How do you define success? It’s often a very relative and personal situation, but there’s no question that after making the Big Ten title game three of the last four years (and losing all three times) success for Wisconsin will be measured in championships in 2018.
That’s what happens when you rank No. 6 in the pre-season power rankings from ESPN. It’s also what happens when you have a returning Heisman Trophy candidate and a track record of high-level success under your belt.
But, sometimes the difference between offseason expectations and post-season success comes down to a few players stepping up to the plate. Wisconsin may be in that position in 2018, so let’s look in to the players who could be the difference between a good and an all-time great season for the Badgers.
5. Jake Ferguson, RS FR, TE
Losing a dynamic player like Troy Fumagalli could be a big blow the Badgers offense, even with a talented group of receivers returning. While its likely that Zander Neuville and Kyle Penniston will get the starting nods early on in the season, neither has shown a great ability to be the game-changing pass-catcher that UW needs with Fumagalli off to the NFL. That’s where Ferguson comes in, and arguably no player on the Badgers offense helped themselves more in the spring than Ferguson did. His ability as a pass-catcher is elite, and with a creative play caller like head coach Paul Chryst, he could be one of the biggest difference makers on the season. Can he show up this fall camp like he did in the spring? If so, don’t be surprised to hear his name become integral to success as the season goes on.
4. Anthony Lotti, JR, P
Sure, Lotti increased his punting average from 37.7 to 40.1 last season, but that was only good enough for 12th in the league. One thing Lotti has done well is being able to pin opponents back in their own territory. Of the 57 punts Lotti had last season, only two were touchbacks and 27 of them were put inside the 20-yard line. He also had 18 of his punts end in fair catches. If Lotti can continue to increase his consistency as a punter, the Badgers may have a secret weapon to a victory or two on their hands.
3. Zack Baun, RS JR, OLB
It’s been plug-and-play at outside linebacker ever since the Badgers switch to the 3-4 defense in 2013. No season may put that theory to bigger test that 2018 and no player may be more important to getting the answer to be a positive one than Zack Baun. With a lot of potential and little on field production from anyone not named Andrew Van Ginkel, Baun steps in as arguably the most experienced name at the position. He’s also the one the coaching staff has pointed to the most over the last two offseason periods. Can Baun replace the production of Leon Jacobs or produce his own path to success? If he answers the bell, look for Wisconsin to have another successful season on the defensive side of the ball.
2. Dontye Carriere-Williams, RS SO, CB
No position will be under a bigger microscope in fall camp than that of cornerback. It isn’t just that there are two starters to replace or a reliable nickel back to replace either. It’s that there is a whole lack of experience to step in to the skill positions on defense. There is one player who has at least limited experience, and that is Dontye Carriere-Williams. The good news is that he ended up starting five games last season and recorded 30 tackles. He also had one interception and seven pass break ups in his reserve role. Now it will be on him to take those experiences and lead an even greener group of cornerbacks alongside him. How he leads, whether by example or inspiration will be key to making sure the defense doesn’t slip from its high expectation level.
1. Alex Hornibrook, RS JR, QB
Simply put, the answer to the question of “what will it take for the Badgers get over the next hurdle” has a two-word answer — Alex Hornibrook. If Wisconsin wants to go from the outside looking in, to in the College Football Playoff, it has to get the best of Hornibrook or at the bare minimum far fewer of the worst moments of Hornibrook’s play from 2017. The touchdown to interception ratio has been beat to death this offseason, as has the fact that he showed great promise and the height of his ability in the Orange Bowl win over Miami. Will UW see more of that version or the inconsistent one? If the version of Hornibrook that showed up against the Hurricanes is what the Badgers get, it’s hard to argue that this offense could be the best UW has had under Chryst as head coach and that could equal unprecedented success on the national level.
What the Badgers need to work on in the bye week
Two games, two victories, two shutouts and two record-setting performance. It would be easy to think the 2-0 Wisconsin Badgers football team is riding high in to its early bye week.
But, with the challenge of the Michigan Wolverines just around the corner things are not exactly going to go as planned.
So, with a week off to prepare what are some of the areas of concentration and concern heading in to the matchup with the Wolverines?
I feel like this is a mantra of any team on a bye week, but after only two games it shouldn’t be that bad. But, guess what, Wisconsin is two games in to the season and the injury gods have not been kind to this team.
On Sunday, we learned that starting safety Scott Nelson will miss the rest of the season with a leg injury.
Late last week we knew that five other players were going to miss the Central Michigan game, with two of those being starters on defense in Bryson Williams and Izayah Green-May.
Now luckily, the depth of this team showed up as true freshman Keeanu Benton (1 TFL) played well in place of Williams and Noah Burks (2 tackles, 1 TFL and 1 pass break up) made it seem like there was nothing missing at outside linebacker.
But, there’s no question that playing with a full group of players against Michigan will be advantageous. Let’s see if the Badgers can get Williams and Green-May healthy and my guess is that they will be able to do just that with nearly three weeks of treatment and testing.
One of the things that has been clear so far about this team is that they have been playing with a lot of emotion and edge to them. It’s almost as if they spent an entire offseason stewing over a less-than-stellar performance in 2018 and are bound and determined to not let that happen again.
Whatever was bottled up in the offseason was certainly unleashed in the first two weeks of the season. Can UW find a way to continue to play with that edge and fire now that they have no game this week?
Sometimes the bye week can mess with a team, especially one that is rolling like the Badgers are. But, I have a distinct feeling that motivation and focus are not going to waver at all with this coaching staff in place.
Wisconsin also has the advantage of being the underdog in the matchup with Michigan (at least on paper it will) and has a ton of hungry young players looking to make a name for themselves.
What better way to do that than against Michigan with the whole college football world watching you?
This idea of staying hungry doesn’t worry me in the least, but it would be something to watch coming out of the gate against Michigan. If the Badgers look flat or out of sorts, I’d be worried. If not, then look for Michigan to be in some serious trouble on Sept. 21.
Early on this season, we’ve already seen a lot of Jonathan Taylor the running back, but we’ve also seen a lot of JT23 the receiving back and it has produced glorious results.
Even better is the fact that the Badgers coaching staff hasn’t had to get exotic with the play calling early on this season either. There’s been few sightings of Aron Cruickshank end arounds or double running back sets or anything crazy.
Wisconsin has lined up, punched the opposing defense in the mouth up front and done the basics needed to put points on the board.
It will be interesting to see what wrinkles will be added with the extra time and the opponent at hand. Will the Badgers break out a few things that Michigan won’t be ready for or will they stick to the tried and true and just see what happens?
If there’s one thing we know about Michigan’s defense is that it is nearly the Badgers equal in aggressiveness. Through two games the Badgers have allowed four sacks on the quarterback.
It may not seem alarming, but last season, UW allowed a total of 24 through 13 games for an average of 1.85 per game and that was a bit of a problem in bigger games. Furthermore, 12 of the 24 sacks came in Wisconsin’s five losses last year.
The good news seems to be that UW is going to get some help for the quarterback spot in avoiding some of those sacks this year. Jack Coan may not be a world-record sprinter, but he has shown to be more comfortable stepping up in the pocket and taking off if needed.
But, the Badgers were not really tested so far in terms of overall talent and did give up three sacks against USF in the opener. On the flip side, the offensive line looked much better against CMU and only one sack happened on the day.
Does that indicate improvement or just how bad the Chippewas were? With an extra week to work on things, lets see how the Badgers offensive line works through any potential issues and any adjustments that may be needed.
Sunday Morning Hangover: What to make of Coan’s confident start
By now, Jack Coan isn’t a total newcomer to the starting quarterback role for the Wisconsin Badgers. But, on Saturday he was making his first career start inside Camp Randall Stadium.
All five of his previous starts would come on the road or in a bowl game.
So, how did Coan handle the home crowd and it being a season opener at Camp Randall nonetheless? Judging by his record-setting numbers it was safe to say it was home, sweet home for the junior quarterback.
After passing for over 200 yards for the first time in his career last week against USF, Coan set personal records for passing attempts, completions, yards and touchdown passes in a single game.
It’s hard to get much better than that.
On the day, Coan would go 26 of 33 for 363 yards and 3 touchdowns. Those numbers were the catalyst to the Badgers 61-0 blanking of the visiting Central Michigan Chippewas.
His 363 yards were the fifth best in a single game by any Badgers quarterback. Coan also became just the 11th Badgers QB to throw for 300 or more yards in a game.
Additionally, his 276 yards in the first half were the most ever by any Badgers quarterback in a single half.
That’s some historic territory for anyone to reach.
However, after sleeping on it, I am still left wondering if this is a sign of things to come or a blip on the radar and we’ll never see this again.
Maybe it’s because I can still remember being there in person to witness Coan fumble and bumble his way to a loss at Northwestern last year.
Maybe that’s the Hornibrook affect in me too? After all, we got totally burned by thinking Hornibrook had turned a corner with his great performance in the bowl win over Miami two years ago.
Instead, Hornibrook reverted right back to the inconsistent and at times terrible version that his more extensive body of work told us was likely who he was.
But, here’s why I think we aren’t seeing a blip on the radar with Coan. It’s his confidence and the fact that we’ve seen him go out and do better each and every week he’s been a starter.
We are seeing progress, which we never really did with Hornibrook under center. If you can’t see that Coan is improving, then you aren’t paying attention.
Last week, despite the first ever 200-yard day for Coan, a lot of attention was paid to the missed wide open receivers on vertical routes. What did Coan do about it? He went out this week and showed he could confidently and accurately hit those deep balls.
“I think it’s important, and certainly we’ve got to be able to — we thought coming into the year we’ve got to do a better job of attacking the whole field, and so when you can do that, it’s good, but I think guys have had confidence in it,” said head coach Paul Chryst after the CMU win.
“I know last week we were 0-2 for those “chunk” plays, but he wouldn’t have cut ’em loose today if he didn’t have confidence in it. So I don’t know that doing it in a game makes you more confident, but it was good to see. It’s nice to be able to hit a couple of those, obviously.”
Additionally, Coan’s relationship early on this season with Quintez Cephus has been something special to watch. With virtually no playing time and no extensive practice time together, the duo has seemed totally in sync to start the season.
Cephus has nine receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns through two games. He also is averaging 84.5 yards per game, good for fifth in the Big Ten in this early season.
Just to put the difference between Coan and Honribrook in to some perspective for you. Through two games last year, the Badgers had just 26 receptions as a team. This year, UW already has 50.
Wisconsin also has a total of 16 passes for 15 or more yards on the season. That is a quarter of what the Badgers had (64) all of last year and we’re only two games in to the season.
A.J. Taylor (8), Danny Davis (6), Kendric Pryor (6) and Jake Ferguson (6) have all had major impacts in the pass game too.
It means a diverse and talented group is producing quickly this season.
Of course, the challenge of Michigan’s defense awaits the Badgers offense and it certainly will be a step up in competition from the likes of USF and Central Michigan.
However, the Wolverines also won’t be seeing the same old Wisconsin offense they did for the past few years either.
What Coan has brought to the table through two weeks of play should make Michigan think twice about stacking the box against the run all game long.
Wisconsin finally has an outwardly confident quarterback and it feels so very good.
WATCH: Recap of Badgers 61-0 victory over Central Michigan
If you were to draw up a perfect game, well, it would be hard to top what the Wisconsin Badgers put on film on Saturday against the Central Michigan Chippewas.
UW ran, passed and dominated on defense en route to a 61-0 win. What should we take away from this game? What were the highlight moments?
Well of course, Jonathan Taylor scoring four touchdowns in back-to-back games was impressive. But, let our Publisher, Andrew Coppens, get in to the detail in this week’s talkinBadgers recap.
Don’t forget to subscribe to the YouTube page, so you don’t miss any of our video work as the season goes on!
Wisconsin Badgers vs. Central Michigan Chippewas: Preview, Predictions and Prognostications
We’re back with more in our video work for the Badgers 2019 season. As per usual, our Publisher, Andrew Coppens, is here to give you the lowdown on the matchup between the Wisconsin Badgers and Central Michigan Chippewas.
That means, key players to watch, key stats to keep an eye on and the weekly prediction.
He is 1-0 after nearly nailing the full score last week, so what does this matchup look like?
Let’s get in to the video.
Don’t forget to subscribe to the YouTube channel so you don’t miss a single prediction or post-game reaction for your pleasure.
Badgers football3 months ago
Best, Worst case scenarios for Badgers RB’s in 2019
Badgers football3 months ago
Hill is Badgers QB in 2021 class
Badgers football2 months ago
Chryst excited by Graham Mertz’s future with Badgers
Badgers football3 months ago
Best, Worst case scenarios for Badgers Wide Receivers in 2019