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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Florida Atlantic Owls Preview: Can Badgers start fast this week?

The Badgers look to stay hot after an impressive Week 1 performance. Can they do that against a Lane Kiffin-led Florida Atlantic Owls team?

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When: Sat. Sept. 9; 11am CT
Where: Madison, Wis.; Camp Randall Stadium (80,321)
TV: BTN
All-Time Series: First meeting
Last Meeting: None
Line: Wisconsin (-31.5)

Wisconsin is still scoring points…or at least it seems as if that won’t ever stop and with Florida Atlantic coming to Camp Randall for the first-ever meeting between the two teams that sentiment may hold true.

The Owls have a lot of attention on them thanks to some guy named Lane Kiffin leading the program. However, on the field they have plenty of questions left to answer.

Does this mean an easy one for the hosts, or will the ghost of slow starts past rear its ugly head again? Let’s take a look at the game ahead for the Badgers.

1 Burning Question: Who is Wisconsin’s starting running back?

Week 1 gave us a really good glimpse of why New Jersey prep standout Jonathan Taylor wasn’t going to be redshirted. He led the Badgers in rushing, needing just nine carries to break off 88 yards and showcasing something no one else in the backfield has.

But, it was just one week and expected starter Bradrick Shaw had 87 yards of his own as well.

There’s also Pitt transfer Chris James, who was the star of spring and earned a hard look in fall camp as well. He didn’t see much of the ball last week, carrying the ball five times for 15 yards. But, the coaching staff has indicated he is in the mix once again this week.

Week 2 provides a silver plater for Wisconsin’s running game, as Florida Atlantic were just repeatedly punched in the mouth by Navy and let up 416 yards on the ground alone. Sure, the Badgers are going to look to be more balanced, but you can bet the three big names in the Badgers backfield are going to get every opportunity to seize the full-time starter role.

My money is on Jonathan Taylor, and that’s because he brings all of the elements of a successful Badgers running back to the table already. He’s got power, speed, vision and an ability to pass block. Let’s see if he can follow up a great Week 1 with another set of wow moments in Week 2.

2 Key Stats:

7: That is the number of consecutive games since a Wisconsin QB threw an INT

A look at Alex Hornibrook’s 2016 stat line and you might be really surprised to see this number be true. However, the Badgers haven’t thrown an interception since a visit to Evanston to take on Northwestern last season. Overall, UW’s quarterbacks have attempted 131 passes without an interception and have eight touchdowns in the same span. That’s a winning combination and a good building block to hopefully continue.

40: That was Florida Atlantic’s rushing output in Week 1

Seeing that number and knowing that Wisconsin gave up just 85 total yards on the ground last week should excite Badgers fans and the UW defense. Part of the reason for the small rushing output of the Owls was getting behind early, as they only attempted 24 rushes last week. That adds up to an average of 1.7 yards per carry. Good luck against a Badgers defense that has allowed fewer than 100 yards in 17 of 28 games in the Paul Chryst era.

3 Players to Watch:

D’Andre Johnson, QB (Florida Atlantic): Lane Kiffin isn’t the only known quantity for the Owls. Jackson is the star of the current season of Netflix hit ‘Last Chance U.” He’s also part of a three-way battle at quarterback. Kiffin brought him in to take over this offense, but that hasn’t happened just yet. Can Jackson impress against a Badgers secondary that seems as difficult to work against this season as last?

Quintez Cephus, WR (Wisconsin): The Badgers really didn’t open up the passing game much last weekend, but that didn’t stop one of the rising stars from getting his first career touchdown. Cephus overcame some big time family tragedy this offseason and hauled in three receptions for 33 yards and a touchdown. If the Badgers are going deep in this one, expect Cephus to be the main target. Let’s see if he builds off the momentum from last week.

Isaiahh Loudermilk, DE (Wisconsin): UW’s defensive line is known more for being stingy and run-stuffing dynamos. However, the only player to record a sack last week against Utah State was one of the biggest rising names in the offseason — redshirt freshman defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk. He’s got the rare combination of size, speed and strength that make him dangerous. With Chikwe Obasih out with a knee injury, Loudermilk will get even more chances than he did this past week. Can he continue to wreak havoc for opposing quarterbacks and help make UW’s defense even more dangerous?

Prediction:

The Lane Kiffin disaster train rolls in to Madison this week, and while the national attention will likely be on Kiffin, the Badgers are well equipped to beat down the Owls in a big way. Navy’s triple-option offense isn’t easy to defend, but neither is Wisconsin’s power run game with three capable running backs and a budding pass attack as well. Add in Wisconsin’s physical and opportunistic defense and there’s little doubt this game ends in a Badgers blowout of Florida Atlantic.

Wisconsin 55, Florida Atlantic 6

*all stats are from CFBstats.com unless otherwise noted. 

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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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