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Badgers defense spoils Illini homecoming hopes

With the offense struggling, UW’s defense paved the way for a 24-10 victory over Illinois on Saturday.

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Apparently you can win games with just your defense. The Wisconsin Badgers defense held Illinois to just 10 points and while the offense struggled for large portions of the game, the Badgers came away 24-10 winners.

The win was Wisconsin’s eighth in a row over the Illini, extending the longest win streak for either team in the series’ history. It also marked an 8-0 start to the season for the Badgers.

Wisconsin’s offense really struggled without Jonathan Taylor, who powered UW to most of the 24 points it did manage to put up. However, he left the game at halftime with a left leg injury after rushing for 73 yards on just 12 carries in the first half.

For head coach Paul Chryst, the silver lining in the rather ugly nature of this game was seeing others step up with Taylor down.

“It wasn’t always pretty,” Chryst said. “There will be some areas where we need to work at and improve upon. I thought guys kept playing. It was fun to see other guys have to step up.”

While Taylor didn’t get credit for the touchdowns, those went to fullback Alec Ingold and backup running back Garrett Groshek, he certainly paved the way for them.

Those two touchdowns put the Badgers up 14-0 midway through the second quarter, which was an unexpected turn of events. It was a struggle for much of the game for quarterback Alex Hornibrook. He struggled with the conditions and his lack of vision, going just 10 of 19 for 135 yards and an interception.

UW’s defense came up huge, time and again, including on Hornibrook’s miscue. It started by bailing out the Badgers offense after two straight three-and-outs to start the game and ended with the Badgers not allowing the Illini to score until a bogus pass interference call in the end zone resulted in a touchdown in the final minute of the game.

Badgers cornerback Nick Nelson was seen being shoved to the ground by Illini receiver Ricky Smalling in a clear fashion, only to have the back judge call pass interference on Nelson.

Outside of that, it was a brilliant day for Wisconsin’s defense. They allowed just 286 total yards, but allowed over 130 yards on the ground to a second-straight opponent. The Badgers defense made up for some big run plays by taking the ball away three times, including a pair of timely interceptions.

The defense also recorded 5.0 sacks and 9.0 tackles for loss in the win.

Illinois wanted to use a two quarterback system, and it didn’t start off well. Cam Thomas’ first play of the game resulted in a Nick Nelson interception, as he jumped the route and set up Wisconsin’s offense inside Illini territory. However, the offense couldn’t capitalize and punter Anthony Lotti shanked his attempt to pin the Illini deep in their own territory.

Wisconsin’s next possession nearly ground to a halt inside its own 20-yard line. However a timely penalty for an illegal substitution on 4th and 4 gave the Badgers life. The offense wouldn’t waste it, going 92 yards on 15 plays and capping it off with a fullback dive by Ingold for a 7-0 lead.

That seemed to spark the offense, but Hornibrook stalled the Badgers momentum with a bad interception, staring down his receiver and missing the underneath coverage. UW’s defense put the brakes on Illinois momentum quickly and the Badgers offense went on to score the go-ahead touchdown the very next possession.

It came courtesy of Garrett Groshek, who had the better day replacing Jonathan Taylor following his ankle injury. He scored from two yards out and went on to put up 51 yards on 12 carries.

Rafael Gaglianone would tack on a 52-yard field goal late in the second quarter to put the Badgers up 17-3.

What happened next was the unexpected part, as UW’s offense came out of the half with little of the fire seen in just about every other contest this season. It resulted in a scoreless third quarter, and in the need for the defense to spark the offense once again.

Joe Ferguson put a stop to a potentially dangerous drive by the Illini, intercepting a Cam Thomas pass deep in UW territory and returning it to the 43-yard line of the Badgers.

On that offensive series things finally got going. Just as things appeared like they were going to completely grind to a halt inside the Illini 10-yards line, the Badgers pulled out the old fake roll-out to left tackle lateral. Michael Deiter rumbled four yards and hit pay dirt for the final 24-3 scoreline.

It was the second straight offensive struggle for the Badgers, but nonetheless the team improved to 8-0 on the season and have a chance to put a wraps on the West division title next week depending on how things play out the rest of the way.

The players seem to be taking the struggles in stride, knowing they will get out of the funk soon though.

“I’m confident we’re going to put together a complete game soon,” left tackle Michael Deiter said following the game. “Because you didn’t have the best game one day, you shouldn’t really weigh over you the next game because you have all week to prep. You going to go into each game with the confidence that you’re going to have a complete game.”

Wisconsin will take on Indiana in Bloomington next weekend, with kick scheduled for 11am CT on ABC.

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Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers ILB’s in 2019

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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.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver | Outside Linebacker |

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.

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Best, worst case scenarios for Badgers OLB’s in 2019

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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.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line | Wide Receiver

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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Best, Worst case scenarios for Badgers Wide Receivers in 2019

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The heat of summer is upon us and the recruiting trail has been even hotter for the Wisconsin Badgers. However, that heat also indicates that the long offseason nightmare is about to be over.

With that in mind, we’re taking a summer-long look at each position group heading in to the 2019 season.

Previous Positions: Running Back | Defensive Line |

Today, we flip back to the offensive side of the ball and look at a second skill position — wide receiver.

After what was supposed to be a breakout year for the group in 2018, what will this group have in store for 2019? Let’s look at the best and worst case scenarios at play.

Best Case Scenario

If the Badgers want to get going in the pass game, the wide receiver group needs to step up the deep game in a big way. While A.J. Taylor, Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor have proven to be reliable assets, 2018 felt much like they all barely scratched the surface of their potential.

The trio combined for 95 receptions (which was 53 percent of all receptions as a team), 1,212 yards and 11 of 19 touchdown receptions on the year.

For this season, the best case scenario actually involves the quarterback position almost more-so than anything this group can do. The receivers could benefit from a consistently good passer at quarterback and a more open playbook as well.

Whether it is Jack Coan or wonderkid recruit, Graham Mertz, the consistency and trust to open up the playbook needs to be there.

Additionally, an increased role for speedster Aaron Cruickshank would be the best case scenario.

Worst Case Scenario

Danny Davis emerged as the most targeted receiver last season, catching 40 passes to lead all wide receivers on the team. He will enter his junior season with an increase in expectations and no off-field distractions like he had to deal with last season thanks to his stupid decision-making.

That aside, Davis is the most well-rounded receiver in this group and the one that could wind up be the deep threat that has been missing for awhile now. So, any injury to Davis would be bad news.

In fact, any sustained injuries to the likes of Davis, Pryor and Taylor would not be good. UW is very inexperienced behind this trio, and inexperience at QB and WR may not be a fun combination.

Dare I say, it would lead to UW not being back on top of the West division mountain?

Most Likely to Happen

I fully believe that the coaching staff will go in to the season knowing which quarterback they’ll go with and stick with. Confidence is key to helping this wide receiver group and I expect the Badgers offense to be much more balanced in 2019 than it was over the past two seasons.

Look for Davis, Pryor and Taylor to all increase their overall numbers and likely go over the 15 touchdown mark as a group. More importantly, I expect much more play-action and much more from the deep passing game too. That should be music to a talented, but under used group’s ears.

Don’t be surprised to see one of the Badgers wide receivers make a run at All-Big Ten honors as a result of that shift back to balance.

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Hill is Badgers QB in 2021 class

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With all the flurry of activity around the 2020 class, apparently someone wanted to bring the 2021 class some attention on Tuesday as well.

Following back-to-back linebacker commitments in the 2020 class, Wisconsin picked up a verbal commitment from 2021 quarterback Deacon Hill.

The 3-star player out of Santa Barbara, Calif. went with his gut despite the potential to earn offers from the likes of USC, Oregon and Oregon State — all much closer to home.

Instead, Hill chose the Badgers over official offers from Kansas State and Nevada to date.

The 6-3, 225-pound quarterback was first offered by Wisconsin quarterback coach Jon Budmayr in May. It was the first overall offer Hill received in the 2021 class.

Wisconsin was able to get out in front of the 2021 quarterback class after a pair of big targets in 2020 passed on offers from the Badgers. Once that happened, the focus turned to the next class and it paid off in building a quick and solid relationship with Hill.

It may not be a big home run get like Graham Mertz was, but then again the Badgers were hip to Mertz before most of the country was and that paid off as he developed.

Hill is much more physically imposing than most quarterbacks entering their junior season would be, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have mobility either.

Nevada’s more spread-orientated offense and Kansas State’s quarterbacks are certainly going to be mobile ones in the new offense that is being installed.

As for Hill, the 247Sports composite rankings have him as the No. 30 ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2021 class. But, given the small amount of attention paid to that class so far we’ll see where that ends up should Hill hit the QB camp circuit in the coming months and year.

UW will only be taking one quarterback in this class, so they certainly trusted their early evaluation of the tool set that Hill possesses and could posses by the time he is finished at Wisconsin.

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