in a 31-14 win.

“That’s one thing I kind of pride myself about is my accuracy, and I knew some people were questioning that last week,” Hornibrook said Saturday. “I’ve heard the arm strength thing my whole life. I don’t care too much about that. [The accuracy] is one thing I pride myself in, and it kind of irritated me last week.”

How did Hornibrook respond? By completing 18 of 19 passes for 256 yards and four touchdowns. His 94.7 percent completion percentage is the best in school history and his pass efficiency rating of 277.4 was the second-best.

“He was locked in all week,” guard Micah Kapoi said. “We saw it all week in his prep and how he practiced. It showed big time. He had great game.”

Defense: Dontye Carriere-Williams

It was clear that BYU had a plan of attacking the redshirt freshman and he held up. He finished with eight tackles and had the first interception of his career. Linebacker T.J. Edwards said Carriere-Williams played well enough that he now gets to be called by his name.

“We call him two-nine around just to call him by his number,” Edward said. “So we told him he graduated from two-nine today and we’ll call him Dontye from now on.

“He did a good job. He’s a good player for us. He’ll be really strong going forward.”

Special Teams: Zach Hintze

With junior P.J. Rosowski still not healthy, Zach Hintze got the nod on kickoffs again and he was busy. He had seven of them and four were touchbacks, while a fifth should have been.

Video of the Game

https://twitter.com/BadgerFootball/status/909207957077884928

From the coach

LISTEN: Paul Chryst addresses the media after the game

 

In their own words

Michael Deiter was hurt. The Wisconsin left tackle was dealing with a right ankle injury, so the Badgers sent Cole Van Lanen into the game to replace him. To put it mildly, Deiter objected to the replacement and sent him and a trainer running back to the sideline. Here’s Deiter on what was said and how it played out afterwards.

 

In Case You Missed It

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

— Redshirt freshman Kendric Pryor made his college debut. The wide receiver had a strong spring and fall camp before injuring himself in a moped accident.

— Wisconsin won their first true non-conference road game since 2010.

— Junior Beau Benzschawel (right ankle) and sophomore Bradrick Shaw (leg) were both listed as questionable for the game but both played. Benzschawel started at right guard, while Shaw got four carries for 19 yards.

— Sophomore A.J. Taylor caught his first career touchdown on an 18-yard pass from Hornibrook in the third quarter.

— Prior to the game, a parachuter came in too fast and crashed into the north end zone wall and his chute ended up in the stands. He was checked out by medical personnel but seemed OK. You can see video here.

Inside the Numbers

7 of 7 — That was Alex Hornibrook’s effort on third down against BYU. Ninety-five yards and two of his touchdowns came on third down.

4 — That’s the number of touchdowns Hornibrook threw for — the most by any Wisconsin quarterback since Russell Wilson had four in 2011.

256 — That’s how many yards Hornibrook had on Saturday, his career-high. It was his third straight game of more than 200 yards after hitting that mark just once as a redshirt freshman.

0 — That’s the number of points Wisconsin’s defense has given up in the second half of games this year.

9-1 — That’s Wisconsin’s record in true road games under coach Paul Chryst.

What’s Next

Wisconsin (3-0) has its bye week before the Badgers start Big Ten play on Sept. 30 against Northwestern at Camp Randall Stadium.

Preview: (10) Wisconsin at BYU

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 10 Wisconsin Badgers (2-0) vs the BYU Cougars (1-2)

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

The place: Lavell Edwards Stadium, Provo, Utah

The TV coverage: ABC with Mike Patrick and Tommy Tuberville in the booth, and Paul Carcaterra on the sideline.

The last time: Wisconsin got 193 total yards and three touchdowns from running back James White in a 27-17 win at Camp Randall Stadium in 2013.

The series: 1-1

The line: Wisconsin -16

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

RB Bradrick Shaw (leg)
RG Beau Benzschawel (leg)
K P.J. Rosowski (leg)

OUT

Game:

RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
OL Jon Dietzen (leg)
DE Chikwe Obasih (knee)
WR George Rushing (leg)
S Patrick Johnson (arm)
FB Jake Whalen (head)

Season:

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

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) The injury bug

Wisconsin has yet to finish its non-conference season and the Badgers are already in desperate need of the bye they’ll get after this week. But getting to that bye week unscathed won’t be a an easy task with what they’ll be missing on Saturday. Already without a pair of starters on defense in defensive end Chikwe Obasih and linebacker Jack Cichy, the Badgers will not have starting left guard Jon Dietzen and potentially starting right guard Beau Benzschawel. Add in guys that were expected to contribute this year such as running back Taiwan Deal, wide receiver George Rushing, outside linebacker Zack Baun and safety Patrick Johnson, and you see the challenge coach Paul Chryst and his staff are facing.

2) On the road

Expect more than a dozen players to make their road debuts on Saturday for Wisconsin, including remarkable freshman running back Jonathan Taylor. How will they handle all the little extra things that come with a road game like this one, including the plane ride, an unfamiliar bed and surroundings to go along with a tough stadium environment? Most of them have risen to the occasion, especially Taylor, but this a new venue and we won’t know how they’ll react until they are put in the situation.

3) Playing at a high elevation

Part of the tough environment Wisconsin will deal with at Lavell Edwards Stadium is the actual environment. Provo, Utah sits 4,551-feet above sea level — or about 3,800-feet higher than Madison. Chryst admitted they were aware of what was awaiting them in Utah with the altitude and what it means in terms of breathing, but they could only do so much to prepare. The Badgers will likely need to count on their depth to help them through it, which could be tricky with their injury concerns.

4) A first start

Wisconsin isn’t the only team that is dinged up. BYU is, too. And at the most important position — quarterback. Though the BYU coaches weren’t willing to say who would start, all indications are that the ankle injury suffered by senior Tanner Mangum will keep him from playing, leaving sophomore Beau Hoge to get his first start and his first action of any kind since 2015. More of a dual threat than Mangum, Hoge takes over an offense that’s averaging 11 points per game and has struggled to produce any consistent success on that side of the ball.

The Badgers defense was nasty in the second half against Florida Atlantic, allowing just 50 yards and two first downs. They could be in line for a similar outing on Saturday.

5) Passing game improvement

The passing game has been a little hit or miss in the first two weeks for Wisconsin. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook is averaging more than 200 yards per game, has four touchdowns and just one interceptions, but there have been too many moments where things didn’t look quite right. And the issues were not centered on one person even if many want to point the finger at Hornibrook. Sure he missed some throws, but his numbers would look quite different if not for the myriad of dropped passes.

As Chryst said this week, it’s important for the quarterback to help the receivers, but it’s a two-way street, and outside of a couple outstanding catches by wide receiver Quintez Cephus, the help hasn’t been there enough. That needs to change for them to reach their potential through the air.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Jonathan Taylor is averaging 155 yards per game, the highest total by any true freshman in college football. The second-best is Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins with 126.5 yards per game, according to UWBadgers.com.

BYU has two players — running backs Ula Tolutau and Austin Kafentzis — that signed letters of intent to play for Wisconsin. Tolutau took his 2-year Mormon mission, and when he returned he decided, with Gary Andersen no longer coaching the Badgers, that he’d play elsewhere. Kafentzis, who committed to Andersen, came to Wisconsin even after the coach left for Oregon State, took part in spring practice in 2015 but transferred soon after.

Wisconsin is 0-2 in true road non-conference games since 2011, with one loss coming in 2012 at Oregon State and the second one in controversial fashion a year later at Arizona State.

This is the first time Wisconsin is playing a game in the state of Utah, leaving just 16 states where the Badgers have not played a game in program history.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 27, BYU 13 (2-0 on the season, 1-1 against the spread)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 38, BYU 10 (2-0 on the season, 1-1 against the spread)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 31 , BYU 7 (2-0 on the season, 1-1 against the spread)

Packers 17, Seattle 9: 2-minute drill

Green Bay — Aaron Rodgers threw for 311 yards and one touchdown as the Green Bay Packers beat the Seattle Seahawks 17-9 on Sunday at Lambeau Field in the season opener for both teams.

Play of the Game

It was 3-0 Seattle early in the third quarter, and the home crowd was getting restless as the Packers offense struggled to get anything going. Enter defensive tackle Mike Daniels. On first down, he burst through the line, and with an assist from linebacker Nick Perry, got quarterback Russell Wilson to the ground for a sack. Two plays later Daniels was in Wilson’s face again, this time forcing a fumble that linebacker Kyler Fackrell recovered at the 6-yard line. Running back Ty Montgomery would score on the next play and give the Packers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Game Balls

Offense: QB Aaron Rodgers

The two-time MVP didn’t have a vintage afternoon but made enough plays to get Green Bay to 1-0. He went over 300 yards for the first time in a season opener since 2013 despite being under constant pressure. On what proved to be the game-clinching drive, Rodgers scrambled to convert on third-and-4 and later found tight end Martellus Bennett for 26 yards, which served as the dagger the Packers needed.

Defense: DT Mike Daniels

The six-year pro played like a man possessed. He had seven tackles, one tackle for loss, 1.5 sacks, and added four more quarterback hits. Oh, and he had that game-changing forced fumble early in the third quarter. The Seattle offensive line had no hope of slowing Daniels — he knew that and so did they.

Special Teams: P Justin Vogel

Vogel made the team as an undrafted free agent and showed why the Packers kept him around in his first career game. He punted five times, averaging 43.8 yards per punt — and most impressively — 42.4 yards net. He dropped one punt inside the 20 and made dangerous return man Tyler Lockett a non-factor.

 

Quote of the Day

“That’s my quarterback. I always got his back. It’s a bad penalty at that moment in time, but (expletive), I thought it was a cheap shot.”

— tight end Martellus Bennett on shoving linebacker K.J. Wright after he took a shot at quarterback Aaron Rodgers late in the fourth quarter.

In Case You Missed It

— Seattle cornerback Jeremy Lane was ejected from the game in the first quarter after apparently throwing a punch at wide receiver Davante Adams on an interception return.

— Green Bay wide receiver Jordy Nelson hauled in his 500th catch early in the second quarter. He’s just the fourth player in franchise history to accomplish the feat.

— Newly signed outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks left the game early with a concussion. Tackle Jason Spriggs sustained a hamstring injury and didn’t return. Cornerback Damarious Randall was taken to the locker room with cramps but later returned.

Inside the Numbers

12 — That’s how many men Seattle had on the field when Rodgers hooked up with Nelson for a 32-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. Rodgers has become the master at catching teams with too many men on the field, doing it 23 times the last three years, according to FOX.

69.7 — That’s the passer rating for Wilson on Sunday after he completed 14 of 27 passes for 158 yards. It’s actually an improvement over his last visit to Green Bay, when he threw five interceptions in a 38-10 loss in 2016.

39:13 — That’s the time the Packers had the ball, a nearly 2:1 ratio over Seattle.

3 — That’s how many yards former Packers running back Eddie Lacy had on five carries in his return to Green Bay.

What’s Next

Green Bay (1-0) heads south to where its season ended last year in the NFC title game — Atlanta — to take on the Falcons (1-0) as they open their new stadium.

Martellus Bennett on late shove: ‘That’s my quarterback.’

GREEN BAY — Martellus Bennett knew it wasn’t the smart thing to do, but the Green Bay Packers tight end did it anyway.

Franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers had just gone into a head-first dive for a key conversion on third down late in what would turn into a 17-9 season-opening win for Green Bay over Seattle. Trying to stop him was linebacker K.J. Wright, who came flying in hard for the tackle — too hard in the mind of Bennett. The new addition to the Packers offense towered over Wright and gave him a two-handed shove that sent the veteran flying back and pair of flags flying out of the pockets of the officials.

“That’s my quarterback,” Bennett said afterward. “I always got his back. It’s a bad penalty at that moment in time, but (expletive), I thought it was a cheap shot.”

The shove ended up costing Green Bay 15 yards, but a statement was made, too.

“I think this early in the season it kind of sets the tone,” Bennett said. “Let guys know that, ‘Hey, this is what we’ve got. This is who we are.’ It’s our identity. Other people around the league will see it. We got to set the tone. ‘Hey, you taking shots on our quarterback? We take shots on you.’ That’s just the way it is.”

Just as he had Rodgers’ back, his teammates had his. Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix could be seen clapping and shouting loudly from the sideline, clearly pleased with what Bennett did.

LISTEN: Martellus Bennett on standing up for Aaron Rodgers

“That’s what we need on this team,” Clinton-Dix said. “We need guys to have each others backs on this team. That was very important to me. Standing up for his teammates. Taking up for a very important player on this team. Just to show his character and who he is as a person. That’s definitely big.

“Damn the flag. It’s about protecting your teammate, and that’s exactly what he did.”

Rodgers said the hit that Wright delivered wasn’t a big one or painful, but that’s irrelevant.

“It meant a lot to me. It really did,” Rodgers said. “Anytime your teammates do something like that it’s special. Those are moments you take with you for a long time.

“I just told Marty right away, ‘Thanks.’”

The penalty ended up meaning little, as three plays later Bennett caught a 26-yard pass from Rodgers that proved to be the dagger in a Green Bay victory.

“I told [coach] Mike (McCarthy), ‘That’s a bad penalty. I’m a vet. I know better than that, but I just can’t let that [expletive] happen.’”

(9) Wisconsin 31, Florida Atlantic 14: 2-minute drill

MADISON — No. 9 Wisconsin (2-0) got 223 yards and three touchdowns from Jonathan Taylor on its way to a 31-14 win over Florida Atlantic (0-2) on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.

Play of the Game

On their second drive of the game, the Badgers faced a second-and-9 from their 36-yard line. Taylor got the ball going to his left, broke one tackle and saw a crease, which he exploded through for a 64-yard touchdown. It was a sign of what was to come as the Badgers rolled up 357 yards on the ground.

Game Balls

Offense: RB Jonathan Taylor

The true freshman made a really good first impression against Utah State in the opener, and followed that up with an even more impressive showing in Week 2. Taylor scored on runs of 64 and 29 yards in the first half, showing off his burst and balance on both touchdowns. He added a third score in the second half and finished the game with 223 yards to become just the fourth true freshman at Wisconsin to top 200 yards in a game and the first since Zach Brown in 2007.

Defense: LB Leon Jacobs

The senior continues to show outside linebacker is the position he should have been at his entire career. Jacobs finished with six tackles, two tackles for loss and his first sack of the season. He was part of a defense that tallied 10 tackles for loss and five sacks on the day, limiting the Owls to 282 yards, including just 50 after halftime.

Special Teams: Anthony Lotti

Lotti averaged just 38.2 yards per punt, but the sophomore dropped a pair inside the 20, including one at the 4-yard line.

Video of the Game

In their own words

LISTEN: RB Jonathan Taylor meets the media after the game

In Case You Missed It

— Wisconsin’s captains for the day were defensive end Alec James, tight end Troy Fumagalli, safety Natrell Jamerson and wide receiver Jazz Peavy. The honorary captain was former quarterback Matt Schabert.

— A pair of true freshmen — wide receiver Danny Davis and Taylor — earned their first career starts. Davis caught the first pass of his career, a 35-yard reception from quarterback Alex Hornibrook.

— Starting right guard Beau Benzschawel sustained a right leg injury in the second quarter and did not return. Junior Micah Kapoi replaced him.

— Safety Patrick Johnson was ruled out in the second half with an arm injury. It’s the second game in a row that he left with an injury.

— Quarterback Jack Coan completed the first pass of his career, hitting running back Garrett Groshek for six yards and a first down.

Inside the Numbers

101 — That’s the number of yards rushing that junior Chris James put up — the second 100-yard game of his career and the first at Wisconsin.

3 — That’s the number of times quarterback Alex Hornibrook has thrown for at least 200 yards in his career. Two of the three have come this year.

1 — That’s the number of penalties Wisconsin had on Saturday, eight fewer than the Badgers had in the opener against Utah State.

15-0 — That’s Wisconsin’s record when gaining 500 yards or more on offense dating back to the start of the 2012 season. The Badgers had 564 yards of offense on Saturday.

8 — That’s the number of catches tight end Troy Fumagalli had — a career-high. He finished with 92 yards receiving and a touchdown.

What’s Next

Wisconsin (2-0) will hit the road for the first time this season as they visit BYU (1-1) next Saturday.

Preview: (9) Wisconsin vs Florida Atlantic

THE BASICS

The teams: The No. 9 Wisconsin Badgers (1-0) vs the Florida Atlantic Owls (0-1)

The time: 11 a.m. CDT, Saturday

The place: Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wis.

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

The last time: This is the first ever meeting between the two schools

The series: N/A

The line: Wisconsin -33

The Badgers injury report:

QUESTIONABLE

RB Bradrick Shaw (leg)

OUT

Game:

RB Taiwan Deal (leg)
DE Chikwe Obasih (knee)
WR Kendric Pryor (face)
WR George Rushing (leg)
FB Jake Whalen (head)

Season:

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

THE BREAKDOWN: FIVE THINGS TO WATCH

1) A one-time thing or a pattern?

After the way Wisconsin stumbled through much of the first half against Utah State in its opener, the Badgers need to show that it was a one-time thing and not something that will haunt them all year. If forced to choose what we might see on Saturday, we’d say it wasn’t something fans should worry about. But the anxiety will grow significantly if they struggle early against a Florida Atlantic team that Navy beat by 23 points last week.

2) See some improvement

Coach Paul Chryst doesn’t put much stock in the notion of team’s make their biggest jumps from the first game to the second, but he’s certainly looking for significant improvement in a number of areas, perhaps most notably when it comes to penalties. One of the most disciplined teams in the country in 2016, Wisconsin was called for nine penalties against Utah State — more than in any game a year ago. The Badgers need to clean it up, especially those happening before the play starts.

3) Time to dominate

One of the more surprising aspects of the Badgers slow start against Utah State was the inability of the offensive line to create running lanes and keep pressure off of quarterback Alex Hornibrook. Communication issues played a role, for sure, but the size and talent of the line is too great to not move teams like the Aggies and Florida Atlantic off the ball. While Wisconsin ended up rushing for 233 yards, the Badgers still need to show they can do it from the jump, especially against a Owls defense that allowed Navy to run for more than 400 yards in their opener.

4) More Jonathan Taylor

Nearly every player that made their debut a week ago lived up to the hype, but none more so than running back Jonathan Taylor. He showed off his speed, vision, balance and explosiveness in running for 87 yards and a touchdown. Now, with sophomore Bradrick Shaw a little dinged up, we could see a whole lot more of Taylor on Saturday. And if he capitalizes on it, he could stake his claim to being Wisconsin’s lead back moving forward.

5) Hurricane Irma

While five of the seven FBS teams that call Florida home cancelled their games this weekend due to Hurricane Irma, the storm bearing down on South Florida did not deter the Owls from making the trip to Madison. How will what’s happening back home impact the play of 18-to-23-year-old college students who left homes that may not be there when they get back?

And what about the eight players from the state of Florida on the Wisconsin roster? How focused can anyone expect them to be when their families are dealing with a storm of this magnitude?

The debate over whether the game should be played is pointless — it’s obviously going to happen. But the storm’s impact mentally for players on both sides is relevant and something to watch.

NUMBERS TO CONSIDER

Wisconsin is 16-1 under coach Paul Chryst when holding teams to 100 yards or less on the ground.

Alex Hornibrook has thrown 73 passes since his last interception, a stretch that covers seven games. The quarterback’s last interception came in the fourth quarter of Wisconsin’s win over Nebraska last October.

Wisconsin’s 59 points against Utah State were the most under Chryst since he returned as coach in 2015, and the most they’ve put up when he’s been calling plays since hanging 62 on Purdue on Nov. 5, 2011.

After taking the ball away from Utah State four times in the opener, the Badgers are averaging three turnovers forced per game over their last six contests.

PREDICTIONS

Zach Heilprin’s prediction: Wisconsin 52, Florida Atlantic 13 (1-0 on the season, 1-0 against the spread)
Ebo’s prediction: Wisconsin 53, Florida Atlantic 14 (1-0 on the season, 1-0 against the spread)
Joe Miller’s prediction: Wisconsin 56, Florida Atlantic 10 (1-0 on the season, 1-0 against the spread)

RB Eddie Lacy set for return to Green Bay, ponders whether to ‘Lambeau Leap’

Former Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy makes his return to Lambeau Field this weekend as the Seattle Seahawks come to town to open the 2017 season. And while Lacy doesn’t seem to have put much thought into what his return means, he has spent time pondering whether he should perform a Lambeau Leap if he makes it to the end zone with his new team.

“Honestly, I’ve been thinking about that for the past two days,” Lacy told the Seattle media on Thursday. “Part of me wants to, but I don’t want to get pushed down. I really don’t know how the crowd will react to that. Maybe I can find a small patch of Seahawk fans and do it there.”

In reality, Lacy’s return is a lot more than whether he’ll leap or not. Green Bay wanted the former second-round pick back this offseason, but he reportedly wanted to go elsewhere. It just so happened he ended up with a rival of the Packers that figures to be in the way of the organization’s effort to earn a fifth Super Bowl title in franchise history.

“I thought I would be back there,” Lacy said. “I was there for four years. I thought it would continue. But sometimes it just doesn’t work out like that and sometimes a change of scenery isn’t bad.”

It’s not clear how much Lacy’s decision to leave impacted what Green Bay did in the offseason, but it stands to reason the Packers wouldn’t have drafted three running backs in April if the man that ran for the 10th most yards in franchise history hadn’t bolted.

As for Sunday, the Packers are expecting a slimmed down and motivated Lacy. He earned three weight-related bonuses this summer and there are several more he can earn during the season. His weight was a constant story in Green Bay, with coach Mike McCarthy even making mention of it during his season-ending press conference in January of 2016. But in Seattle, the talk has been almost universally positive.

“During the time he’s been with us, all of the work he’s done has really been kind of an ascent,” coach Pete Carroll said this week. “He really hasn’t missed anything. He’s been great about his conditioning work and all that stuff. He’s done a fantastic job. He’s ready to play.”

Wisconsin holds steady in one poll, falls in another

MADISON — Wisconsin won its season opener 59-10 over Utah State last Friday, but it was not enough to impress those that vote in the national polls.

The Badgers dropped one spot in Amway Coaches Poll to No. 11, with Oklahoma State the team replacing them in the top 10.

Meanwhile, in the AP Top 25, Wisconsin passed Florida State, but stayed at No. 9 because Michigan jumped the Badgers, coming in at No. 8.

Overall, there were four teams in the top-10 of the AP poll, while the coaches’ poll had three.

Michigan remains the only team on Wisconsin’s schedule that is currently ranked in either poll, though three others are receiving votes in one or both of the surveys.

Full AP Poll

Full coaches’ poll

Eagles keep former Wisconsin RB Corey Clement

He didn’t get taken in the 2017 NFL Draft, but it looks like things will work out just fine for Corey Clement.

According to Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com, the former Wisconsin running back has made the Philadelphia Eagles 53-man roster.

Clement ran for 105 yards and two touchdowns during the preseason, and added another 46 yards on seven catches.

A New Jersey native that grew up about 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia, Clement performed at a much higher level than fifth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey, who had just 49 yards on 26 carries.

The news on Clement means the top four running backs from 2013 — James White, Melvin Gordon, Derek Watt and Clement — are all on an NFL roster to start 2017.

Other former Wisconsin players on the bubble that were able to stick included WR Jared Abbrederis (Lions), WR Alex Erickson (Bengals) and CB Darius Hillary (Browns)

Not every Wisconsin player was as fortunate, though, with a number getting cut this weekend.

QB Bart Houston (source)

OT Tyler Marz (source)

RB Dare Ogunbowale (source)

S Dezmen Southward (source)

QB Joel Stave (source)

TE Austin Traylor (source)

OL Kraig Urbik (source)

WR Rob Wheelwright (source)