Badger Thoughts 2017: Game Two Victory Versus Florida Atlantic
The Wisconsin Badgers have opened the season 2-0 after a 31-14 win over Florida Atlantic on Saturday afternoon. Like the opening game versus Utah State, there were bright spots and some concerns. We provide our notes and takes on both this game and the 2017 season.
1. Jonathan Taylor makes his case to be starter going forward – Taylor got the start against FAU after an injury sidelined Bradrick Shaw and Taylor showed the coaches the decision was an excellent one. Taylor showed both his power and speed on his two first half touchdown runs.
Taylor finished the game rushing for 223 yards and 3 touchdowns on 26 carries. His backup, Chris James, also showed some good rushes after a tepid first game. James finished with 101 yards on 16 carries and the Badgers averaged 6.6 yards per carry. There are plenty of positive things to say about Taylor and his touchdown runs have been great to watch over and over again.
Jonathan Taylor is 4th #Badgers true freshman to rush for 200 yds, joining Ameche (’51), Dayne (’96, 5 times) & Z. Brown (’07)#OnWisconsin
Taylor is just a freshman, which is great for the Badgers if he continues at this pace. However, solid production from a healthy Shaw and James will be key to keep Taylor fresh at the end of the season.
The first two games were against Utah State and Florida Atlantic, teams the Badgers should dominate and look good against. The competition the rest of the season will be much stronger.
Injuries and poor quarterback play could make it an uphill battle for the entire rushing attack. Taylor lost a fumble as well in the third quarter, which, at this point, appears to be more of the exception.
Based on what we have seen in two games, Taylor should be the starter at running back with Shaw and James getting plenty of touches as well. It is a long season and three different options behind the offensive line will help the entire offense.
2. Alex Hornibrook struggled to see the field – It was clear that Alex Hornibrook was not having a good day. The timing was not there as he constantly threw behind his receivers and then there was the horrendous interception. On that particular play, he was going backwards with a defender in his face and he forced a throw without even seeing the defender that made the interception. It was a throw that should not have happened and it led to a touchdown for FAU.
Late the second quarter, Hornibrook threw another pass on an out route to the sideline that was woefully short and nearly picked. Luckily for him, it was dropped, but another example of his timing and arm strength being not good enough.
Overall, Hornibrook has to get better if he wants to stay the starter. The timing, precision, arm strength, and general awareness all are a concern though he is just a sophomore. There is time for improvement, but how long does he have before Jack Coan is called on for a bigger role?
3. The secondary gets torched – Florida Atlantic had 142 yards passing, yet it felt like it was far more. FAU’s DeAndre McNeal had catches of 35 and 63 yards with the latter going for a touchdown. There was also another 35 yard pass play to McNeal in the third quarter following Taylor’s fumble, but that was negated due to a holding.
Given the memories of 2016 when Penn State moved up and down the field on the Badgers at will in the Big 10 Championship, it is worth watching this unit to see how they respond going forward.
4. Injury concerns are mounting – The defense was already short due to the losses of Jack Cichy and Zack Baun for the season. During practice on Wednesday, Chikwe Obasih suffered a knee injury that will keep him out for a few weeks.
Now, the offense has some injury worries with Shaw ruled out and then right guard BeauBenzschawel left the game in second quarter and did not return. There is currently no news on the severity of the injury, but the loss of a starter on the line does not bode well.
Was told #Badgers Benzschawel lobbied to stay in. Staff told him to call it a day.
5. The overall performance felt mediocre – The Badgers dominated this game on offense with 564 yards compared to 248 yards for FAU. They had just one penalty and held the ball for over 38 minutes. However, it was an inefficient game.
The Badgers turned the ball over twice, were stopped three times inside the two yard line early in the second quarter, several passes were dropped, and even Rafael Gaglianone missed a 37 yard field goal. The first half against Utah State and most of this game was nothing like the Badgers we expected to see in 2017. The entire team will have to improve quickly because the non-conference schedule ends next week with a road trip to BYU.
Next week’s game at BYU will be at 3:30 PM Eastern Time and can be seen on ESPN. The Badgers will have a bye the following week before starting Big 10 play against Northwestern at home on September 30.
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.
What a cool moment for Joe Ferguson, former walk-on/redshirt senior/Barry Alvarez’s grandson.
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.
Wisconsin Badgers 2016-17 Football Season Report Card
The Wisconsin Badgers have finished the 2016-17 season with a 24-16 win over the Western Michigan Broncos to end at 11-3 overall. It was another double digit win season for the Badgers as 2016 marked the sixth time in the last 8 years they have won at least 10 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. For a measuring stick, here is the midseason report card and we will include the midseason grade for each unit below. Let’s start with a quick glance at the results of each game for the Badgers.
2016 was not an easy year for Paul Chryst in his second season. He had to juggle two quarterbacks, a new defensive coordinator, and what looked like a daunting schedule. Looking at the entire season, he did well switching between Bart Houston (began the season as the starter) and Alex Hornibrook.
The hire of Justin Wilcox as the defensive coordinator already looks like a steal. The Badgers allowed 13.7 points per game in 2015 and saw that increase only marginally to 15.6. The yardage allowed per game do go up from from 268.5 in 2015 to 301.4 yards per game. Still, the defense played well this year, but Wilcox has departed for the California Golden Bears’ head coaching vacancy. The Badgers will have their third defensive coordinator in three years for the 2017 season.
The schedule before the season looked imposing. They had LSU, Michigan State (away), Michigan (away), Ohio State, Nebraska, and the potential for a Big 10 Championship Game. The Badgers ended up facing 7 teams that were ranked in the top 15 at the time of the game for the 2016-17 and went 4-3 in those games. Granted, some of those teams were far from being top 25 material by season’s end, but the Badgers navigated the season well under Chryst.
Final Grade: B+
Midseason Grade: C-
Bart Houston began the season as starter, but was replaced in the Georgia State contest by Hornibrook. After that game, the duo split time behind center though Hornibrook was injured versus Minnesota and subsequently missed the Big 10 Championship game. Many pundits lament the two quarterback system, but these two actually worked pretty well though they were far from game changers.
We noted that on the midseason report card that Hornibrook had looked like the better of the two quarterbacks after five games. By the end of the season it was far more even as Houston gained confidence and was more efficient. Houston finished the year with 1,245 yards (68.1%) with 5 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. After being benched versus Georgia State and not playing the next three games, Houston threw 70 passes and completing 52 of those (74%) for 718 yards with 3 touchdowns and 1 pick.
Hornibrook finished the season with 1,262 yards (58.6%) with 9 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. In the Badgers’ final eight games, he went 52 of 85 (61%) with 4 touchdowns against 1 interception (remember he missed the Big 10 Championship). He has some things to work on like his reads, throwing the ball into coverage, etc., but he has a bright future as long as he continues to improve.
Final Grade: C+
Midseason Grade: B
It is not hard to see how the running game changed over the Badgers’ season. Over the first five games Wisconsin averaged 161.6 yards per game on the ground. In the final 9 games the Badgers averaged 226.1 yards rushing per game. Corey Clement easily led the team in rushing with 1,375 yards (4.4 yards per carry) with 15 touchdowns. In addition, the final 9 games saw Clement have at least 100 yard performances 7 times.
Dare Ogunbowale had a few big games against Nebraska (120 yards and a touchdown) and Illinois (103 yards) to finish with 506 yards (5.6 YPC) and five touchdowns. He also played a big role in the passing game with 24 catches for 208 yards and a touchdown, but it felt like he was a go to receiver on third down for much of the year.
Both Clement and Ogunbowale are seniors, which means that freshman Bradrick Shaw could feature prominently in the future. He had 457 yards and 5 touchdowns on 88 carries (5.2 YPC). He did have some fumble issues, but his strength, power, and quickness could make for a scary sight in the next few seasons. He could be in a backfield with Taiwan Deal (164 yards rushing) and Pittsburgh transfer Chris James (690 yards rushing in two seasons) in 2017.
Wide receiver Jazz Peavy had a big impact in the rushing game as well. He was used almost exclusively on the end around to finish the season with 318 yards rushing and a touchdown on just 21 carries (15.1 YPC). He came up big throughout the season when called upon and he could see a familiar role in 2017.
Final Grade: A-
Midseason Grade: B-
As with any run-heavy Badger offense, the wide receivers are not likely to put up big numbers. There were some stars that emerged in Jazz Peavy and Troy Fumagalli. Peavy finished as the leading receiver with 43 catches for 635 yards and 5 touchdowns (along with the aforementioned rushing impact). Fumagalli had 47 catches for 580 yards and 2 touchdowns, but bookended his season with very good performances against LSU (7 catches for 100 yards) and Western Michigan (6 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown). Both players are juniors and if either of them leave for the NFL, that would create a big void in the passing attack.
Ogunbowale was instrumental in the passing game, but he will move on as a senior. Robert Wheelwright caught 34 passes for 448 yards and 1 touchdown, but is a senior. George Rushing had just 12 catches for 136 yards and was spotty throughout the season. With more consistency he could be a possible #2 opposite of Peavy, but he has a ways to go to fill that void.
Three freshmen who saw some playing time in 2016 and worth keeping an eye on in their development were Kyle Penniston (6 catches for 102 yards and 2 touchdowns), Quintez Cephus (135 total offensive yards), and A.J. Taylor (72 total offensive yards).
Final Grade: B-
Midseason Grade: C+
The offensive line had a slow start this season. Injuries and new quarterbacks hurt them. It took until after the Michigan game for the line to assert itself. The first five games saw the Badgers average just 3.8 yards per carry while that number shot up to 4.6 yards per carry over the final nine games. For the season, the Badgers averaged 4.3 yards per carry, which was better than 2015’s number of 3.8, but still less than the lowest output between 2009 and 2014 of 4.6. Tackle Ryan Ramczyk was named as a first team All-American. Ramczyk will move on to the NFL creating a massive void to refill.
The offensive line had allowed 8 sacks in the first five games, but gave up another 16 the final 9 games to make it 24 on the season. To be fair, the sacks are not always the fault of the line and both Houston and Hornibrook had a tendency to hold on to the ball too long from time to time. In 2015, the Badgers allowed 23 sacks. The offensive line did make good progress over the course of the season particularly in the running game.
Final Grade: B
Overall Offensive Grade
Midseason Grade: C+
There was a clear change in the offense between the Michigan and Ohio State games. It is worth mentioning that between those games was the Wisconsin bye week, which probably allowed them to re-focus the offense. The running game came alive after the bye week while Houston looked more efficient. The Badgers averaged 28.4 points, 382.1 yards, 203.1 rushing yards, and 179.1 passing yards per game. The total yardage was similar to 2015 (378.6 per game), but the emphasis was more on the run (150.3 yards rushing per game), which was not surprising given a new quarterback.
The offense will need to work on being far more efficient in the red zone. They had 58 red zone trips and converted 49 of those into points (84.4%), which ranked 63rd in the country. However, only 37 of those trips resulted in a touchdown (63.8%). This is a big area of improvement for the Badgers in 2017.
Final Grade: B
Midseason Grade: A+
The linebackers had a great year in 2016 led by the T.J. duo. T.J. Watt led the team in sacks (11.5) and tackles-for-loss (15.5). His partner T.J. Edwards led the team in total tackles with 89 while also recording 3 sacks and 8.5 tackles-for-loss. Jack Cichy was on his way to a stellar year after 7 games before a torn pectoral ruled him out the rest of the season. Cichy recorded 60 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 7.5 tackles-for-loss. Ryan Connelly (59 tackles and 7 TFL), GarretDooley (40 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 6.5 TFL), and VinceBiegel (44 tackles, 4 sacks, and 6 TFL) were big contributors to an incredible linebacker group.
Only Biegel is a senior though Watt (a second team All-American) or Edwards could bolt for the NFL after stellar campaigns. Chris Orr will also return after missing 2016 with a torn ACL.
Defensive ends Connor Sheehy and Alec James, both juniors, had similar seasons on the stat line. Sheehy had 27 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 4 tackles-for-loss while James finished with 23 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and 3.5 tackles-for-loss. Also returning on the defensive line are Chikwe Obasih (31 career starts along with 22 tackles in 2016), and Olive Sagapolu (14 tackles and 1 sack).
The possibility of everyone outside of Biegel returning is tantalizing, but the NFL is a loud call this time of year. Still, the front seven should be a deep and talented group for the Badgers next season.
Final Grade: A+
Midseason Grade: A-
One clear area of regression as the season went on was in the secondary. Perhaps the Georgia State game was a sign of things to come for the final few games, particularly the Big 10 Championship. The Panthers were able to put up 269 yards through the air that day and a few other teams had some success as well. Northwestern threw for 277 (they played from behind the whole game), Purdue had going deep, and then Penn State gashed the back four with ease in the second half.
Sojourn Shelton had 4 picks and 12 pass breakups (most on the team) while Leo Musso recorded 74 tackles and 5 interceptions (led the team). Derrick Tindal had 3 picks and 11 pass breakups and Lubern Figaro finished with 7 pass breakups.
Tindall and Figaro will both be seniors in 2017 as will D’Cota Dixon (60 tackles and 4 interceptions) and Natrell Jamerson (mainly a return guy, but he did have 19 tackles and 4 pass breakups). Those four, along with others, will need to step up to replace Shelton and Musso. This group faltered down the stretch and in the pivotal second half of the Big 10 Championship Game versus Penn State. Look out to see if the secondary plays with a chip on their shoulder in the next year after how they finished the season.
Final Grade: B
Overall Defensive Grade
Midseason Grade: A
The defense did play very well for most of the season. The secondary had documented struggles, but they did play well for stretches of the season. The linebackers led the way for this side of the ball and there were some stars we hope return in 2017 to make this another top defense in the nation.
Final Grade: A-
Special Teams Grade
Midseason Grade: B
The loss of Rafael Gaglianone in late September really hurt then, but after seeing the season play out, that is even more evident now. Gaglianone went 7 of 8 on his field goals and was a perfect 10 for 10 on extra points. Andrew Endicott replaced him and from the start was uneasy. He finished the season 13 of 19 with a long of 46 yards. He made 35 of 37 extra points, but even a few of those were barely inside the uprights. Gaglianone will be back in 2017, which will be a boost to the kicking game.
The punting game left some room for improvement. Anthony Lotti averaged 37.7 yards per punt and put 25 punts inside the opponent’s 20 yard line, but he had a few games where he struggled (see the Michigan game). P.J. Rosowski averaged 36.7 yards per punt and also handled kickoff duties. He had 79 kickoffs with 51 touchbacks and just one kick go out of bounds. Lotti was only a freshman in 2016 so he will have a few seasons left as Badgers to get better.
Natrell Jamerson had 12 kick returns for an average of 21.1 yards per return while Dare Ogunbowale had 10 returns for an average of 21.3 yards per return. Jamerson had a long of 39 and Ogunbowale had a long of 41 and neither had a touchdown. Jazz Peavy returned punts for the Badgers and averaged a paltry 5.8 yards per return on 17 returns. The Badgers can afford to work on the return game going into the 2017 season.
Final Grade: C+
Overall Team Grade
Midseason Grade: B+
2016 was a very good year for the Wisconsin Badgers. Expectations were subdued with the loss of Joel Stave, Alex Erickson, MichaelCaputo, and Tanner McEvoy among others. A new starting quarterback turned into two new starters at that position and both players handled it well.
The running game got off to a slow start, but turned it on after the bye week. In turn, the quarterbacks performed more efficiently and the team was able to shake off back-to-back losses to Michigan and Ohio State to claim the Big 10 West. The defense had breakout stars in T.J. Watt and T.J. Edwards under new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox while Corey Clement remained healthy to have a solid season.
Overall, it is hard to argue with the results produced by the Badgers. Many (including this author) thought 10 wins were out of the question, but the Badgers did one better than that and won their first Cotton Bowl.
2017 Cotton Bowl Preview: Western Michigan Versus Wisconsin
The final game for the 2016-17 season’s of the Wisconsin Badgers and Western Michigan is near. Both teams had fantastic campaigns with the Badgers going 10-3 overall with the heart-breaking 38-31 loss in the Big 10 Championship.
Western Michigan had a magical season in which they went 13-0 and won the MAC Championship. They defeated two Big 10 opponents on the road in Northwestern 22-21 and Illinois 34-10. Wisconsin is a clear step up in competition, but the Broncos will not be apprehensive in this contest.
The Cotton Bowl will be played on Monday, January 2, 2017 at 1 PM Eastern Time and can be seen on ESPN. The game will take place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which is home of the Dallas Cowboys. Below is a preview of what we believe are the biggest keys to the game for both teams.
1. The Wisconsin Secondary – The Badgers’ secondary was constantly burned by Penn State in the Big 10 Championship game. However, that problem was evident prior to the Penn State tilt as noted against Georgia State, Purdue, and Minnesota. The Badgers have allowed 206.1 yards per game through the air and guys like Leo Musso, D’Cota Dixon, Derrick Tindal, Lubern Figaro, and Sojourn Shelton will need to improve.
Western Michigan is led by quarterback Zach Terrell, who is both accurate and limits his turnovers. He has thrown for 3,376 yards (70.8% completions) with 32 touchdowns against only 3 interceptions. His main target, and the main threat against the Badgers porous secondary, is Corey Davis. Davis has 1,427 yards and 18 touchdowns on 91 catches while the second leading receiver, Michael Henry, has a respectable 61 catches for 760 yards and 4 touchdowns.
If the Badgers have fixed their secondary leaks, hold Davis in check, and can force a turnover or two from Terrell, they will have a great chance at winning this game comfortably.
2. The Wisconsin attitude towards playing in the Cotton Bowl – The Badgers are coming off a tough loss in the Big 10 Championship game where they held a big 28-7 lead late in the second quarter only to see it slip away. How will the team react to that loss? They have had several weeks to recover from the sting of that game and this will be their first time playing in the Cotton Bowl.
Wisconsin has also had some slow starts this year such as against Georgia State, Purdue, and Minnesota. If they start slow against an opponent like Western Michigan, who will be hyped up to play this game, the Badgers may find themselves in a close battle throughout this game.
3. Western Michigan needs to stop the Badgers’ rushing attack – We have harped on the Badgers actual and potential deficiencies coming into this game, but they have a serious advantage in the rushing attack against the Broncos defense. The Badgers average 204.5 yards per game rushing this year and since their 71 yard rushing performance against Michigan, they have averaged 231.4 yards per game. In the final 8 games, only twice did they not eclipse 200 yards rushing as a team: against Iowa (167) and Northwestern (190). They won both of those games.
Between Corey Clement (1,304 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 4.5 yards per carry), Dare Ogunbowale (484 yards, 4 TDs, 5.6 YPC), Bradrick Shaw (457 yards, 5 TDs, 5.2 YPC), and Jazz Peavy (268 yards, 1 TD, 14.9 YPC), there are plenty of rushing options for Wisconsin.
The Broncos rush defense allows 151.2 yards per game and 4.7 yards per attempt. The Broncos front four averages 6 feet, 3 inches and 272 pounds and they are going against an offensive line that averages 6 feet, 6 inches and 314 pounds. The Badgers have a distinct advantage and just like the Big 10 Championship Game, they will probably emphasize the run game early and quite often.
4. The Red Zone – Wisconsin’s offense has struggled in the final 20 yards converting just 34 touchdowns in 53 opportunities (64%). Overall, they have come away with points 45 out of 53 trips (85%). Their defense employs a bend, but do not break mentality allowing just 15 touchdowns out of 35 chances (43%) and points 27 of 35 times (77%).
If Western Michigan is to win, they will need to score touchdowns instead of settling for field goals. Their offense has scored 47 touchdowns out of 65 trips (72%) and come away with points 62 out of 65 times (95%). The defense has allowed only 18 touchdowns on 30 red zone chances (60%) and allowed points on 26 of 30 trips (87%). A field goal battle will suit the Broncos better (see #6 below), but the Badgers offense will eventually wear down the defense.
5. Western Michigan will need to prep for both Quarterbacks – It appears that both Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houstonwill play in the Cotton Bowl. Hornibrook did not play against Penn State after he suffered a head injury against Minnesota in the November finale.
Neither quarterback is overwhelming for the Badgers. Hornibrook has thrown 8 touchdowns against 7 interceptions while completing just 58.1% of his passes (1,243 yards on the season). Houston has thrown 5 touchdowns against 3 interceptions with a completion percentage of 65.9 (1,086 yards passing this year). The Broncos best chance will be when these two are throwing the ball. Whether it is forcing an interception, a fumble, or sack, Western Michigan has to do something to create more possessions and limit the amount of time the Badgers have the ball on offense.
6. Special Teams could be pivotal – There are many ways that special teams could impact a game. It could be a blocked field, a missed field goal, punt yards, or even return yardage. For field goals, Wisconsin has to be worried because Andrew Endicott has been shaky. He has connected on only 12 of 18 kicks with a long of 52 yards. Western Michigan feels solid about Butch Hampton and his 18 of 23, but he has a long of 47 and one kick was blocked.
The Broncos use two punters with both averaging over 40 yards per boot. James Coleman has 25 punts with 15 fair catches and 9 inside the opponent’s 20 yard line. They have not had any punts blocked. The Badgers will rely on Anthony Lotti who averages 37.5 yards per punt with 12 fair catches and 24 inside the opponent’s 20 yard. Flipping the field will be important, especially if a drive stalls near midfield.
The Badgers return game is another part of the team that is not overwhelming. They average just 6.8 yards per punt return and 20 yards per kickoff return. Wisconsin will have to worry about DariusPhillips, who averages 12.3 yards per punt return and 22.7 yards per kickoff return. He has both a punt and kickoff return for a touchdown. The Badgers’ kickoff coverage has been good this year, but has had the occasional breakdown. A big part will be P.J. Rosowski who has 47 touchbacks on 74 kickoffs for Wisconsin.
Each team had a month to prepare for this game, which means plenty of things to practice that have been seen on film and off film. The Badgers will unleash their typical rushing attack and will have success against the Broncos. Western Michigan should have some success passing, but it will not be enough. We like the Badgers to win in their first Cotton Bowl appearance, 34-21.
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.
First Half Stats:
Total Yards: M 226, W 144
Rush Yards: M 115, W 46
Third Down: M 2 of 6, W 2 of 6
Turnovers: M 0, W 0
TOP: M 14:37, W 15:23
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 MitchLeidner 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 health – Alex 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.
Thoughts On Wisconsin’s Win Over The Purdue Boilermakers
On a chilly and blustery day in West Lafayette, Indiana the Wisconsin Badgers were able to crush Purdue 49-20 after a slow start to the game. There were a lot of good things for the Badgers, but there are also some things to work on. We will take a look at both the good and bad.
1. Badgers start very slow – Wisconsin was sluggish in the first quarter and there could be many reasons for it. Was it confidence against an overmatched opponent? The weather? The offense going into the wind to start the game? The early start for this road game? It was most likely a combination, but the offense (and T.J. Watt’s pick six) sparked the team to life in the second quarter. It should be noted that the offense was against the wind in the first quarter and played with it in the second quarter.
2. Pass defense was good and bad – There were times the defense was great against the pass and that was from linebackers T.J. Watt (see Tweet below) and T.J. Edwards. The bad was from the actual secondary when they were burned multiple times by DeAngelo Yancey including on a 75 yard touchdown late in the second quarter. Leo Musso made a nice interception at the end of the second quarter as the Badgers recorded three first half interceptions.
3. Both sides fed off each other – After the slow start, the offense got going in the second quarter with Dare Ogunbowale on screen passes. That led to a touchdown and the subsequent pick six by Watt. The Badgers offense scored another touchdown on their next drive and the defense got another deflected interception by Edwards. Both sides were trying to match one another in big plays and that led to 35 second quarter points. The defense has usually been the catalyst for the team in 2016, but this game showed the offense has the ability prop up the defense. That may be needed next week against Minnesota and potentially in the Big Ten Championship Game in two weeks.
4. Quarterbacks were quietly effective – There was little doubt the run game would be used extensively with the blustery weather, but both quarterbacks had solid games even though the stats are far from overwhelming. Bart Houston went 5 of 6 for 102 yards and a touchdown while Alex Hornibrook went 7 of 9 for 89 yards and a touchdown. Neither player played poorly and were smart with their throws. Having a very good run game and playing Purdue sure helped, but this could see their confidence increase going into the final two (or 3) games.
5. Unsung players get the glory – Fullback Alec Ingold had two touchdowns against Purdue with one on the ground and one through the air. Coming into the game he had only one touchdown. It was much deserved for a guy who does blocking for Corey Clement, Dare Ogunbowale, and Bradrick Shaw. Speaking of Shaw, he had 2 touchdown runs and he had acres of space on those as well. Shaw finished with 68 yards on 8 carries.
6. Rough start to each half for Special Teams – The trouble started on the opening kick for the Badgers as they fumbled the kickoff, but were able to recover. Later in the first quarter, Anthony Lotti had a wobbly and short 29 yard punt. These were probably caused by the very windy weather (especially in the face of the wind), but that is how games can be lost.
The second half began the similarly as the Badgers were called offside on the opening kick and then Jazz Peavy fumbled his first punt return of the third quarter and Purdue recovered. As both halves went on the Badgers were able to clean up the mistakes, but these are the type of mistakes that can cost the team a game.
The Badgers are now 9-2 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten. They will play Minnesota next week at home in the regular season finale. Their path to the Big Ten Championship is simple: beat Minnesota and they are in.
Below are previous columns providing thoughts on each Wisconsin game this season.
The Wisconsin Badgers had little trouble with the Illinois Fighting Illini crushing them 48-3. As one would expect, the team had a solid outing with both sides of the ball turning in strong performance on homecoming. We will take a look at the Badgers performance against Illinois with some thoughts below.
1. The offense was highly efficient – One of the big issues for the Badgers on offense this year was their inefficiency inside the red zone. In particular, they have struggled to score touchdowns converting just 18 of 33 red zone opportunities into touchdowns coming into the game. Against Illinois they were way above their season average of 54.5% going 4 for 5 in the first half alone (the other one was a made field goal).
For the game, the Badgers went 8 for 8 in the red zone with 6 touchdowns and 2 field goals. To be fair, Illinois was overmatched against the Badgers, but the offense has struggled to punch the ball in for scores this year and this should give them confidence. Let’s see how the offense does against another overmatched team in Purdue next week.
2. The defense was ballhawking – The Badgers defense forced four interceptions versus the Illini with all occurring in the first half. That was impressive considering the Illini had 3 interceptions for the entire season entering the game. 2 of the 4 interceptions were turned into touchdowns while another was converted into a field goal giving even more confidence to the team. Leo Musso had two interceptions (including one on an incredible kick tip from Sojourn Shelton with video of the play below) while Ryan Connelly and D’Cota Dixon had the other interceptions.
3. The defense was overwhelming – In addition to forcing four turnovers the Badgers defense was suffocating. They held Illinois to just 200 yards of total offense and did not allow a third down conversion (Illinois went 0 for 9). The Illini could not get anything going, which was not surprising given how excellent the Badgers are on defense. This game was over early in large part to the defense’s strong performance.
If we are being extremely picky, the Badgers secondary had a few instances where the Illini receivers got by them. That might be an area of concern against more talented teams.
4. The rushing attack continues to spur the offense – The Badgers were averaging 204 yards per game over the previous 4 contests coming into this game, as noted last week. Wisconsin finished the game with 363 yards on 64 carries for 5.7 yards per rush. The first 5 weeks of the season saw the Badgers put up 161.6 yards rushing per game while the last 5 games have seen an average of 235.8 rushing yards per game.
CoreyClement went for 123 yards and 3 touchdowns on 25 carries while Dare Ogunbowale had 103 yards on 7 carries. Bradrick Shaw saw quite a bit of playing time as the game was out of hand and finished with 80 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.
The passing game only produced 92 yards, but when the offensive line and running backs are producing nearly 6 yards a carry, there is zero reason to put the ball in the air. Reproducing this game against Purdue and Minnesota will put them in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Wisconsin has pushed their record to 8-2 overall and 5-2 in the Big Ten. The play on the road at Purdue next week and then at home against Minnesota in two weeks. If the Badgers win both games, they will play in the Big Ten Championship. Below are previous columns providing thoughts on each Wisconsin game this season.