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Grading the 2017 Wisconsin Badgers: Running Back

Wisconsin thought it had a stable of capable backs heading in to 2017, only to see a superstar take over unexpectedly.

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Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin Badgers, Indiana Hoosiers

Yes, there’s still this little thing called the Orange Bowl to be played down in Miami, Fla. and all. But, the 2017 season is in the books and it was arguably one of the greatest seasons in Wisconsin Badgers football history.

A 12-0 regular season and nearly making the College Football Playoff cemented that fact.

Previous Grades:Defensive Line |

But, how did the Badgers become 12-0 and what did each position contribute to the amazing season? It’s time to rewind and unpack the 2017 season…this time with a look at the position everyone wants to talk about — running back.

 

Highlights

When you have the best freshman running back in the country, it is hard not to smile. Such was the case for the Wisconsin Badgers, who many believed weren’t going to feature Jonathan Taylor at all this season. Instead, he came on campus in fall camp and pushed his way on to the field. Once the games started it was all over, as Taylor put up 82 yards as the “third” running back in the season opener against Utah State.

The rest, as they say, is history…or is about to be history. He needs under 100 yards in the Orange Bowl against Miami (FL) to break the single season freshman rushing record that is currently held by Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma.

Taylor led a powerful Badgers running game that finished second in the Big Ten, averaging 229.1 yards per game. He alone averaged a Big Ten best 142.1 yards per game and has already put up 1,847 yards and 13 touchdowns. Only Saquon Barkley’s 16 rushing touchdowns top what Taylor was able to accomplish in the Big Ten this year.

It certainly was fun to watch his combination of size, speed and vision — all rarities for a true freshman. He also proved to be a durable option for the Badgers when they needed him the most.

Lowlights

What three-headed monster? There was talk this offseason of the Badgers have a three-headed monster at running back in Bradrick Shaw, Chris James and Taiwan Deal. None of that materialized at all. Part of it was due to the emergence of Taylor, but injuries derailed all or large parts of the seasons for Deal, James and Shaw.

Things got so thin that little-known redshirt freshman running back Garrett Groshek became the Badgers second-best running back at times. While the Badgers have rushed for nearly 3,000 yards as a team, the three-headed monster never really reared its head at all. Shaw was second on the team in rushing, but put up just 365 yards and four touchdowns on the ground.

Meanwhile, James saw action in just eight games and had just 223 yards and Deal never saw the field thanks to a re-occurring ankle injury that required surgery again.

Injuries forced a big workload on Taylor, who has carried the ball 273 times already this season. It would’ve been nice to see some balance out of the run game, but that wasn’t in the cards thanks to injuries and ineffective play from the backups.

Grade: B +

If this were strictly about Jonathan Taylor, who received some Heisman Trophy love this past weekend, the grade would be a solid A. Taylor was dynamic and a game-changer for an offense that would’ve really been lost without him. However, even Taylor had some issues, mainly on the fumbling side of things, and that lowers his individual grade.

As a group, there just wasn’t enough from the second or third option at times. Shaw never really got going, James showed flashes but couldn’t stay healthy and Groshek was a good look for the future. However, all three of them added up to just 882 yards backing up Taylor. There’s a lot of potential for the future for this group, but outside of Taylor, it is hard to say anyone lived up to preseason hype (aside from Groshek).

Outlook for 2018

Wisconsin fans went in to the 2017 offseason believing the running back position was deep, talented and going to burst on to the scene. One could hold that same hope for the 2018 Badgers offense. All-Big Ten running back Jonathan Taylor will be back for his second go round, Chris James will have a final crack at a quality season and Bradrick Shaw will be a junior.

Add in Groshek and you have a deep backfield, one that if it can stay healthy should scare opposing Big Ten teams to death.

One sad note will be the departure of the underrated fullback, Austin Ramesh, who will have no eligibility left after the Orange Bowl. The silver lining is that Alec Ingold has proven to be a solid understudy and maybe even an athletic upgrade over Ramesh.

It will be interesting to see how teams adjust to Taylor after a full year of film, or even if they can. Let’s just say the future at this position looks pretty bright and pretty versatile. That’s exactly what needs to be there for a still developing pass game.

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What the Badgers need to work on in the bye week

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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?

Get Healthy

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.

Stay Hungry

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.

New Wrinkles?

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?

Pass Protection

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.

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Sunday Morning Hangover: What to make of Coan’s confident start

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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.

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WATCH: Recap of Badgers 61-0 victory over Central Michigan

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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!

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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Central Michigan Chippewas: Preview, Predictions and Prognostications

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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.

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