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.
This year we will make a total of 25 predictions with five each week until August 23. The predictions will range from conference winners to team win totals or bowl games to individual player performances. We will start with the mid-major conferences (predictions 25-16) before ending with the predictions for the Power 5 conferences (predictions 15-1).
This is the fifth edition and we will finish predicting the Power 5 Conferences. Below is the schedule for the 25 predictions.
5. (SEC) A 2nd year head coach will win the SEC East – To be clear, this prediction is referring to a coach in his second year at his current school. Three coaches actually fall under this one with Kirby Smart at Georgia, Will Muschamp at South Carolina, and Barry Odom at Missouri. We mentioned Missouri in our last article (we really like their offense going into 2017) so our main focus will be on Georgia and South Carolina.
Georgia went 8-5 last year in Smart’s first season. This year he is armed with seven starters back on offense and 10 on defense. One would expect improvements on both sides of the ball, but more so on defense given Smart’s background. The Bulldogs gave up 24 points and 327 yards per game, which is respectable, but another step forward would make them an even tougher opponent. It is very difficult to see this group getting worse.
On offense, Georgia has Jacob Eason (2,430 yards with 16 touchdowns and 8 interceptions) back at quarterback. Also returning are Nick Chubb (1,130 yards and 8 TDs) and Sony Michel (840 yards and 4 TDs) to form a formidable backfield duo. The offense put up 24.5 points and 385 yards per game in 2016 and those numbers are likely to climb this season.
The key is the schedule and Georgia’s toughest games are versus Tennessee (away), Florida (in Jacksonville), South Carolina (home), and Auburn (away). Yes, three games are away from home, but this team can win all of those and claim the East.
South Carolina is interesting heading into 2017. Muschamp has been around the SEC a long time and his second season in charge at Florida resulted in his best result with the Gators. They went 11-2 overall and 7-1 in the SEC as Florida tied Georgia for the SEC East crown, but lost the head-to-head matchup to the Bulldogs. Things went downhill quickly for the Gators after that season, but one thing that remained was a very good defense.
Like Smart at Georgia, Muschamp has a strong defensive background. South Carolina allowed 26.5 points and 412 yards per game in his first season. Six starters return on that side of the ball and a step forward is expected from this unit.
On offense, the Gamecocks put up 20.8 points and 348 yards per game in 2016 with a quarterback carousel. 2017 sees 10 starters return including sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley (1,420 yards with 9 TDs and 4 interceptions after playing only 7 games). The top two running backs and top five receivers return, which should mean a vast improve in the performance of the offense. Of course, the big concern is if the offense does improve given some of the struggles Muschamp had at times in Gainesville.
South Carolina’s toughest SEC games are against Texas A&M (away), Arkansas (home), Tennessee (away), Georgia (away), and Florida (home). They too can win both games versus West opponents and a 2-1 split of the other games would go a long way to being the surprise in the East.
Both Georgia and South Carolina are set up for big moves in 2017 though Georgia looks a bit more ready to make the jump thanks to their offense. However, sometimes an excellent defense can carry a team, which may be what South Carolina needs in 2017.
4. (SEC) Auburn will win the SEC West – Let’s start by saying that Alabama is the team to beat in the West and entire SEC, but why make a prediction like that? We take a shot with the Auburn Tigers.
On offense, Auburn returns 8 starters though one of them will not be at quarterback. That will go to Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidhamwho won the starting role earlier this month. He will have the luxury of Kamryn Pettway (1,224 yards and 7 TDs) and Kerryon Johnson (895 yards and 11 TDs) to run the ball. The passing attack should improve on the numbers of the last two seasons of 169 yards per game in 2016 and 174 yards per game in 2015. Stidham give this offense a boost and makes them even more potent.
The defense returns 7 starters from a unit that allowed 17.1 points and 362 yards per game. The top three tacklers and six of the top seven tacklers return to lead the defense. Keep in mind that 2016 was only the first year under defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. In theory, the second season should be even better if the schemes are truly cemented into the players’ heads. Overall, this unit should allow similar numbers to the 2016 squad.
As usual in the SEC West, the schedule is tough with three straight road games at LSU, Arkansas, and Texas A&M. There is a bye between the Razorbacks and Aggies, but that is still a brutal stretch when you consider that Georgia comes to town after the game versus Texas A&M. The final game is the Iron Bowl against Alabama and that comes at home, which should help the Tigers. It will be difficult for Auburn to defeat Alabama as well as win the West, but the Tigers are more than capable of doing both.
3. (Big 10) Northwestern will win at least 9 games – 2017 will mark the 12th season of Pat Fitzgerald in charge at Northwestern. In that time he has posted three seasons of nine or more wins (two of those were 10 win seasons). This year’s squad is loaded to give the Wildcats a shot at one of their big 9+ win seasons.
The offense will rely heavily on Justin Jackson and rightfully so. Jackson has 4,129 yards rushing in his career, which is already second best in Northwestern history. A 1,500 yard season would put Jackson at #2 all time in the Big 10. Also returning with Jackson are 7 other starters including quarterback Clayton Thorson (3,182 yards with 22 TDs and 9 interceptions). Thorson has come a long way since his 2015 season when he struggled at times. He will be missing his top target from last year in Austin Carr (90 catches for 1,247 yards and 12 TDs). The one to watch out for in 2017 is Jalen Brown, a former Oregon Duck.
The defense also returns 8 starters and this group did well in 2016 as they allowed 22.2 points and 404 yards per game. The front four and secondary return seven of the eight starters, which makes for a weaker linebacking group. Good thing they have a head coach in Fitzgerald who knows a thing or two about that position. In 2015 when Northwestern had 8 starters back they allowed 18.6 points and 319 yards per game. An improvement to those numbers in 2017 would make this team very dangerous.
Northwestern opens with three games they should win: Nevada (home), Duke (away), and Bowling Green (home). After a bye week, the Cats face Wisconsin (away) and Penn State (home) to start Big 10 play. The rest of the Big 10 schedule could result in wins: Maryland (away), Iowa (home), Michigan State (home), Nebraska (away), Purdue (home), Minnesota (home), and Illinois (away). Nebraska is the toughest of those games especially away from home, but 9 or 10 wins is definitely realistic.
2. (Big 10) Michigan State will miss a second straight bowl game – Between 2013 and 2015, the Spartans won the Rose Bowl and played in two Cotton Bowls, winning one. Then 2016 happened when they slumped to 3-9 winning just one game in the Big 10. The defense allowed 27.8 points per game, the most under Mark Dantonio.
2017 sees four starters return on each side of the ball. Th offense loses quarterback Tyler O’Connor and top receiver RJ Shelton. LJ Scott does return after rushing for 994 yards and 6 TDs last year. Scott may burden a big load early in the season as new starters all over the field go through the learning curve. In 2016, the offense also had four returning starters and put up 24.1 points and 395 yards per game.
The defense has four starters back from a group that allowed 27.8 points and 365 yards per game. The biggest concern is the defensive line that allowed 159 yards rushing per game in 2016 and have just one returning starter after off the field issues saw two others dismissed. Similar numbers are expected, but with Dantonio the defense could surprise to the good side.
The schedule for the Spartans is filled with tough games. After a bye on September 16, they will face Notre Dame (home), Iowa (home), and Michigan (away) in three straight games. The end of October and beginning of November is another brutal stretch: Northwestern (away), Penn State (home), and Ohio State (away). The margin for error is small this year for Michigan State especially with the inexperience and off-season turmoil.
We will be honest, 2018 looks like it could be an exceptional season for Michigan State. Assuming that all the 2017 non-senior starters return, there would be 20 starters back in 2018 (10 on each side of the ball). That could be a team to watch next season.
1. (Big 10) The Big 10 will win the National Championship – There are three main contenders to win the Big 10: Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin. And as we saw in 2016, you do not need to win your conference to make the Playoffs.
Ohio State had just 6 starters back in 2016 yet went 11-2 and made the Playoffs. Now they have 15 starters back and once again are the Big 10 favorites with all the firepower returning on offense an defense. Ohio State has three tough games in 2017: Oklahoma at in week two, Penn State at home at the end of October, and at Michigan to end the regular season. Expect the Buckeyes to be favored in all their games in 2017 barring some serious trouble.
Penn State is another contender to win the Big 10 after their awesome 2016 season. They went 11-3 while winning the Big 10 and made numerous comebacks in the second half of games throughout the season. Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley make a dangerous backfield combination that is up there with any other backfield QB/RB duo in the country. Just imagine how good the Nittany Lions might be if they decide to not spot their opponents points in the first half.
Penn State has a brutal four game stretch over a five week span: Northwestern (away), Michigan (home), Ohio State (away), and Michigan State (away). The Spartans should not pose a serious threat, but given the game is after back-to-back games against the Wolverines and Buckeyes, there is the slight chance for a let down.
The third top contender is Wisconsin, who has an incredibly friendly Big 10 schedule. They do face BYU on the road September 16 before a bye week. The Big 10 schedules opens with Northwestern at home and Nebraska on the road. In November, they welcome both Iowa and Michigan to Madison while playing Minnesota in the finale. The Badgers have a good shot of going undefeated where they will probably meet up with either Ohio State or Penn State.
There are two dark horse contenders in Michigan and Northwestern. We discussed the Wildcats two predictions above and concede that they are a very long shot to even reach the Big 10 title game. Michigan will be in year three under Jim Harbaugh, but the losses are severe. Just four starters are back on offense and only one starter returns on defense. They have a brutal schedule of Florida (in Arlington, Texas), Penn State (away), Wisconsin (away), and Ohio State (home). The Wolverines are capable of getting to the Big 10 Championship and even the Playoffs, but it does not look likely in 2017.
It it tough to project the four teams in the College Football due to the multitude of matchup possibilities. Ohio State is probably the best of the trio mentioned above and loom as the Big 10’s best chance to win the National Championship. However, do not underestimate Penn State or Wisconsin from reaching the Playoffs where anything can happen.
That concludes our 25 predictions for the 2017 season, however, we will give one bonus prediction below.
Bonus: At least 10 FCS teams will defeat FBS teams – Does it seem like FCS teams upsetting FBS teams is happening more often? If so, that is because it is happening more often. Between 2004 and 2009, FCS teams averaged 4.3 wins per year against FBS teams with a high of 9 in 2007. Since 2010, that average has more than doubled to an average of 9.6 wins per season. 2013 saw the most FCS upsets with 16 and each of the last five seasons have produced at least 8 FCS wins against the FBS.
Here is a link to all the FCS versus FBS matchups in 2017. There are 98 matchups featuring FCS against FBS teams, which means roughly 10% of the games will require an upset for this prediction to be correct. With FCS teams becoming more and more competitive, it makes sense they would defeat FBS teams more often. Let’s hope that is the case in 2017 as well.
You have reached the end of our predictions. We hope you enjoyed reading them and hope you follow along to see how they turn out for the 2017 season. Enjoy the start of the 2017 season!
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.
1. The Badgers get off to a hot start – Just like against Penn State, Wisconsin was able to get off to a hot start on offense with two touchdowns on their first two drives and racking up 163 yards en route to a 14 point cushion. Corey Clement started with 5 carries for 42 yards and a score on the first drive while Dare Ogunbowale ended the second drive with the final 21 yards and the touchdown. The Badgers finished the first half with an average of 7.1 yards per carry (22 carries for 156 yards).
2. The Badgers cooled off… Again – Despite hot starts the past two games, the Badgers slowed down and allowed both Penn State and Western Michigan back into the game. The Broncos went on a 16 play and 65 yard drive to cut the deficit in half and then held the Badgers to a field goal the rest of the half. A slow start by the Badgers in the second half saw the Broncos keep it at 17-10, but the Badgers stuck with their offense and trusted their defense. The Badgers finished the game with 184 yards rushing, just 28 coming in the final 30 minutes.
3. Fumagalli impresses – Troy Fumagalli, a junior, was not perfect in the Cotton Bowl, but he was, without a doubt, the star of the game for the Badgers. Yes, he dropped a sure touchdown in the first half, but he more than made up for it with acrobatic catches and one handers. He even had a big third down catch in the final few minutes to help extinguish hope for the Broncos and end a possible comeback. Fumagalli finished with 6 catches for 83 yards and a touchdown. Below are a couple of his gems.
4. The defense does its job – Wisconsin’s defense played a good game. T.J. Watt started with two first quarter sacks and they held Western Michigan’s star receiver Corey Davis to 6 catches, 73 yards, and the incredible touchdown catch below.
The Badgers allowed 123 yards rushing on 31 carries for an average of 4 yards per carry. The Broncos never seemed in sync on offense and had 5 fumbles, but Western Michigan managed to recover all of them. The key late in the game was T.J. Edwards‘ interception at the WMU 12 yard line. That allowed the Badgers to pad their lead at 24-10.
5. The Seniors end on a high note – This senior class for the Wisconsin Badgers claimed the school’s first Cotton Bowl victory and also ended as the winningest class in Wisconsin history at 41.
Quarterback Bart Houston got the start and had a quietly effective game going 11 of 12 for 159 yards. Corey Clement had 71 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries while fellow senior running back Dare Ogunbowale had 5 carries for 22 yards and a score along with 2 catches for 28 yards.
The defensive seniors of Vince Biegel, Leo Musso, and SojournShelton helped lead a stingy defense this year. The impact of each of those players will be missed, but the Badgers are hopeful for the players behind them going forward.
The Badgers end the 2016-17 season at 11-3, which is their second 11 win season in the last three years. Wisconsin has now recorded 10 wins in six of the last eight seasons and have won three straight bowl games. Below are thoughts of each game the Badgers played in over the past season. There will be one a season long report card published in the next few weeks (midseason report card here).
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.
Thoughts On Wisconsin’s Loss In Big 10 Championship
The Wisconsin Badgers suffered a heartbreaking 38-31 loss to Penn State in the Big 10 Championship game. They held a 28-7 lead late in the second quarter, but a defensive secondary meltdown saw them lose that lead in a hurry. We look at the good from the Badgers as well as the bad against Penn State.
1. The secondary was terrible – There might not be an adjective strong enough to describe how terrible the defensive secondary was for the Badgers. Horrendous? Non-existent? Abysmal? Take your pick, but it was not pretty. They shoulder the lion’s share of blame for this loss. Deep pass equaled completion time after time in the second half for Penn State’s Trace McSorley (384 yards passing and 4 touchdowns).
Lubern Figaro missed on a tackle in the second quarter that was Saeed Blacknall waltz into the end zone. The corners were burned off the line scrimmage to get easy separation. It was ugly. However, this was not unexpected. It was mentioned here and here in the last two weeks and the Badgers also struggled against Georgia State’s passing attack early in the season. The highest passing total allowed this season coming into this game was 277 yards against Northwestern.
It was tough to watch, but now defensive backs coach Jim Leonhard has four weeks to fix it. And he might need every single one of those days depending on who the Badgers face in their bowl game.
2. Where will the Badgers land in the Bowl picture? – The Rose Bowl is out of the question now even if two Big Ten teams end up in the College Football Playoff. Bucky’s 5th Quarter has a great write up on where the Badgers may end up. One possible destination after this loss: Cotton Bowl against, presumably, Western Michigan. The Broncos are 2-0 against Big Ten teams in 2016 and they boast Corey Davis, one of the best receivers you may have never heard of. Did we say that the secondary needs some work?
3. The rushing attack was good, but not good enough – This sounds strange because they had 241 yards and 3 touchdowns in the game. The Badgers 115 yards rushing in 1st quarter (tied most in one quarter with the Akron game). Corey Clement had 7.8 yards per carry (had 164 yards and 1 touchdown on 21 carries), yet the Badgers still lost. The team averaged 4.9 yards per carry.
However, they failed to get a yard on 4th and one with a minute left to play. That is a play a Wisconsin offense, offensive line, and running back should make. It was a great start for the rushing attack, but it slowed down immensely in the final 3 quarters.
4. Penn State made adjustments, the Badgers did not – The Badgers were burned in the first half on passing, but it was overshadowed by the 28-7 lead they built. In the second half, the Nittany Lions kept throwing it deep, but the adjustment they made was giving McSorley time. The Badgers created havoc in the first half along the Penn State offensive line, but the pressure dried up in the final 30 minutes allowing Penn State’s speed and passing attack to flourish.
5. Paul Chryst gets conservative – The Badgers were cruising in this game 28-7 when the T.J. Watt forced and recovered a fumble. The first play after a turnover? A run for 3 yards. The Badgers then threw incompletions the next two plays and gave Penn State the ball back. The Nittany Lions scored on their ensuing drive.
The Badgers still had a minute left in the first half after that touchdown, but opted to play conservative again. They ran the ball twice, completed a 3rd down pass, but then went back to the run to end the first half. Were precious points left on the board?
Paul Chryst also opted to attempt a long field goal on their first drive of the second half with the unreliable Andrew Endicott. He missed a 48 yard field goal attempt and the Nittany Lions scored on the next play to make it a 28-21 game.
6. Houston played well, but could not get it done – Bart Houston played the entire game as Alex Hornibrook was held out of the game. Houston did well going 16 of 21 for 174 yards, but he succumbed to the pressure late. He missed a wide open TroyFumagalli late in the third quarter that would have given the Badgers a lead of 35-28 instead of the 31-28 lead they ended up with. If that is converted into a touchdown, then that 4th and 1 late in the game is a field goal attempt to tie the game (though that is far from guaranteed with Endicott kicking the ball).
There were also issues with holding onto the ball. He fumbled once in the middle of the third quarter and was lucky to get it back, but he also nearly fumbled a couple of other times. He does not get a ton of blame for this loss, but there were a few issues that stood out.
Wisconsin finishes the regular season 10-3 and will find out on Sunday where they are playing their bowl game. Below are previous columns providing thoughts on each Wisconsin game this season.