Game week is finally here after a long offseason filled with anticipation and plenty of talk of Wisconsin running the West division once again.
But, it is just that — talk — and on Friday night, Paul Chryst and his Wisconsin Badgers get to go on to Camp Randall’s field and hit someone not in a red and white uniform for the first time since winning the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day.
Wisconsin’s first opponent is the Utah State Aggies, a familiar name given that is the school that gave us Gary Andersen and the one that put a real scare in to the Badgers last time around. That was 2012 though, and these two programs are in vastly different positions.
So, let’s take a look at the state of the Utah State Aggies offense heading in to Friday night’s game.
Biggest Weakness: Run Game
We’ll talk more about why the run game is a big weakness in a bit, but let’s just say this part of the game is a major weakness for two reasons. One is the offensive line, and we’ll get to that in a bit.
The second? It’s because there’s a lack of greatness at running back as well.
Utah State senior running back Tonny Lindsey rushed for just 763 yards and six touchdowns last season. Sure, a 5.2 yards per carry average isn’t too shabby, but this is a team that was used to putting up 1,000-yard rushers earlier this decade.
The consistency just hasn’t been there, and while the offensive line hasn’t been helpful it takes two to tango and I’m not sold on Lindsey being a great back. Dare I say running the ball is going to be a chore against the Badgers for the best of teams? I do dar say that.
Utah State doesn’t have one of the best rushing attacks by a long shot, so look for that weakness to be exploited.
Biggest Strength: Wide Receiver
While the run game is the weakness, there is a really exciting matchup that will happen on Friday night — Utah State’s young but experienced top group of wide receivers against Wisconsin’s experienced and dynamic set of starting cornerbacks.
Utah State saw two young players jump to the top of the receiving charts last season, as sophomore Ron’Quavion Tarver led the team with 46 receptions, 602 yards and three touchdown catches. Freshman Rayshad Lewis wasn’t far behind with 40 receptions for 476 yards and a pair of TD’s of his own.
Oh, and did we mention that David Yost, who has turned average quarterbacks in to great producers, is the new offensive coordinator at Utah State? Let’s just say this offense is going to rely a lot more on the passing game, so it is a good thing youth showed it was ready to step up last season.
I’m going to be keeping a keen eye on the matchups of Utah State’s Tarver vs. Wisconsin’s Tindal and the Aggies Lewis vs. the Badgers Nelson. You should too, because it likely will be the difference in Wisconsin’s defensive success or failures on the night.
Biggest Question Mark: Offensive Line
It is never fun starting over on the offensive line, but the Aggies are taking it to a whole new level in 2017. They are replacing the entire starting group this season.
However, what could be most telling is that there are two players — Preston Brooksby and KJ Uluave — who have started multiple games last season and aren’t listed as starters this season. Brooksby is the only one of those two listed on the two-deep released ahead of this game.
That is either a sign of strength for the entire group or a sign of real trouble recruiting at the position as a whole.
As it is, the latter seems to be true because four of the five new starters this season were playing football elsewhere in 2016. Four of the five starters also were transfers from the JUCO ranks over the past few months, and the fifth, junior center Quin Ficklin, is a transfer from BYU.
That’s putting a lot of pressure on a group that has never played together to get it right right out of the gate. It also means depth is a major concern and injuries happen frequently on the offensive line.
As for this game, Utah State’s biggest question mark doesn’t exactly have it easy in its matchup.
With a veteran and disruptive defensive line in place for the Badgers, the Utah State offensive line is going to find out a lot about itself and its personnel groupings early on in the season. That’s likely good news for the Badgers and terrible news for a team needing good news up front.
Player to Watch: Kent Myers, QB
One thing the Badgers defense hasn’t enjoyed much in the past few years are quarterbacks who are multiple threats. It hasn’t been easy to contain the likes of J.T. Barrett or Tommy Armstrong for large stretches.
While the name and game of Kent Myers doesn’t bring the fear that Chuckie Keaton did back in 2012, Myers is certainly a dangerous quarterback in his own right.
However, much like Alex Hornibrook for the Badgers, Myers has a lot to prove going in to 2017. After all, he only had 10 touchdowns to eight interceptions last season, while completing just 58.4 percent of his passes. Clearly there is plenty of room for growth, but that was just his first full season as a starter and in 2015 he threw 16 touchdowns to just three interceptions in nine games of action.
The question may be, which version shows up in 2017. If it’s the latter, the Badgers could have their hands full.
With new pieces in Wisconsin’s secondary, this matchup seems to hold a big key to how things will go down in Madison on Friday night.
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.
Best, Worst case scenarios for Badgers Wide Receivers in 2019
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.
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.
Hill is Badgers QB in 2021 class
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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