The 12-0 and No. 4-ranked Wisconsin Badgers enter Saturday’s Big Ten championship game as an underdog to No. 8 Ohio State.
It’s the first time all season the Badgers haven’t been favored in a game, at least as of this writing.
As many times as these two teams have gone at it, there is one game that sticks in the craw of Badgers fans to date. The numbers 59 and 0 seem to ring an uncomfortable bell. That is what happened to Wisconsin the last, and only, time these two teams met in the Big Ten championship game.
Knowing the way Wisconsin deals with things, that game four years ago means little to the players and coaches. First off, none of the current coaching staff was there and secondly, the only players who remember that feeling following the game.
But, this could easily be the biggest Big Ten championship game in its brief history. A win by Wisconsin and its College Football Playoff time for the folks from Madison. A win by Ohio State and that dream ends for the Badgers, while the Buckeyes could have themselves a case for the playoff once again.
So, with all of that on the line, how do the Badgers pull off the win on Saturday and head towards a national championship? Let’s look at 5 keys to getting a victory.
Keep the Game Close Early
If there is one thing we know about the Badgers, it is that they are at their best in the second half of games. But, if they are down big heading in to the half, will it be too much to overcome? Ohio State’s season has certainly showed that could be the case.
OSU has been getting off to fast starts and killing games off early all season long. They are outscoring opponents 129 to 45 in the first quarter and are even better in the second quarter (180-69) of games. Luckily for the Badgers, opposing teams have struggled to score a lot — period.
Wisconsin has to flip the script a bit on the Buckeyes and force them to not score early, and that’s where they’ve excelled all season long. Opponents have only scored 86 points in the first half all season long, or an average of 7.1 points per half, per game.
Clearly something is going to give here on the scoreboard. If Wisconsin wants to win, it has to keep the Buckeyes offense in check to allow the offense to grind things out to set up the kill shot in the second half.
Get Pressure on J.T. Barrett Early
As we continue to progress throughout the week, it seems more and more likely that injured Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett is at least going to give it a go on Saturday night. Does that mean he plays? If there’s a will, there’s likely a way for Barrett to get in at this point in time. Regardless of his health, one thing that has worked in the Buckeyes’ two losses this season has been pressure on Barrett.
Now, that pressure doesn’t have to result in sacks right away. He is still sometimes rattled when pressured in the pocket or when passing lanes aren’t totally open. If that pressure can lead to mistakes, whether it is missed throws or interceptions, Barrett can be thrown off his game. There’s also the fact that his mobility will be severely limited.
Wisconsin has been really good at jumping on weaknesses in their opponents game and there’s no doubt that Barrett’s relative health is a weakness that needs to be tested by Jim Leonhard and Co. If they can get after him, make him immobile, Ohio State’s offense is a sitting duck.
Limit Ohio State’s Big Plays in the Run Game
Ohio State comes in as one of the best rushing teams in the country, something Badgers fans should be very familiar with themselves. One of the big ways the Buckeyes have gotten to the top of the Big Ten rushing heap is due to big plays. OSU has put up 31 plays of 20-plus yards on the ground this year, and that should be a scary number to see.
Freshman running back J.K. Dobbins has been a dynamic play maker for them, but he isn’t ‘the only one capable of getting loose in the run game.
On the flip side, this is an area the Badgers have been highly successful in all season long against really good offensive lines as well. UW has given up just seven plays of 20-plus yards on the ground all season long. That number is fourth in the country to put it in perspective for you.
Limiting OSU’s ability to hit the big-gainer on the ground means J.T. Barrett the passer comes in to play. While he has been having a good season as a thrower, Wisconsin’s secondary against that Ohio State pass game plays right in to the Badgers hands. Of course, that is all predicated on Barrett actually being healthy enough to go in this game.
Score a Rushing Touchdown
This should be a bit obvious, but the numbers don’t lie when it comes to the Ohio State defense. When the opposition is getting in to the end zone via the ground there’s a good chance at winning. Even when the Buckeyes limited Oklahoma to just 104 yards rushing, the Sooners were able to get a rushing touchdown. That touchdown was a huge one too, as Jordan Smallwood ran in from just three yards out, but put Oklahoma up 31-13 with just 9:26 to play in the game. It was lights out for the Buckeyes chances after that.
Wisconsin’s formula has been to get the ground game going, open up the pass game a bit and score in multiple ways. It seems like, and is, an easy formula. But, no one has really been able to stop it all season long. Wisconsin comes in to this game trailing only OSU on the ground in the Big Ten — averaging 243.2 yards per game and scoring 27 times via the run game.
Perhaps the best bit of news is that the Buckeyes stingy rush defense has a major flaw — big plays. So far this season, OSU has given up 20 runs of over 20 yards. Wisconsin comes in having put up 25 of those and has had 85 rushes of over 10 yards on the year as well. With Jonathan Taylor more than capable of hitting the big play, this could be an area to exploit if you are Wisconsin.
Alex Hornibrook Avoids the Turnovers
Earlier this month we noted that Alex Hornibrook, who was named honorable mention All-Big Ten by the media, would determine the success or failure of the Badgers getting in to the College Football Playoff. He’s responded with some of his best football down the stretch, including his first non-interception thrown game in the Big Ten portion of the season, last weekend.
Over the last four weeks of the season, Hornibrook has thrown eight touchdowns to just four interceptions. He’s also put up 146 yards per game and has completed 60 percent or more of his passes in all but one of those games.
Will the increasing confidence help or will he revert in to the timid quarterback that is afraid of pressure? Ultimately, the Badgers likely can’t afford to spot the Buckeyes points via turnover and Hornibrook has been prone to that all season unfortunately. If he can keep a goose-egg on the turnover front, Wisconsin could be a very good position to win this game.
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.
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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.
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