On this week’s episode of “The Camp,” Matt and Zach discuss the horrendous performance against Minnesota, debate who’s to blame for the disappointing year and try to answer all of your negative Twitter questions.
MINNEAPOLIS — Kirk Cousins threw for 342 yards and three touchdowns as Minnesota beat Green Bay 24-17 on Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Packers Game Balls
Offense: RB Aaron Jones
Save for the second and third drive of the game, the Packers offense was once again very pedestrian. But Jones made the most of his opportunities, accounting for 93 yards combined on the ground and receiving. He also scored a touchdown in the first quarter, his fifth in the last three games.
Defense: DL Kenny Clark
Clark is the lone starter along the defensive line still standing following injuries to Mo Wilkerson and Mike Daniels, but he continues to be the anchor for the beat up unit. Though the Packers did not get nearly enough pressure on Cousins, Clark did pick up his sixth sack of the season and helped hold the Vikings’ run game to just 91 yards and 3.1 yards per carry.
Special Teams: P JK Scott
Scott had a busy night and was largely effective. He averaged 46 yards on his six punts and dropped three of them inside the 20-yard line. The rookie could have had another, but backup gunner J’Mon Moore was unable to get control of a ball that bounced inside the 5-yard line.
What they said
“We all got to take accountability for that, myself first and foremost. I know I have to play better. I will and we’ll put ourselves in position (to challenge for a playoff spot).”
— Quarterback Aaron Rodgers on getting things to start clicking on offense and make a late-season push for the postseason.
“It’s tough. Going through what we did last year, not making the playoffs, and now sitting at 4-6-1, it’s heartbreaking. You look at all the losses that we had, we’re right there. We just can’t pull out a win.”
— Safety Josh Jones on the team’s feeling right now after falling to 0-6 on the road
In Case You Missed It
— Wide receiver Randall Cobb and cornerback Kevin King were among several key players not active for the game due to injury.
— Safety Kentrell Brice (ankle, concussion), tackle David Bakhtiari (knee), guard Lane Taylor (quad), wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown (arm) and wide receiver Trevor Davis (hamstring) all left the game with injuries.
— Davante Adams finished with five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. He now has 1,022 yards this season, giving him the first 1,000-yard season of his career.
Inside the Numbers
7-8-1 — That’s the Packers record in the last 16 games that Aaron Rodgers started and finished.
8 — That’s the number of consecutive losses the Packers have suffered on the road dating back to last season.
.382 — That’s the winning percentage of the Packers final five opponents this season — tied for the easiest of any team in the NFL.
Green Bay (4-6-1) hosts Arizona (2-9) at Lambeau Field on Sunday at noon.
MADISON — Coming into the game against Minnesota, the Wisconsin football team’s season had been a disappointment. After a nausea-inducing 37-15 loss to the Gophers, the regular season must be described as nothing short of a spectacular failure. That’s not how those within the program will look at it, but from an outside perspective it’s hard to view it any other way.
The Badgers opened the campaign No. 4 in the country in the Associated Press poll — tied for their highest preseason ranking in school history. They ended the regular season playing one of their worst home games in recent memory and falling to their rival for the first time since 2003. Not since Bret Bielema’s 2008 team walked off its home field as 48-7 losers to Penn State has Wisconsin been beaten as badly at Camp Randall Stadium as it was on Saturday.
But at least that was a loss to a top-10 team. This was 5-6 Minnesota, a team that had not won a game on the road all year and had given up 55 points to Illinois the last time it ventured away from Minneapolis. The Badgers managed just seven points when the game was still in doubt.
“As a coach, you’ve got to own it,” Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst said of the performance. “We’ve got to do a better job of coaching…”
As the Gophers were sprinting to claim Paul Bunyan’s Axe in the south end zone, most of the veteran Badgers were instead focused on getting to the Wisconsin locker room as quickly as possible, not wanting their last memory on a field where they found so much success to be that bitter.
“Probably, my whole life,” guard Beau Benzschawel said of how long it would stay with him that he didn’t get to chop down the goal posts like the previous 14 senior classes had.
Another senior, Michael Deiter, was unable to miss the chopping celebration.
“No, I saw it,” Deiter said. “It hurt [and] it sucked, because I wanted to do it.
“I wanted to put the Axe back in the case. [I’m] disappointed we’re not going to be able to do that.”
For other seniors, the pain of losing was more about those not even on the sideline with them.
“[You’re] not embarrassed but you feel like you let the guys down that were here before you. That’s really tough thinking about,” linebacker T.J. Edwards said. “I would have never in a million years thought that we would lose this game but we did. It’s tough.”
He wasn’t the only one thinking about those that came before.
“Forever,” safety D’Cota Dixon of the game sticking with him. “That’s a legacy right there. Disappointed. We let down the guys that were in front of me. Warren Herring, Mike Caputo, Leo (Musso).
“There’s no excuses. Nothing to talk about. Plain and simple, they were the better team tonight. They got the Axe.”
Wisconsin’s trophy case is empty for some of the same reasons the season didn’t turn out the way many had predicted it would. The Badgers were haunted by self-inflicted mistakes that had little to do with Minnesota. A missed chip-shot field goal by a senior kicker, four turnovers by a junior quarterback, a breakdown on special teams and frustrating penalties at inopportune times.
“Playing in this league, you’re going to play good teams. That’s tough [enough] to beat,” Chryst said. “And then when you also beat yourself…You have to be a great team to overcome both of those and we’re not right now.”
The Gophers also played a role, obviously. Even after top tackler Blake Cashman was ejected for targeting in the second quarter, the Minnesota defense gave little ground, forcing four fumbles (recovering one) and picking off three passes. Offensively, the Gophers did what Wisconsin so often does to its opponents — crushed their will by winning on first and second down, bullying the Badgers’ defense with the run time and time again. It wasn’t that Wisconsin’s defenders weren’t in spots to make plays — they just didn’t. Minnesota running back Mohamed Ibrahim ran for 121 yards and seemingly always fell forward.
“That’s the hard part,” Edwards said. “First and second down, I think we just lost, quite frankly. That’s kind of what it [came] down to.”
But the process of getting to where Gophers’ coach P.J. Fleck was diving into the locker room with the Axe started before a single snap had been taken in the 2018 season.
The seeds were planted when they lost defensive linemen Garrett Rand and Isaiahh Loudermilk to injury, the former for the year and the latter for the first two games of the season and playing several more while limited by a different injury. It continued with the suspension of their top wide receiver, Quintez Cephus, in August after he was charged with sexual assault, a case due for trial early next year. The same incident led to the suspension of sophomore wide receiver Danny Davis for two games. A young secondary got even younger with the departures of sophomores Dontye Carriere-Williams and Patrick Johnson just before the start of the year.
Then the games started and the injuries piled up, including the loss of senior leaders in Dixon, tight end Zander Neuville and nose guard Olive Sagapolu for multiple outings. An unexpected loss to BYU and a string of double-digit losses to Michigan, Northwestern and Penn State crushed Wisconsin’s dreams of a Big Ten title and a berth in the College Football Playoff.
The dagger, though, came Saturday. No matter what happened in front of an announced crowd of 74,038, the season was going to fall short of outside expectations, but at least they’d have the Axe. Even in 2008, when they went just 7-6, they managed to beat Minnesota. But unlike the four times they trailed by 10 points or more during the 14-game streak only to rally for a win, they couldn’t find a way back. Instead, they suffered their worst home loss to Minnesota since being shutout 24-0 in 1936. Back then, the Gophers were actually considered a college football powerhouse.
The loss and a season of unfulfilled promise leaves plenty of questions for a program that was 43 yards away from making the playoff with a win over Ohio State in the conference championship game last year. Chryst must own his part in the fall. He has largely lived a charmed existence since coming back to Wisconsin in 2015 to lead the program. Three double-digit win seasons and two division titles laid the groundwork for what was supposed to be the year that the Badgers took it to the next level. Not only did that not happen, the program took a step back.
Chryst denied it after the game on Saturday, but the team often looked unprepared and undisciplined. The offense, which is what Chryst was known for as an assistant, returned nine starters from a year ago but produced fewer points and yards. That’s despite running back Jonathan Taylor rushing for nation-leading 1,981 yards. Blame can be placed plenty of places for the inability to capitalize on the opportunity to be among the best offenses in school history, though a lack of consistency from quarterback Alex Hornibrook, and to a lesser extent Jack Coan, is certainly near the top of the list.
In past seasons, the defense would overcome the offensive inefficiencies. But having to replace seven starters from 2017, losing a number of the experienced guys they did have back to injury and then having to play freshmen along the defensive line and secondary proved to be too much for defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard.
Special teams were also less than special in many cases, including on Saturday. Rafael Gaglianone missed a chip shot field on the first drive, they allowed a punt return for a score near the end of the first half and then had a fumble and a penalty on kick return in the second half.
“I’d say no,” Chryst said when asked if his team had won any of the three phases of the game on Saturday.
That was the case way too often this year. In some games they were able to overcome the mistakes and being outplayed for large stretches. Their 7-5 record could easily have been 5-7 or worse.
Much of the talk afterward was about sending the seniors out with a bowl victory, whatever bowl that ends up being. It’s a worthy effort and one a special group that won a lot of games deserves.
But no matter what happens in that game, it must not overshadow what we’ve seen in the 12 games played already. Wisconsin has too much talent to be sitting home watching Northwestern play for a conference title next Saturday. The coaching staff has proven it’s capable enough to get them there, though if the the last decade of constant turnover is any indication, there will be changes before next season. Some of the best players the program has seen will leave and ones with bright futures will arrive. It will be on all parties — coaches, returning players and new ones — to make sure that the scenes that unfolded in Ann Arbor, Evanston, University Park and under the lights on the final week of the season are a one-year dip and not the start of a downward trend.
On this week’s episode of the Wisconsin Football Roundtable, BadgerBlitz.com’s Jon McNamara joins to talk recruiting, including what the Badgers are getting in quarterback Graham Mertz and tackle Logan Brown. We also get our former Badgers — Anthony Davis, Montee Ball and Travis Beckum — take on the battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe and their best memories of the rivalry with Minnesota.
No. 25 Wisconsin came up short in its bid for the Battle 4 Atlantis title, losing 53-46 to No. 4 Virginia on Friday in the Bahamas.
The Cavaliers dominated the first half, building a 15-point lead, which against their defense, tends to feel like a 30-point deficit. But the Badgers fought back, outscoring Virginia 28-20 in the second half. It wasn’t enough, but it left coach Greg Gard feeling positive.
“Extremely proud of how we battled back,” Gard said, according to the team’s Twitter account. “I thought we showed something in that second half.”
Ethan Happ finished with 22 points, 15 rebounds and six assists, but also had six turnovers and didn’t get much help from the rest of the lineup. D’Mitrik Trice, who scored a career-high 25 in the semifinal win over Oklahoma, managed just five against Virginia, including missing both of his 3-point attempts. Khalil Iverson was the second-leading scorer with seven points, while also grabbing six rebounds.
De’Andre Hunter had a team-high 20 points for Virginia, but the Cavaliers didn’t shoot well overall, hitting just 37-percent of their shots. Where they won the game was at the free throw line (9 of 12) and committing just five turnovers. In comparison, the Badgers made it to the line just three times and had 13 turnovers.
Happ, who could end up with the school record for free throw attempts, didn’t get to the line for the first time since Dec. 23, 2017 and it was just the eighth time in 111 career games he didn’t shoot a free throw.
Wisconsin put two players — Happ and Trice — on the All-Tournament team.
The Badgers (5-1) will now come home to face North Carolina State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Tuesday at the Kohl Center.
D’Mitrik Trice continued his hot start to the season as Wisconsin beat Oklahoma 78-58 on Thursday to move into the championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.
The sophomore guard scored a career-high 25 points, much of which came from beyond the arc. Trice went 7-for-8 on 3-pointers, which was one short of the program record. He’s now hit 20 of the 33 shots he’s taken from deep, a remarkable 60.6 percent.
Trice didn’t do it alone, though. Senior Ethan Happ shrugged off a slow start scoring to finish with 14 points, 12 rebounds and five assists. He’s now got a double-double in all five games this year, which marks the most consecutive games he’s had one in his career.
Redshirt freshman Kobe King added 14 points off the bench, including hitting three 3-pointers in 26 minutes. Sophomore Nate Reuvers chipped in 12 points, while senior Khalil Iverson had eight rebounds.
Wisconsin won despite Brad Davison not scoring in 32 minutes of action.
The Sooners were led by Christian James’ 18 points.
The win puts Wisconsin into the final of the tournament where the Badgers will face off with No. 4 Virginia on Friday at 1 p.m.
The Wisconsin basketball team is off to a 4-0 start for the first time since the 2014-15 season.
The Badgers got there with a 62-46 win over Stanford in the first game of the Battle 4 Atlantis on Wednesday afternoon in the Bahamas.
It was Wisconsin’s defense that proved to be the story of the afternoon. The Badgers held the Cardinal to just 27.1 percent shooting from the field and only 2 of 18 from beyond the arc. It was Stanford’s worst shooting night from the field since Nov. 26, 2015, when it shot 26-percent in a loss to Villanova.
Quite a few of Stanford’s shots never had a chance to make it to the basket. That was thanks to sophomore Nate Reuvers, who blocked a school-record tying nine shots and Wisconsin finished with 11 as a team.
Offensively, the Badgers struggled from the outside as well, not hitting their first — and only — 3-pointer until the final 30 seconds of the game. But they got the job done inside and at the free throw line.
Guard D’Mitrik Trice had 16 points, while center Ethan Happ added 16 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out. Guard Brad Davison had 14 points, including going 8 of 9 from the stripe.
With the win, Wisconsin advanced to face Oklahoma on Thursday at 12:30 p.m.
Just call 'em the Bahama Badgers
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) November 22, 2018
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Wisconsin stormed back from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat Purdue in triple overtime 47-44 on Saturday.
Offense: Jonathan Taylor
The word “special” and the term “just different” were in heavy use by Jonathan Taylor’s teammates after his latest stunning performance. The sophomore ran for 321 yards and three touchdowns, including a walk-off 17-yard scamper in the third overtime to top off the third-best single-game rushing effort in school history.
“Insane,” outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel said of Taylor’s effort. “He’s something else. I’ve never seen a running back like that in person. You can watch the game see this guy is just different, this guy is special. His future is bright.”
Taylor did a lot of his damage after halftime, taking his first carry of the third quarter 80 yards for a score. After Wisconsin went down 27-13 with 9:50 left in the fourth quarter, Taylor had 129 yards on 13 carries over six drives, including overtime. He put the game away with an outside zone run that left him with 1,869 yards on the season and his teammates mobbing him in the end zone.
“That’s something that you watch on TV [growing up],” Taylor said. “You watch a great game, it goes into overtime and someone scores a game-winning touchdown. As a kid you’re watching that and saying, ‘Man, that must be amazing.’ It [was] the exact same feeling that you dream of.”
Defense: Andrew Van Ginkel
The senior is finally getting healthy and we’re starting to see what made him special at the end of last season. On Saturday, he had a career-high 10 tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss and remarkable forced fumble that stopped an early scoring opportunity for Purdue. Van Ginkel and junior Zack Baun have each stepped up in recent weeks, showing glimpses of being the havoc creators the Badgers have had at the outside linebacker spot the four seasons prior to this one.
Special Teams: Van Ginkel
It won’t show up in highlights of the game, but Van Ginkel getting Purdue return man Rondale Moore to the ground late in the fourth quarter proved to be huge. Moore proved to be one of the most exciting players in the country on Saturday and the freshman probably had ideas of glory going through his mind when he caught a punt and looked upfield with less than a minute left and the game tied. Instead, after dancing past a few Badgers, Van Ginkel tripped him up for no gain, forcing the Boilermakers to go further for a potential game-winning kick, something they were unable to do.
What they said
“That dude is different. I’m glad he’s on our team for sure. He’s very special.”
Linebacker T.J. Edwards on what Taylor did on Saturday
Jonathan Taylor speaks
All 1-handed catches don’t deserve Odell comparisons.
But this one… pic.twitter.com/vKnFVJkSu0
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 18, 2018
— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) November 18, 2018
The edition where former Wisconsin running backs give love to Taylor:
@JayT23 that’s how you put a team on yo back bro !!!! Keep working !!!
— F L ⚡️ S H (@Melvingordon25) November 18, 2018
Jonathon Taylor!! Best RB in the game…the OL has struggled in pass pro, but running down hill-they have not… #badgers
— BCal (@brian_calhoun2) November 18, 2018
— James White (@SweetFeet_White) November 18, 2018
On the real. https://t.co/Rtks6VAsaA
— Anthony K Davis (@AD908_Strong) November 18, 2018
In Case You Missed It
— Freshman CB Donte Burton made his first career start as part of Wisconsin’s nickel package.
— Safety Scott Nelson did not play in the game despite being dressed. He’s been dealing with a knee injury. Sophomore Eric Burrell started in his place.
— Quarterback Alex Hornibrook did not travel with the team for a second straight week. He has not played since suffering his second concussion of the season against Rutgers.
— Tackle David Edwards missed his first game since 2016, staying back in Madison with an arm injury. Redshirt freshman Logan Bruss started in his place at right tackle.
Inside the Numbers
125 — That’s how many penalty yards Wisconsin had for the game. It’s the first time the Badgers have topped 100 yards in penalties since 2008.
3,846 — That’s the number of yards Taylor has run for in his career. It’s the most combined rushing yards as a freshman and sophomore in FBS history, topping former Badgers running back Ron Dayne.
52 — That’s how many career starts offensive lineman Michael Deiter has made. It’s the most in school history, passing former cornerback Sojourn Shelton.
Wisconsin (7-4, 5-3) hosts Minnesota (5-6, 2-6) in the season finale on Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.
When last season was coming to a close, Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard sat cornerback Dontye Carriere-Williams down to explain some things. The South Florida product was putting the finishing touches on a redshirt freshman season that saw him earn a role as the third cornerback behind senior Derrick Tindal and junior Nick Nelson. It had its highs and lows but was trending upward at the end.
So Leonhard, knowing that Tindal was out of eligibility and Nelson was likely to leave early for the NFL, got in front of Carriere-Williams to hammer home what was going to be expected of him as the Badgers rebuilt their secondary. And it wasn’t just solely his own play. Leonhard wanted him to lift the play of others as well.
“[He told me] the things he needed me to do to be able to take that next step and be a great player,” Carriere-Williams said. “With me, sitting back and looking at it, from the understanding that I’m the corner with the most game experience, of course I look at it like I have to lead those guys. And when I say lead, it’s not telling them what to do. It’s about uplifting our guys and keeping everybody motivated. We’re all going to hold each other accountable.
“Just being that guy in the room keeping everybody up and hold that standard.”
The standard, at least in the last five years, has been set at high level for the entire secondary. The likes of Darius Hillary, Sojourn Shelton, Tindal, Nelson, Natrell Jamerson, Michael Caputo, Tanner McEvoy and others saw to that. Wisconsin’s pass defense has finished in the top 10 in the country in yards allowed three times since 2013 and never lower than 30th. Despite losing three starters from last season, the expectations for having success doesn’t change. And because of Carriere-Williams’ experience — he played in all 14 games and started five last season — eyes are on him to be the guy.
“Absolutely. That’s understandable,” Carriere-Williams said when asked about being the No. 1 cornerback. “It’s only right for them to expect that out of me. And it’s only right for me to expect that out of myself.”
Carriere-Williams will tackle the challenge fully healthy, something he wasn’t last year. He suffered an abdominal injury that bothered him throughout the course of the season, and he underwent surgery in January to fix it. He missed much of spring practice, something that was frustrating, though it did force him to take a step back and gain insight from a mental perspective. Still, it hurt the former 3-star recruit not being on the field.
“Life can get hard sometimes. Football is my getaway,” Carriere-Williams said. “I’m able to come out on the field and clear my mind. My peace of mind, just not having it, when you’ve been playing it your whole life, it bothers you.”
The 5-foot-10, 192-pound Carriere-Williams returned to practice on a limited basis late in the spring, focused on getting better from a year in which he finished with 30 tackles, one interception and seven pass breakups.
“Not good enough,” Carriere-Williams said of his season before softening a little bit. “I just want to be a better overall player. Of course my performance last year was OK. I showed signs of what I could do. But I don’t think I’ve proven I can be that guy. I’ve shown signs, but I have a lot more to prove. I have a big chip on my shoulder.”
As do the cornerbacks around him. Sophomore Madison Cone, redshirt freshman Faion Hicks, redshirt sophomore Caesar Williams and freshman Donte Burton all know that outsiders have questions about them and understand that other teams will target them this fall.
“Honestly, if I was an offensive coordinator playing against us, you’d be a fool not to test us,” Cone said. “We’re just using it as fuel. We know we’re going to get tested and we plan on making people pay.”
Biggest question: What will the starting unit look like?
Here’s what we think we know heading into fall camp. Senior D’Cota Dixon will man one of the two safety spots, just like he has the last two seasons. Carriere-Williams will almost certainly be one of the starting corners. Past that, everything is pretty fluid.
Let’s start with Cone. He served as essentially the fourth cornerback last season and should figure into the starting lineup as well. Though just 5-foot-9, he’s an explosive athlete that could excel playing in the slot.
The third cornerback spot is wide open. Hicks and Williams each had strong springs, though the latter made more big plays than perhaps any of the other defensive backs. Burton, an early enrollee, exited spring in position to push for time.
The coaching staff also seems to be excited about two other incoming freshmen — Travian Blaylock and Alex Smith.
At safety, the favorite has to be redshirt freshman Scott Nelson. He was likely ready to play by late last season, but Wisconsin didn’t want to burn his redshirt. At 6-foot-2, 207 pounds, Nelson has the size in addition to the athleticism needed for the spot. He’s also very close with Dixon on and off the field and has been soaking up everything the veteran has to say.
He’s likely to be challenged by redshirt sophomores Eric Burrell and Patrick Johnson.
What they said:
“I see great things. A group of guys that come ready to work every day. As a defensive back, there’s ups and downs, but those guys take the good with the bad. They make a lot of plays, and when they give up a play, they don’t get down. They hop back up and they get ready to make another play.”
— Carriere-Williams on what he’s seen out of the younger cornerbacks
Projected depth chart
CB: Dontye Carriere-Williams (RS SO), Faion Hicks (RS FR)
S: D’Cota Dixon (SR), Patrick Johnson (RS SO)
S: Scott Nelson (RS FR), Eric Burrell (RS SO)
CB: Madison Cone (SO), Caesar Williams (RS SO)
You could have forgiven Chris Orr if he had been just a little disappointed. A guy that’s started 15 games at inside linebacker, including eight last season, was poised to move into a full-time starting role if T.J. Edwards had bypassed his senior year and entered the NFL, as many expected him to do after a stellar junior campaign. Instead, in January, Edwards announced he’d be coming back for his final season.
“T.J. is one of my best friends here. I was happy to have him back,” Orr said in the spring, showing no signs of resentment. “The competition is just going to make me better, and we’re going to make each other better…I had a pretty good idea he was going to come back. I never really thought of it like, ‘Oh, this is my chance to be the guy.’ I’ve been playing almost every year, so I’m not really worried about that.”
The return of Edwards means that as opposed to have two experienced guys in Orr and senior Ryan Connelly, the Badgers will role with an inside linebacker group that is easily the deepest and most productive position on this year’s defense. The trio combined for 205 tackles, 25 tackles for loss, seven sacks, six interceptions and two touchdowns last season for a unit that was among the best in the nation.
But while there aren’t very many questions about the inside linebackers, there are plenty around them, where inexperience rules. The defensive line is replacing three seniors and is dealing with injuries. Only one experienced outside linebacker returns, while the secondary is also in the midst of replacing three starters. Edwards, though, doesn’t sound worried.
“No, none at all,” Edwards said when asked if he was concerned about the attrition. “I think it’s something that happens every year when everyone realizes people left and people start freaking out. When T.J. (Watt) and Vince (Biegel) left [after the 2016 season], it’s like, ‘We’re going to suck now.’ No, we replace every year. We’ve got guys that come in and work every single day that are ready for these moments.”
Edwards does understand, though, that because of what his group has done, there will be eyes on him and the other inside linebackers to help bring everyone else along. It’s what happens when you’re a Butkus Award finalist like Edwards, or an All-Big Ten player like Connelly or a proven playmaker like Orr.
“Just being a redshirt senior now, it’s my time to really take control of this defense with my voice,” Edwards said. “I think that’s something that is big for me, Connelly and Chris Orr, something that we have to really channel. Chris talks all day, so I’m sure he can do that in his sleep, but for me and Connelly, we really have to be more vocal with this team.”
What all three guys made clear this spring is that expectations don’t change even with all the losses. It’s not like Edwards returned solely because he wanted to improve his draft stock. Sure, that was part of it, but him, along with Orr and Connelly, have been a part of teams that have been so close to winning a conference title and making it to the College Football Playoff. So when he pushed off turning pro, Edwards did so with a mind towards redemption in Indianapolis and on reaching the ultimate goal of any college program.
“It’s national championship,” Edwards said of their highest ambition. “It’s easy to make those high, lofty goals right now, but there is so much that goes into that.
“Just being so hurt from those Big Ten Championship games, [I] can’t do it anymore.”
Biggest question: Who fills out the rotation?
With Edwards, Connelly and Orr, Wisconsin has three guys it can count on. But if recent history is any indication, others may be needed and the Badgers have some intriguing options to pick from.
The first is redshirt sophomore Griffin Grady. An illness last fall led to him redshirting after seeing the field in 12 games as a true freshman. He earned Wisconsin’s Scout Team Defensive Player of the Year honors and was back running with the second-team defense for much of the spring.
Another option will be redshirt sophomore Mike Maskalunas. He played in 13 games last year, mostly on special teams and in mop-up duty, finishing with 11 tackles.
A pair of true freshmen may also figure into things. Illinois product Jack Sanborn, a 4-star prospect, was the highest-rated member of Wisconsin’s 2018 recruiting class, while Waukesha Catholic Memorial’s C.J. Goetz, a 3-star recruit, is also expected to start his career at inside linebacker.
They said it
“I just had my sights set on running down on kickoff. That was my biggest hope. I was thinking, ‘I’ll just sit four years and then maybe my fifth year I can get in there and start.’ To have it happen the way it did is really a dream come true.”
— Connelly on going from an out-of-state walk-on to a multi-year starter for Wisconsin
Projected depth chart:
First team: T.J. Edwards (SR), Ryan Connelly (SR)
Second team: Chris Orr (JR), Griffin Grady (RS SO)
“The Camp” previews the ILBs