Tag Archives: Dave Aranda

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)

Thoughts On Wisconsin’s Win Over The LSU Tigers

Rafael Gaglianone celebrated after Wisconsin's 16-14 win over LSU. His field goal late in the game proved to be the difference. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images North America)
Rafael Gaglianone celebrated after Wisconsin’s 16-14 win over LSU. His field goal late in the game proved to be the difference. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images North America)

Thoughts On Wisconsin’s Win Over The LSU Tigers

One of the big games during college football’s opening weekend was between the LSU Tigers and Wisconsin Badgers. The game was played at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin and it did not disappoint the near 80,000 fans in attendance. The Badgers won 16-14 over #5 ranked LSU thanks to a late field goal by Rafael Gaglianone with 3:47 left in the game.

The Badgers did some things well against LSU and there was also some things they must improve on. Below are some thoughts on what those things are.

1. A repeat of 2014 was avoided – It was not difficult to see this game unfold in much the same way the 2014 contest did. Two years ago, Wisconsin held a double digit lead early in the third quarter before seeing it evaporate. Then, it was a 24-7 lead after the Badgers scored on their first drive of the second half. In 2014, the Tigers won 28-24 after scoring the last 21 points and holding the Badgers to 65 yards in the fourth quarter.

This time around, Wisconsin led 13-0 after their first drive of the second half (again scoring a touchdown to start their final half) only to give up 14 points in the span of 67 seconds. The Badgers got it together and drove down the field late in the game to give them the chance to win, which Gaglianone did with a 47 yard field goal.

2. The offense needs to be more efficient – The Badgers dominated the first half on both offense and defense, but only came away with a 6-0 lead halfway through the game. Head coach Paul Chryst opted to go for it on fourth and one early in the game on the second drive, but the offense could not get the needed yard. Quarterback Bart Houston threw a pick straight to LSU’s Rickey Jefferson in the end zone to keep the game scoreless.

The second half saw Houston throw his second interception of the game and this one put points on the board for LSU as it was returned for a touchdown by Tre’Davious White. That interception was followed up by a fumble on the next drive for Wisconsin. Receiver George Rushing caught the ball, but did not secure it as he was hit. Once again, White was there for the recovery and all the momentum (along with the lead) shifted to LSU after their ensuing touchdown drive.

For the game, the offense was 3 of 15 on third downs, another area that must improve. The Badgers were officially 2 of 3 inside the red zone, but it felt worse than that with the missed fourth down just outside the red zone and the fact they settled for field goals.

3. The defense kept Leonard Fournette in check… For the most part – Fournette finished with 138 yards on 23 carries, but the first half was not pretty. He went for only 33 yards on 10 rushes in the first 30 minutes. Or this sums up Fournette’s first half:

Fournette did get going in the second half. He broke a 30 yard run on LSU’s second drive of the third quarter, a drive in which he ended up with 51 yards on 4 carries. He also had a big catch for 31 yards right after the George Rushing fumble that set up LSU’s second touchdown. It is very difficult to stop Fournette, but the Badgers did contain for much of the game.

4. Bart Houston has some work to do – This game presented a double-edged sword in regards to Houston. He played decently with two interceptions, both of which were terrible throws and should have never been thrown. However, he faced one of the game’s best defensive coordinators in Dave Aranda and survived. It is not easy to face your team’s former defensive coordinator all the while starting your first game since late 2011 when your were in high school.

In addition, this game was in Lambeau Field combined with the fact he is named after former Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr. Maybe it was a summation of all those things that led to some of his nervous moments.

There were some good moments too. Often he would take what the defense gave him and he found his personal safety valve in Troy Fumagalli (7 catches for 100 yards). It will be interesting to see how those two develop together over the season. Could they be reminiscent of the connect Joel Stave and Alex Erickson seemed to have the previous two seasons?

5. How does this game shape the rest of 2016? If the Badgers can take their first half defense against LSU and combine it with their opening third quarter drive, this team will be difficult in every game. But games are not played in a vacuum, mistakes happen, and there is daunting part of 2016 schedule for the Badgers.

The Badgers will open 3-0 as they face both Akron and Georgia State the next two weeks at home. Few schedules will rival what Wisconsin faces over a five week span: at Michigan State (9/24), at Michigan (10/1), home to Ohio State (10/15), and at Iowa (10/22). Oh and all of those teams are ranked in the top 20 as of this writing. Brutal.

Five Predictions For The Big 10 Conference In 2016

Mark Dantonio and Michigan State won the 2015 Big Ten Championship over Iowa by a score of 16-13. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America)
Mark Dantonio and Michigan State won the 2015 Big Ten Championship over Iowa by a score of 16-13. (Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America)

Five Predictions For The Big 10 Conference In 2016

The 2016 College Football season is less a week away as Hawaii and California kick off on next week in Sydney, Australia. Below are five predictions for Big Ten Conference for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful (or correct) by the end of the season.

There are no changes to the teams for the Big Ten Conference as the fourteen teams remain the same and are split into East and West Divisions. The seven teams in the East Division are Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State, and Rutgers. The seven teams in the West Division are Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Minnesota, Purdue, and Wisconsin.

The one change that will occur in 2016 is each team will now play nine conference games instead of eight and teams will no longer feature FCS opponents on their schedules going forward. There are plenty of FCS opponents on this year’s schedule in the opening weeks, however.

Here are five predictions for the Big Ten Conference in 2016:

1. Indiana will play in their second consecutive bowl game – The Hoosiers went 6-7 last year with a close loss in the highly entertaining Pinstripe Bowl against Duke 44-41. Now, Indiana will look to make back-to-back bowl games for the first time since the 1990 and 1991 seasons.

The offense has six starters back, but will lose both quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard. Howard was hobbled with injuries in 2015, which allowed Devine Redding to get some big reps (finished with 1,012 yards and 9 touchdowns). Redding is back as are the top three receivers in Simmie Cobbs (60 catches for 1,035 yards and 4 touchdowns), Ricky Jones (54 catches for 905 yards and 5 touchdowns), and Mitchell Paige (57 catches for 684 yards and 6 touchdowns). No matter who wins the quarterback battle, they will have plenty of options to go to.

The defense took a step back in 2015 when they allowed 37.6 points and 509 yards per game. That was worse than 2014 when they gave up 32.8 pints and 434 yards per game. There are seven starters back, including the top five tacklers in 2015, along with a new defensive coordinator in Tom Allen (from South Florida). The numbers in 2016 should look more like 2014 than 2015 and possibly better than 2014.

The schedule is favorable for Indiana to reach another bowl game. They open on the road against Florida International before back-to-back home games against Ball State and Wake Forest with a 3-0 record looking likely. They do have a daunting Big Ten schedule to start: Michigan State (home), Ohio State (road), Nebraska (home), and Northwestern (road). The back part is much easier with Maryland (home), Rutgers (away), Penn State (home), Michigan (away), and Purdue (home). Wins against Maryland, Rutgers, and Purdue would give them six wins. Indiana might need an upset along the way if they stumble, but they are capable of getting it.

2. Northwestern’s Justin Jackson will lead the conference in rushing – Justin Jackson deserves to be in the upper echelon of running backs in the nation, but he is rarely mentioned with the best. In 2015, he finished second in the conference with 1,418 yards rushing behind only Ezekiel Elliott who had 1,821 yards on the ground.

Consider this: Jackson alone averaged 109 yards per game in 2015 while the Northwestern passing attack average 139 per game. Jackson had little help with the passing attack, was the main focal point of the offense (and conversely the main focal point for the defense), and still ran for over 100 yards per game.

The passing attack should be better in Clayton Thorson’s second season. He lost some playmakers in the receiving corps (Christian Jones, Dan Vitale, Miles Shuler), but the numbers will be better as long as he has progressed. Jackson will face Western Michigan, Illinois State, and Duke in his first three games while playing Purdue, Minnesota, and Illinois in the final three games. Northwestern also faces Indiana in the middle of the season. As long as he stays healthy, Jackson should have a big year.

3. Wisconsin will not win 10 games – No prediction hurts more to make than this one. As a Wisconsin fan and someone who attended the school, it is always tough to make a prediction like this. But reality is too stark to ignore.

The Badgers lost defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, which is a huge loss. His defense never allowed more than 305 yards per game for a season, nor did they allow more than 21 points per contest over the course of a season. They get Justin Wilcox as a replacement from USC and he will have six starters to work with on defense. Wilcox is a solid guy as a DC, but he is not quite on the same level as Aranda.

The schedule is brutal for Wisconsin. They open with LSU (and face Aranda) in Green Bay before getting Akron and Georgia State at home. In Conference, they run a buzz saw from the start with Michigan State AND Michigan both at on the road. After a bye week they face Ohio State at home, Iowa on the road, Nebraska at home, and Northwestern on the road. They close out the season with Illinois (home), Purdue (away), and Minnesota (home). That is a demanding schedule to reach 10 wins, but I will still be hoping this prediction is wrong.

4. The winner of The Game will make the College Football Playoffs – This is a cop-out for having to pick the winner of the Michigan-Ohio State game. It is really tough to pick a winner of that game because it does look like a pretty even game (though Ohio State does have a slight edge being at home as well as having won four in a row and 11 of the last 12 games). It looks likely that whichever team wins the Michigan-Ohio State game will be in the College Football Playoffs.

This prediction looks solid but there are some hurdles that need to be cleared. First, Michigan State plays both Michigan and Ohio State at home this season. Ohio State also faces Oklahoma on the road September 17 as well as Wisconsin and Penn State on the road in back-to-back games in October (15 and 22). The next two games after PSU are Northwestern and Nebraska at home before they end with Michigan State (road) and Michigan (home).

Michigan has a schedule that sets them up well this year, but there are a few challenging games. Like OSU, they play Penn State and Wisconsin in back-to-back games, but both are at home. They do have some possible trap games as well. After Michigan State on the road (Oct. 29), they play Maryland at home (Nov. 5) and then face Iowa on the road (Nov. 12). In between Iowa and Ohio State (Nov. 26) they have Indiana at home (Nov. 19). The Wolverines should handily win those games against Maryland and Indiana, but they cannot take those games lightly given their next opponent.

Looking at Ohio State and Michigan, they are the two best teams in the Big Ten. Michigan State might have something to say about that and even if either the Buckeyes or Wolverines win the Big Ten East, they still have to take care of business in the Big Ten Championship Game, which has proven to be a tough hurdle in the past for teams in position to make the Playoffs or National Championship.

5. Iowa will be pushed to the brink by North Dakota State – If this game were held in the Fargodome, this would be a prediction for an outright NDSU win. But then again, Iowa would not be scheduling a road game against an FCS opponent and FCS opponents will be a thing of the past for Big Ten teams in the near future.

North Dakota State will be going to Iowa City on September 17 in Iowa’s third game of the year. It is sandwiched between Iowa State (home) and the Big Ten opener against Rutgers (away). North Dakota State is the five time FCS National Champion, but their record against FBS teams is outstanding. They are 8-3 overall and have won five in a row against Kansas (6-3 in 2010), Minnesota (37-24 in 2011), Colorado State (22-7 in 2012), Kansas State (24-21 in 2013), and Iowa State (34-14 in 2014).

NDSU has a well known blueprint to beating teams: a strong rushing attack and offense that eats up the time of possession and a very good defense. Iowa boasts a strong defense as well, which could lead to a defensive game. If North Dakota State can grind out long possessions, they can make this game way too close for comfort and possibly pull off the upset.

The Prediction Schedule

With the Big Ten predictions above, predictions have been made for every conference with the exception of the SEC. Those predictions will be made next Saturday, August 27. Below are links to each of the conference predictions completed.

July 17 – FBS Independents

July 17 – Sun Belt

July 23 – C-USA

July 24 – MAC

July 30 – American Athletic

July 31 – Mountain West

August 7 – Big 12

August 13 – Atlantic Coast

August 14 – Pac-12

August 20 – Big Ten

August 27 – SEC