While the snow may be blanketing the ground and the temperatures may be closer to zero than 70 — the 2017 Wisconsin Badgers spring football camp is here.
For the Wisconsin Badgers, the focus has to turn to how to take this program to the next level. UW ended last season by beating Western Michigan in the Cotton Bowl. However, it was arguably one win in the Big Ten championship game away from getting to the College Football Playoff.
Can a team with some missing parts and more youth bring Paul Chryst his first Big Ten championship? Let’s look at what must happen this spring for the Wisconsin Badgers.
Spring Football Starting Date: March 14
Spring Football Game: April 21
Key Players Lost: T.J. Watt, OLB; Vince Biegel, OLB; Ryan Ramczyk, LT; Sojourn Shelton, CB
Key Players Returning: Alex Hornibrook, QB; Jazz Peavy, WR; Jon Dietzen, LG; David Edwards, LT; Bradrick Shaw, RB; Chikwe Obasih, DE; Olive Sagapolu, NG; T.J. Edwards, ILB; D’Cota Dixon, S; Derrick Tindal, CB
Offensive To-Do List:
— Find O-Line Continuity: UW’s youth movement will continue this offseason, but with left tackle Ryan Ramczyk taking off to the NFL a year early it also means another offseason of transition. We got a glimpse of what the O-Line could look like as redshirt sophomore David Edwards was named the starter prior to practice on Tuesday.
That means a battle between Edwards and Bay Port (Green Bay, Wis.) product Cole Van Lanen is likely to not really be a battle. Additionally, it appears Patrick Kasl is going to move to the right side with the first-team offense.
Let’s not forget that former starting right tackle Jacob Maxwell won’t be back until fall and starting left guard Jon Dietzen will miss this spring. Given the close competition between Dietzen and Micah Kapoi this past season that could be worth watching.
If the first practice is any indication, there also appears to be some strategy being employed on the offensive line as it was Tyler Biadasz at center and Michael Dieter sliding out to left guard. Look for this spring to be about getting experience for young players and for the coaching staff to figure out who truly makes up the best five offensive linemen to be on the field this fall.
— Who is the No. 1 Running Back: Nothing goes hand-in-hand with a good offensive line battle than a battle of motivated running backs behind them. That’s exactly what the Wisconsin Badger have on their hands this spring with both Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale graduated. As Chryst named starters on Monday, sophomore Bradrick Shaw wasn’t on the first line like many thought would be the given.
Instead it appears there’s been a real battle brewing between Pitt transfer Chris James and him. James apparently looked the part in the first practice of the spring (as much as a running back can without pads or live tackling happening).
There’s no question that Wisconsin needs a running back that can take over as the focal point and establishing that this spring will be vital. So, if you want an old-fashioned position battle, it appears that running back will be a good spot to start looking at.
— Is There a Second WR Option?: Of all the stories to take away from the 2016 season, one of the most underrated was that of wide receiver Jazz Peavy. The unheralded junior stepped up big time last season and goes in to his senior season as the unquestioned No. 1 wide receiver for Alex Hornibrook (who was named the starter before spring ball started).
That’s well and good, but UW needs to be a passing offense that can rely on more than just targeting Peavy and tight end Tory Fumagalli. Opponents will be hip to the gameplan unlike most of last season.
So, who will step up to the be the other quality option alongside Peavy? Early indications are that sophomore Quintez Cephus will do just that. He finished last season with just four receptions for 94 yards, but was clearly coming on as a strong target as the season went on.
Wisconsin will also give hard looks to the likes of fellow sophomore A.J. Taylor, who may be most suited for a slot role, and senior George Rushing. If anyone doesn’t step up, that is on them because the reps will certainly be there this spring.
Defensive To-Do List:
— Figure Out the Safety Position: New defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard will have a lot on his plate, taking over for the departed Justin Wilcox as a first-time defensive coordinator. Perhaps his most important decisions will come at a position he is very familiar with — safety.
With Leo Musso graduated there is a big opening next to the D’Cota Dixon, who was named third-team All-Big Ten last season. It appears Leonhard’s preference is to take last season’s nickel back, Natrell Jamerson, and move him to safety. A lot of that has to do with the impressive scout team performance of Hawaii transfer Nick Nelson. Will that experiment work or will former 4-star recruit Arrington Farrar finally live up to the potential he had coming in to college?
Dixon was a revelation for UW last season, but there also needs to be some depth worked on thanks to graduation of Musso. Young names like Seth Currens, Patrick Johnson and Eric Burrell were all highly sought after players in high school. Can they be the ones to add the needed depth?
— What to Make of Inside Linebacker: Few coaches are going to complain when they have a gluttony of quality players to choose from at any position. That appears to be the case at inside linebacker, but will this spring give the Badgers coaching staff any clarity to a group of four players that have all started and played huge roles for the team?
Some of that clarity will come as both Jack Cichy (shoulder) and Chris Orr (knee) will be limited in terms of contact practice this spring. However, that still leaves Ryan Connelly and T.J. Edwards as starters back at the position. Edwards was a non-participant and in a walking boot for the first practice and Connelly wasn’t out there either.
That left up-and-comer Nick Thomas and former inside linebacker, turned safety, turned cornerback, turned back to inside linebacker, Leon Jacobs, as the only experienced players out on the field for the first day. Can anything really be settled at the position with all that going on?
— Figure Out a Rotation at Outside Linebacker: Sure, it would be great to know who the starters will be at outside linebacker. That just isn’t realistic though, especially given just how deep the position is and how little you are going to know from just 15 practices.
It should be no surprise that both Zack Baun and Garrett Dooley got the first-team reps today. After all, both did get starts in place of injured outside linebackers last season. However, the coaching staff is high on JUCO transfer Andrew Van Ginkel and sophomore Alabama transfer Christian Bell.
Oh, and don’t forget players like Keldric Preston, Noah Burks and Griffin Grady. Burks and Grady were impressive behind the scenes last year as redshirt freshmen and Preston figured out how best to make use of his long frame and athleticism by slimming down and getting in to looking like a linebacker more than a defensive end.
There are so many pieces to the puzzle at outside linebacker that the coaching staff has to thinking it wise to just find a group of four or five guys that will make up the main rotation next year and see who wins the starting roles this fall.
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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