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Badger Thoughts 2017: Game 1 Win Versus Utah State

The Wisconsin Badgers visited the end zone frequently in the second half against Utah State. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images North America)

Badger Thoughts 2017: Game 1 Win     Versus Utah State

The Wisconsin Badgers opened the season with an emphatic 59-10 victory over Utah State. While it was not very attractive in the first half, the ninth ranked Badgers cruised to an easy win with a suffocating second half performance. Below are some thoughts, and observations noticed in the Friday night win.

1. The offense starts slow – If you happened to read this column in 2016, one of the constant worries was the offense starting slow. Well, 2017 started no different as the offense needed nearly 2 full quarters to even get points on the board. There were fumbles, drops, penalties, sacks, and mistakes that are not typical of Wisconsin. That begs several questions:

Was this performance just first game jitters? Did the Friday night lights play a role? Is the offense too predictable in the early stage of games?

We are leaning to the fact it was the first game where timing can be an a bit off. It is unwise to make a conclusion based on a single game, but this is worth keeping an eye on to see if this trend becomes a mainstay as it did in 2016.

2. Jonathan Taylor has a breakout game – He is only a freshman, but a good one at that if this game was any indication. Taylor showed speed and the ability to keep the legs churning. He finished with 87 yards on 9 carries and a touchdown.

It was an impressive showing and it never hurts to be running behind an offensive line that the Badgers typically employ. Continue to watch the progression of Taylor as he splits carries with Bradrick Shaw (84 yards and 1 TD on 18 carries) and Chris James (5 carries for 16 yards).

3. Scoring production was evenly spread out – The Badgers had 8 touchdowns against the Aggies. And 8 different players scored a touchdown. How about that for spreading the production around? Shaw, Taylor, Garrett Groshek, and Austin Ramesh provided the rushing scores. Troy Fumagalli, Quintez Cephus, and Zander Neuville had receiving scores as Alex Hornibrook had a highly efficient passing game going 15 for 23 with 244 yards and the 3 touchdown passes.

The penultimate score was probably the most fitting. Joe Ferguson, grandson of current Wisconsin Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, returned an interception 99 yards for a touchdown.

4. The defense rose to the occasion – Utah State had a strong start with 88 yards on offense and a 10-0 through one quarter. After that, the Badgers defense imposed their will. While many will point to the ejection of Utah State’s Jalen Davis as the turning point, this defense was hitting their stride about the same time and it is usually devastating for opponents when that happens.

While the Badgers gave up 304 yards (219 passing and 85 rushing), nearly half of those came on the final three Utah State drives when the game was no longer in doubt. The Badgers forced 4 turnovers including interceptions on back-to-back Utah State drives to end the first half and start the second half. That led to a tie game at halftime and then a two touchdown lead early in the third.

The most noticeable part of the defense was their hunger to keep the Aggies to only 10 points. They stopped the Aggies once on downs in the third quarter, then they had the pick six midway through the fourth quarter, and finally ended the game with a pass breakup in the end zone.

This Badgers defense, despite the loss of Jack Cichy for the season, looks just as good as the defenses of the previous few seasons. Keep in mind that the Badgers are on their third defensive coordinator (Jim Leonhard) in as many seasons.

Wisconsin will play at home next Saturday against Florida Atlantic. The game is scheduled for 12 PM Eastern Time on the Big Ten Network.

Thoughts On Wisconsin’s Win Over Rival Minnesota

Corey Clement had two fourth quarter touchdowns to help propel the Wisconsin Badgers to a 31-17 win over rival Minnesota. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images North America)
Corey Clement had two fourth quarter touchdowns to help propel the Wisconsin Badgers to a 31-17 win over rival Minnesota. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images North America)

Thoughts On Wisconsin’s Win Over Rival Minnesota

The Wisconsin Badgers needed a huge second half rally to defeat their rivals Minnesota 31-17. The Badgers came into the game knowing they had already clinched the Big Ten West with Nebraska’s loss against Iowa on Friday. The win keeps Paul Bunyan’s Axe in Madison for the 13th straight year and was the 20th win in the last 22 meetings between the teams. The series is now tied at 59-59-8.

There were some good things from the Badgers (second half) and some bad things (first half). We will look at both the good and bad below.

1. Tale of two halves – The first half was terrible for the Badgers. Minnesota ran roughshod over Wisconsin’s defense while Mitch Leidner was able to do whatever he pleased. The offense was moved the ball during the first 30 minutes, but were plagued by drops. Jazz Peavy, Robert Wheelwright, Troy Fumagalli, and George Rushing all had pissed hit off their hands and fall incomplete. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook was knocked out of the game late in the second quarter after a big hit on the sideline The special teams even got in the act by giving up a big return that led to a touchdown. It seemed like the Badgers were letting their Playoff hopes disappear, but they trailed just 17-7 at the break.


Then came the second half that put the Badgers back on track. The defense had four interceptions (with three of those leading to short fields for the offense), Corey Clement had 2 rushing touchdowns, the team looked way better, and Andrew Endicott even made a field goal (albeit barely inside the upright). They responded to their deficit with incredible resolve.

For the game, Minnesota had 286 yards on offense (158 passing and 128 rushing). The Gophers went 3 of 14 on third down, had those 4 turnovers, and finished with 3.4 yards per carry.

2. The defense showed issues in the pass game – This sounds ironic considering the defense had 4 interceptions and the fact Mitch Leidner had only 9 completions. However, there were some problems especially in the first half.

The secondary had issues against Purdue last week with receivers getting behind them. Well, that was an issue again this week in the first half. Luckily for the Badgers, the passes were dropped including one in the end zone by Drew Wolitarsky. The Gophers had 226 yards of offense in the first half with 115 of those coming in the air. Yes, the Badgers made the necessary adjustments, but they will be facing a more potent passing attack in Penn State next week that averages 251 yards per game passing.

Another first half performance like that from the Badgers and they may not be so lucky to be down just 10 at halftime.

3. Alex Hornibrook’s healthAlex Hornibrook took a big hit on the sideline late in the first half and his head hit the ground hard, which led to him going back to the locker room. He did not return after that and now the most important question is will he miss any more time and if so, how much? Hornibrook’s health comes first and foremost and Bart Houston can lead the offense if Hornibrook has to miss the Big Ten Championship.

It is hard to gauge the impact of Hornibrook missing time. The offense is run based and has been on a tear the last seven games averaging 230 yards per game on the ground. Both quarterbacks have been effective when they played. The downside to missing Hornibrook is Penn State potentially has to only focus on one quarterback instead of two.

4. Different ways to get the run game going – It goes without saying that the run game is key for Wisconsin. The Badgers are finding different ways to help the rushing attack. Last week it was screens (technically a pass, but it is really an extension of the run game) to Dare Ogunbowale, but those were not seen very much against Minnesota. Instead, it was end-arounds for Jazz Peavy (3 rushes for 83 yards) including a 71 yard run that set up Clement for his second touchdown. Peavy has been extremely effective (and efficient) this season in the run game with 180 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries (12.9 yards per carry average).

What will it be next week? Straight power runs from Corey Clement? Bradrick Shaw with his speed and power? More fullback dives from Alec Ingold and Austin Ramesh? Will it be back to the screen game with Ogunbowale? Or will Paul Chryst just keep going back to the well with Peavy on the end around? It may end up being a full combination of all those and then some.

The Badgers (10-2 overall and 7-2 in the Big Ten) will play next week in the Big Ten Championship game against Penn State. This will be the fourth time since the inception of the Big Ten’s Championship game that the Badgers will be in it. They previously defeated Michigan State 42-39 in 2011 and Nebraska 70-31 in 2012. They lost 59-0 to Ohio State in 2014. The game will be played at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana with a kickoff of 8 PM Eastern time.

Below are previous columns providing thoughts on each Wisconsin game this season.

Wisconsin versus LSU

Wisconsin versus Akron

Wisconsin versus Georgia State

Wisconsin versus Michigan State

Wisconsin versus Michigan

Wisconsin versus Ohio State

Wisconsin versus Iowa

Wisconsin versus Nebraska

Wisconsin versus Northwestern

Wisconsin versus Illinois

Wisconsin versus Purdue