Wisconsin Badgers Report Card Through Five Games

T.J. Watt and the Wisconsin defense have been as good as advertised through five games. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)
T.J. Watt and the Wisconsin defense have been as good as advertised through five games. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)

Wisconsin Badgers Report Card Through Five Games

The Wisconsin Badgers may be on a bye during week six, but that just means we can review their season up to this point. Consider it a de facto mid-season review through five games. We will give a grade to each unit on the team as well as an overall team grade and a grade for head coach Paul Chryst. Let’s start with a quick glance at what the Badgers have done so far.

Wisconsin Results

Week 1 (9/3) – Defeated #5 LSU 16-14 (Green Bay)

Week 2 (9/10) – Defeated Akron 54-10 (Home)

Week 3 (9/17) – Defeated Georgia State 23-17 (Home)

Week 4 (9/24) – Defeated Michigan State 30-6 (Away)

Week 5 (10/1) – Lost to Michigan 14-7 (Away)

Head Coach Paul Chryst

Paul Chryst is only 18 games into his Wisconsin career and he stands at an 14-4 record. In 2016, the most noticeable attribute for Chryst is the willingness to take a chance and stick with it. He will roll the dice on fourth down as noted by his six attempts on fourth down. Of those, five of them were in opponent’s territory with an average placement of the opponent’s 18 yard line for those five attempts.

Then there was switch at quarterback. With the offense struggling against Georgia State in the third game of the season, Chryst pulled Bart Houston in favor of freshman Alex Hornibrook. The move paid immediate dividends as the offense perked up versus Georgia State and he looked solid against Michigan State. Hornibrook struggled against Michigan as did the offense, which is part of larger struggles that will be touched on below. The running game is not up to par by Wisconsin’s standards, which does hurt his grade.

 Chryst also made the right choice to hire Justin Wilcox as defensive coordinator to replace Dave Aranda, who left for LSU. The defense has not missed much of a beat, if any, despite an injury to star linebacker Vince Biegel.

Grade: B+

Quarterbacks

As noted above, Bart Houston started the season at quarterback, but was removed during the second half against Georgia State. Alex Hornibrook came in to spark the offense and then played a solid game against Michigan State. He looked more like a freshman against Michigan, but that was a top tier defense he faced.

After watching these two play, it is clear the offense has been better under Hornibrook. Houston’s game against Georgia State was poor, but it was also a perfect mix of things he cannot control coming together: Corey Clement did not play while Taiwan Deal and Troy Fumagalli both were injured during that game. In addition, there is still the chance Houston could come back in if Hornibrook struggles.

No matter what happens at quarterback, both have to play better. They will need to be smarter with their passes, not forcing passes, and not getting frustrated. That will come with in-game reps so improvement will be something to look for in the final half of the season. The quarterback position has also been hurt by the poor running game the Badgers have displayed. A good running game can open up the passing lanes.

Grade: C-

Running Backs

Corey Clement was looking to have a big 2016 season after an injury ravaged 2015 campaign.  His first two games were really good against LSU (21 carries for 86 yards and a touchdown) and Akron (21 for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns). It was against Akron that he injured his ankle late in the first half and subsequently missed the Georgia State contest. Against the Michigans, Clement amassed 40 carries for 122 yards and 2 touchdowns (both against Michigan State). It is hard to know exactly how much that ankle injury affected Clement against the Spartans and Wolverines, but his year has been above average.

Behind Clement are the duo of Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal. Ogunbowale has been the better of the two both visually on the field and on the stat sheet with 44 carries for 185 yards and a touchdown (also has a receiving touchdown). Deal has been hampered by injuries and only played in the opening three games (20 carries for 94 yards).

The surprise of this year has been freshman Bradrick Shaw despite playing in only two games. Shaw played in garbage time against Akron, but was impressive with 9 carries for 74 yards and a touchdown. He played a bigger role against Georgia State due to the injuries, but fumbled on the goal line in the first half. He finished with 62 yards on 15 carries in that game. He could be a force in the future if the injuries continue and if he avoids injuries of his own.

The running game has affected for several reasons: injuries, quarterback play, and opposing defenses. The injuries were documented above, but are not limited to just the running backs as they offensive line has been shuffled around as well. While the quarterback play has not been the best that may have to do with opposing defenses keying on stopping the run and putting the game in hands of Houston and Hornibrook. Despite that, the running back group has been decent.

Grade: B

Wide Receivers

This group was not expected to set the College Football world on fire this year with a new quarterback and some losses of their own to handle. The receivers have shown potential this year and some flashes of being a good group. Jazz Peavy has made some good plays (see an example below) and is the leading receiver with 17 catches for 281 yards and two scores. He also gets in on the rushing game with the sweep to the tune of 54 yards on only 4 carries.

Robert Wheelwright has 18 catches for 274 yards while Troy Fumagalli has 16 catches for 181 yards. Both of them have been vital to Houston and Hornibrook as they transitioned at the quarterback position. It has been mainly those three leading the receiving group, but George Rushing (8 catches for 82 yards) has also seen a lot of action.

The development of receivers outside of those four will be important as there are not a lot of other proven options. Tight end Kyle Penniston (3 catches for 35 yards and a touchdown) and fullback Alec Ingold (4 catches for 21 yards and a touchdown) have made the most of their very limited action. If the injury bug strikes, that could wreak havoc on this group.

Grade: B-

Offensive Line

The offensive line was expected to be better this year, but that has not been the case. Injuries have caused some shuffling to happen along with breaking in new quarterbacks. The Badgers are known for their run game, but it has not been that great since Chryst took over. Wisconsin averaged 3.8 yards per carry in 2015 and through five games this year have also averaged 3.8 yards per carry.

The five games in 2016 have produced the following yards per carry averages: 3.2, 5.3, 3.8, 3.0, and 2.5. The lowest total in the previous 6 years before Chryst (2009 through 2014) was 4.6 so there is still plenty of upside.

The pass blocking has been decent this year giving up 8 sacks. That does not tell the whole tale because there have been times when the Houston and Hornibrook have loads of time to find the best pass or open man. Overall, this is a work in progress like the rest of the offense.

Grade: C+

Overall Offensive Grade

The offense has been subpar this year even when taking in all the factors. The quarterbacks are inexperienced, but have the potential to be solid. The running backs have been banged up, the receivers have been okay, and the offensive line has not been very Badger-like in the run game.

Grade: C+

Defensive Line/Linebackers

No need to sugarcoat this because the front seven has been great. They give up only 12.2 points per game and just 90.4 yards rushing per game to the opponent. 2015 finished with averages of 13.7 points per game and 95 yards rushing allowed per game.

The defense has recorded 15 sacks so far with T.J. Watt leading the team at 5.5 (29 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss) and Alec James has three. Jack Cichy has been a beast at linebacker (35 tackles and 3.5 tackles-for-loss) along with Vince Biegel, who is currently injured. T.J. Edwards has been huge in the last three games with 26 tackles over those contests.

The front seven has easily been the strength for the Badgers in 2016. The only worry is on the injury front especially if it starts happening to more big time players like Biegel.

Grade: A+

Defensive Backs

The secondary was considered the weak link of the defense coming into the season and there have been some issues. Their worst outing was against Georgia State when slants and in routes were torching the Badger secondary. The team improved against Michigan State and also against Michigan on those kinds of plays.

The secondary is giving up 201 yards per game, which is worse than 2015 when they gave up 173 yards per game. Since the front seven is doing so well against the run, teams have little choice but to pass. In addition, when the Badgers’ opponents are trailing, they are going to pass more to get back in the game, which will also hurt the pass defense numbers.

Derrick Tindal leads the team with 3 interceptions and is also tied for the lead in pass breakups. He is tied with Sojourn Shelton who has been very good at his cornerback spot this year. Leo Musso (23 tackles and an interception) has come up with some big plays this year as well at safety (see the fumble return for a touchdown against Michigan State). The back four has not been without injury as Natrell Jamerson was injured with Lubern Figaro filling in. Also, Tindal had a recent surgery and while he is not expected to miss time, any injury or surgery is a concern.

Grade: A-

Overall Defensive Grade

The defense has been the strength of the team and they have helped the Badgers reach their 4-1 record. They will be the key the rest of the way as well and they deserve any accolades they get through five games.

Grade: A

Special Teams Grade

The Badgers lost kicker Rafael Gaglianone to a back injury and that hurts them. He is a reliable kicker (10 for 10 on extra points and 7 for 8 on field goals with a long of 48 yards). He will be replaced by Andrew Endicott, who was shaky against Michigan State with a missed extra point, but hit his other three kicks (1 field goal and three extra points). This will be worth watching for the final part of the season.

The punting game is still unsettled as both Anthony Lotti (37.5 average) and P.J. Rosowski (38.8 average) have seen action at that position. They will need to improve for the Badgers.

The return game has been held in check with no touchdowns and limited return yardage. Jazz Peavy has 7 punt returns for an average of 5.7 yards per return while the kickoff return is led by Dare Ogunbowale (22 yard average on 6 kick returns).  This group will have to improve as well, but they have the playmakers to make this unit dangerous.

Grade: B

Overall Team Grade

Prior to the start of the season, Wisconsin faced a daunting schedule with LSU and then again at the beginning of the Big Ten slate. That did not change as the season went from week to week. LSU was a tough out, but the Badgers won. The same goes for Michigan State, but the Badgers won more convincingly. Then came the Michigan game when the Badgers lost by a touchdown to a Michigan team that had dominated them in every facet, but the score.

To start 4-1 is considered a very good based on what what expected of their opponents at the start of the season. That still has not changed even if LSU fired their coach and Michigan State has not been their best. The tough part is still not over as the Badgers as they face Ohio State, Iowa, and Nebraska to close out October.

The defense has been very good this year allowing 12.2 points per game and helping the offense gain some momentum. The offense has not been in peak form with something always seeming to need work from week to week.  However, the overall team performance has been impressive.

Grade: B+

Wisconsin Schedule

Below is the schedule for the Badgers for the rest of the year as well as the results of the first five games.

Week 1 (9/3) – Defeated #5 LSU 16-14 (Green Bay)

Week 2 (9/10) – Defeated Akron 54-10 (Home)

Week 3 (9/17) – Defeated Georgia State 23-17 (Home)

Week 4 (9/24) – Defeated Michigan State 30-6 (Away)

Week 5 (10/1) – Lost to Michigan 14-7 (Away)

Week 6 (10/8) – Bye

Week 7 (10/15) – Ohio State (Home)

Week 8 (10/22) – Iowa (Away)

Week 9 (10/29) – Nebraska (Home)

Week 10 (11/5) – Northwestern (Away)

Week 11 (11/12) – Illinois (Home)

Week 12 (11/19) – Purdue (Away)

Week 13 (11/26) – Minnesota (Home)

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