Freedom Trophy week is upon us…or as Badgers fans call it, “that week where we find a new way to humiliate Nebraska.”
This season sees two teams that are heading in seemingly opposite directions. Wisconsin comes in undefeated, while Nebraska has slipped down the Big Ten pecking order a few rungs to say the least. But, does that mean an easy win for the Badgers when they visit Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.?
After all, there’s the whole Freedom Trophy on the line too! But let’s get in to the 10 Things to Know, shall we?
1: Wisconsin has only one loss to Nebraska since it joined the Big Ten.
The Badgers have certainly had the Huskers number in this series, winning five of the six contests played between the two since Nebraska joined the B1G. Lest you write this game off as an easy one, don’t forget the lone loss in the series did come in Lincoln, the site of this game in 2017. Can the Huskers use home field to their advantage and pull off the massive upset? That may be highly unlikely, as the Badgers have lost just one true road game under head coach Paul Chryst (9-1 in true road games, 12-3 overall away from Camp Randall).
2: That is the number of pick sixes by the Badgers already this season.
Wisconsin has been one of the most prolific secondaries in the country over the past season and a half. After picking off 22 passes last season (tying for a program record), the Badgers have seven interceptions so far this year. Two of those have been of the pick-six variety.
Meanwhile, Huskers quarterback Tanner Lee has thrown a Big Ten worst nine interceptions already on the season. Even more telling is that Lee has had three of those interceptions returned for touchdowns. That’s a problem UW would like to take advantage of on Saturday.
3: Wisconsin has the third-highest scoring offense in the Big Ten.
Yes, the “boring” Badgers offense has been anything but that so far in the 2017 season. In fact, UW is one of just three Big Ten schools still averaging 40 points or better (40.8) and sits third in the conference in scoring offense. Only Penn State (41.4) and Ohio State (42.6) sit ahead of Wisconsin in the B1G rankings. The Badgers area also No. 22 in the country in scoring offense.
4: That is the number of times the Wisconsin Badgers have trailed at halftime in the Chryst era.
Some will tell you that the halftime score is vital to a team winning or losing. But, under Chryst, the Badgers really have been a second half team. In 31 games, the Badgers have trailed just four times…but, in those four games UW has come back to win three times. So, if UW trails at the break, don’t panic — everything will be under control in that locker room.
5: That is the combined margin of victory between Nebraska and Wisconsin in the two meetings in Lincoln.
Nebraska got Wisconsin in the first ever visit to Memorial Stadium in a Big Ten matchup, winning 30-27 in a wild game. UW looked like it was going to roll, jumping out to a 20-3 lead. However, Taylor Martinez played one of the best games of his career and was able to complete a 17-point comeback in the second half for the win. The 2015 matchup was a 23-21 win for Wisconsin, with Rafael Gaglianone knocking home the game-winning field goal from 46 yards out with four seconds to play. Can this game have the dramatics of the last two?
6: Wisconsin is averaging a healthy 6.44 yards per play this season.
Last season, the Badgers struggled with getting the offense going. That hasn’t been the case in 2017, as the Badgers are besting last seasons paltry 5.4 yards per play average. Just how good is that number? Wisconsin joins Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon and Washington as the only Power Five programs averaging at least 5.0 rushing yards per carry and 9.0 passing yards per attempt.
7: That is the number of quarters it has been since the Huskers D has allowed a touchdown.
While the Badgers defense has put up some gaudy numbers as of late, Nebraska’s defense has held two opponents out of the end zone for the past seven quarters. It seems as if Bob Diacco may be turning things around in Lincoln…then again, those seven quarters of football came against arguably the two most inept offenses in the Big Ten. You know, Illinois and Rutgers. Wisconsin should provide a much stiffer test for the Huskers on Saturday night.
8: Wisconsin ranks 8th in the Big Ten in passing offense.
While that doesn’t seem good, it is actually a vast improvement for the Badgers. UW is averaging 226.0 passing yards through four games so far this season, while last season, this team ranked 9th in the B1G with 179.1 passing yards per game. This season, Wisconsin already has three games of over 200 yards passing compared to just five all of last season.
9: That is the number of scores Wisconsin has allowed in the red zone…and the number of TD’s Nebraska has allowed in the red zone in 2017.
Something is likely to give here, as UW’s defense has only allowed opponents in to the red zone on 12 occasions so far this season. Nine of them have turned in to scores, but only five of them have been touchdowns. Meanwhile, the Huskers defense has allowed 13 of 17 opponent red zone opportunities to end in scores…nine of which are touchdowns. Wisconsin’s offense has scored on 17 of 20 possessions, with 13 of them coming via TD.
Those stats tell the tale of one offense being efficient enough to take advantage of the opposing defense…and hint, it isn’t Nebraska.
10: (err…20) That is the number of consecutive night games won at home for Nebraska.
Winning in Lincoln isn’t easy for anyone, but the Huskers have been excellent at home in night games to say the least. It has been 20 straight wins at home under the lights, with the last loss coming in 2008 against then No. 4-ranked Missouri. Nebraska has actually struggled in night games at home against Top 10 teams, with all five of its losses coming to teams ranked in the Top 10 at the time of the game. Wisconsin comes in ranked No. 9 in the country (if you want to read anything in to meaningless polls right now).
Chryst excited by Graham Mertz’s future with Badgers
No recruit has ever been as hyped as quarterback Graham Mertz has been in Wisconsin Badgers history.
Normally that would lead to coaches tempering their words and expectations. Given head coach Paul Chryst’s history of exactly that, it was a bit surprising to hear him speak with excitement about what Mertz may bring to the table in Madison.
So far, Chryst has been very impressed with how Mertz is handling everything on and off the field.
“Yeah, Graham has got a great personality,” said Chryst at Big Ten media day on Friday. “I think he’s done a nice job of — he came in the spring, and getting to know our teammates, and I think he’s handling — there’s a lot of buzz and talk about him, and I think he’s handled it well, and I think the team has handled it, as well.”
What has impressed the head coach most about his freshman quarterback? Chryst says it is how he is handling everything that has been thrown at him since he entered school in January.
“They’re experiencing a lot for the first time, going to school and being away from home, and there’s obviously a ton of football with it, and I think all three have handled it, and Graham has handled it well, and I’m excited for those three, Graham in particular, that went through spring and then you have summer and now they’ll be able to go into fall camp and it’s not all new to them,” said Chryst.
“But I’ve been impressed with how Graham has handled himself, and I think he’s — again, cares a lot about teammates and is a good teammate himself, a good person, and I think that’s a great place to start.”
Perhaps the most telling statement from Chryst during his time at the podium on Friday, was the one where he actually used the words “excitement” and “Graham” in the same sentence.
“And certainly we’re excited, really excited about Graham,” Chryst said to the media. “He’s early in on the process, and so I like the group that we have. I’m thankful that we’ve got Jack coming back that’s played in games, and certainly looking forward to fall camp and seeing the growth and development of all of them.”
Does that mean Mertz is the immediate savior of the Badgers offense? No.
But, unlike years past, Chryst is at least willing to go out on a limb and live in the excitement of what could happen in the future.
This type of talk should only serve to continue to spark the speculation and the spotlight on the quarterback position in Madison in the next few weeks.
Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers quarterbacks in 2019
Believe it or not, the start of the Wisconsin Badgers fall camp is right around the corner and we’re hitting the home stretch of our preview season as well.
No position has had more of the spotlight and taken up more of our conversation than what is happening at quarterback. After watching the QB play go from ok to disaster in 2018, it is back to the drawing board in many ways.
With Alex Hornibrook off to Florida State for his final season and the highest rated quarterback recruit in Badgers history on campus, this offseason has been full of intrigue.
But, what will the 2019 season look like for the most critical position on this offense? Let’s take a look at exactly that.
Best Case Scenario
The Badgers find out they hit the jackpot with Graham Mertz and he’s spent the time between spring and fall ball getting up to speed on the offense. Mertz immediately shows this is his job and the coaching staff sees it quickly as well.
Either that or Jack Coan comes in and commands the position and the offense with accuracy and an ability to hit the deep ball. The offense gels around him and heading in to the opener at South Florida, Coan is the man behind center by a wide margin.
Yes, there are two best-case scenarios at play. But, that’s because Wisconsin’s coaching staff would really love for someone to flat-out win the starting job early on in fall camp. Will that happen? That’s the million dollar question and don’t count out Chase Wolf from this competition either. He came on strong as spring went along and his abilities give the Badgers offense some different wrinkles that could be intriguing.
No matter whom wins the battle in fall camp, the best case scenario is that that person wins the battle early, the offense can focus on installing around that quarterback and said quarterback shows why he won the job with quality play during the season.
Worst Case Scenario
If we go in to week three of fall camp and there is no winner to the quarterback job, I’m not so confident in this group. Yes, it’s the job of everyone to compete at a high level, but the coaching staff not being able to separate between the bunch isn’t good news.
My worst-case scenario would be no winner coming out of fall camp, we see quarterbacks splitting time in the fall and this offense stalling out in the pass game once again.
Musical chairs at quarterback never seems to work at Wisconsin and that especially played out last season with Coan clearly thrown to the wolves before he was ready to make a full impact after Hornibrook’s injury.
As long as the Badgers can avoid having to play multiple quarterbacks because none of them have wrestled the position for themselves, UW’s offense should be in a better position in 2019 than it was in 2018.
Most Likely to Happen
As much as the fans want to see Graham Mertz come in and be this game-changing quarterback out of the gate, the most likely scenario is that Mertz gets some game action in the non-conference games and Jack Coan is your regular starter.
I can foresee the scenario playing out much like Coan’s true freshman season. The only difference being that Mertz won’t have to give up his redshirt to play in a single game.
It seems like the most likely to happen scenario is that Coan is your starter for the year with Mertz as the man getting the early season reps behind him and then Chase Wolf being the other option to get reps during conference play.
Let’s not forget that Coan is the only quarterback on this roster that has seen more than a complete mop-up duty. Danny Vanden Boom could be an option too, but it seems like Wolf and Mertz passed him up in the spring competition.
As much as Mertz is the future, coaches are paid to win games now and that likely means playing it safe with Coan.
Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers ILB’s in 2019
We hope you enjoyed the Independence Day holiday, but it is time to get back to some business and that means continuing our series looking in to every position group for the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers.
Since we went outside the last time around, today we will focus on a position that has long been a strength of the Badgers program — inside linebacker.
What could happen with this group in 2019? Let’s find out.
Best Case Scenario
Yes, the Badgers face life without an All-American and a steady veteran thanks to the graduations of T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly. But, the good news is that this group was one of the deepest and most productive overall last season.
Veteran Chris Orr will get one starting spot and former 4-star recruit Jack Sanborn will step in to the other starting role. So, the best case scenario for this group is that Orr, who started as a freshman, gets back to that kind of form, and we see quality play from a combination of younger players like Sanborn and freshman Leo Chenal.
No one had a bigger breakout this spring than Chenal did. He came in as an early enrollee, but well under the radar. By the end of spring ball, it looked very much like he won’t be redshirting and will be challenging for a lot of snaps in the fall.
It would be great to see that happen, because Orr has just one year left in the Cardinal and White.
Worst Case Scenario
What would really hurt this group is if Orr or Sanborn were to go down with an injury here. Yes, Chenal looked good in spring ball like I mentioned before and yes Mike Maskalunas has shown flashes of ability, but are they really ready to be thrust in to the majority of snaps at inside linebacker together?
Experience is an issue for this group and I could see an injury exposing that lack of experience in a big way. Even if the Badgers wanted to go with an older player, the only other option would be Seth Currens and he just converted from safety in the spring himself.
Other than that it would be Hunter Johnson or two walk-ons that were here in the spring.
The Badgers only inside linebacker recruit in the 2019 class was Chenal too, so there will be no more help coming in to fall camp.
Most Likely to Happen
The good news is that I don’t see the worst case scenario actually happening, at least not in a major way. Orr’s medical history suggests he could be prone to missing a game or two with a nagging injury, but don’t expect anything crazy to happen.
I also believe we will see the emergence of Sanborn and Chenal as the future of this position for the Badgers. In fact, Sanborn has looked so good in spring and in his limited playing time last season, that I suspect he could be a darkhorse for All-Big Ten honors at season’s end.
Look for this group to be a downhill, hard-hitting and more athletic group than we saw last season and that could make a major difference for those playing behind them.
Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and his staff have a lot to figure out, but they should feel safe with the talent that is available to them at inside linebacker.
Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers OLB’s in 2019
This time next month, the pads may be popping and the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers fall practices will be under way. It’s so close we all can almost taste it.
But, as we look forward to the 2019 season we’re going to try something a bit different. Gone are the usual ways of looking position groups and giving you a fall preview that last’s a week.
Well, that’s because this season is vital to the Paul Chryst era. There’s a changing of the guard going on. After a disappointing 2018 season that saw UW drop Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the first time in 15 years and not win the Big Ten West, the question is if that’s a sign of decline or a blip on the radar.
In order to best answer that question, we’re actually going to start with a look at what needs to happen, what the Badgers need to avoid and what is really likely at every position.
Up today is a look at the outside linebacker position.
Best Case Scenario:
Last year, the outside linebackers contributed just 8 total sacks to a team total of 19. That’s a lot of contribution to the effort, but the effort was far below expectations set by previous groups. Additionally, the graduation of Andrew Van Ginkel means just 2.5 sacks return from the outside linebacker position in 2019.
Those sacks belong to Zack Baun, who got his feet wet as a starter last season and is looking for big things to happen in 2019. The good news is that Baun was one of Wisconsin’s best run-stoppers on the edge.
Ideally, Baun not only is a leader of this defensive group in 2019, but becomes much more disruptive behind the line of scrimmage too.
Wisconsin has a lot of potential that could start opposite of him. Former Alabama transfer Christian Bell, former 4-star recruit Noah Burks and former inside linebacker Griffin Grady all had their moments of shine in spring ball.
In a best case scenario, the Badgers have more than one of that group step up as contributors to an overall group of outside linebackers that don’t have a lot of in-game experience or depth.
Getting this group to contribute double-digit sacks as a whole would be a great step forward.
Worst Case Scenario:
Noah Burks or Christian Bell don’t live up to their enormous potential. It’s as plain and simple as that.
Wisconsin needs them to become pass-rushing specialists in a big way if this defense is going to be as aggressive as it is designed to be. Often times last season, the inability of the front seven to get pressure really hung an inexperienced secondary out to dry.
If UW experiences more of that, it could really be trouble in 2019. The Badgers need this defense to step up its game, and having both of the expected top contenders in replacing Van Ginkel flame out would be a disaster all the way around.
Most Likely to Happen:
Given all the unknowns surrounding the outside linebacker position, this is a difficult position to predict. However, I will say this — Zack Baun will end up as an All-Big Ten performer.
I believe he just scratched the surface of his potential last year, especially since he was just coming off an awful injury history prior to it. If he stays healthy in 2019, I predict he becomes a surprise player to many outside observers in the Big Ten.
That said, I also believe we will see Christian Bell and Noah Burks become a handful for opposing offensive coordinators to deal with. Both have been patient with the talent that was in front of them, but they are bursting with potential when they have seen the field.
So, to answer the question most want to know…I believe this all signals a position group ready to be a major force once again after that down year in 2018.
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