When: Sat., Nov. 7; 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: College Park, MD; Byrd Stadium
All-Time Series: Wisconsin leads, 1-0
Last Meeting: Wisconsin 52-7 (2014)
Line: Wisconsin -12.5
On a weekend full of cross-division Big Ten games, this is one that may not resonate with many fans. Wisconsin and Maryland are heading in completely opposite directions, as the Badgers have won four in a row after opening conference play with a loss to Iowa, and the Terrapins are on a five-game losing streak. Plus Wisconsin blew away Maryland in 2014 as shown above.
However, just when it seems like teams are figured out, they usually go and surprise us. It’s college football, after all. Let’s count to five and preview this battle that spans across the width of the new conference footprint.
1 Burning Question: Can Maryland get anything done against this Wisconsin defense?
Wisconsin has struggled to blow out games this season because the offense has been dealing with a significant number of injuries to important players like Rob Wheelwright and Corey Clement, among others. However, scoring 25 to 30 points a week has been more than enough thanks to one of the best defenses in the country. Wisconsin leads the NCAA in scoring defense at 11.0 points per game, and this team ranks third nationally in total defense with 267.1 yards per game.
This past weekend, Wisconsin broke past 30 points for only the second time all season thanks to the healthy returns of Joel Stave and Corey Clement against Rutgers. Maryland has a comparable defense, which means the Terrapins will likely need to score some big points to keep up in this game. But that will be easier said than done.
Unlike Rutgers, which struggled without WR Leonte Caroo in the rain of Madison, Maryland has struggled to find much rhythm and consistency on offense. Part of that has been the lack of solid quarterback play, but Perry Hills has been better for this team since taking over against Ohio State a few weeks ago. Hills does make mistakes, however, and Wisconsin will look to take advantage to add to his already 10 interceptions on the season.
There’s no question Wisconsin will score some points in this game. But it is highly unclear if Maryland will do the same.
2 Key Stats
— +2 and -16. That is the turnover margin on the season for Wisconsin and Maryland, respectively. When previewing Maryland’s game against Iowa last weekend, the turnover margin was one of the key stats. It turned out to be critical in that game as Iowa pushed Maryland even farther into the basement of the conference rankings in this. The Terrapins have thrown an incredible 23 interceptions in eight games, and that has helped many games snowball against the overmatched Terrapins. If that trend continues, Wisconsin will not be challenged.
— 25.1 and 19.1 yards. That’s the kickoff return average and the punt return average for Maryland. If there is anything that can keep Maryland in the game, it is special teams and specifically, Will Likely. Likely has generated three touchdowns in the return game, and this is the type of game where such a play could make a difference in keeping it close. As long is Likely is not worn out from playing some offensive snaps and all defensive snaps, and he was not last week on a 4th quarter touchdown return, this is someone Wisconsin should never kick towards, just for the sake of playing conservative.
3 Key Players
Corey Clement, Wisconsin RB — Heading into last weekend, the best running back on Wisconsin’s roster had 16 rushing yards on the season thanks to an injury aggravated during the opener against Alabama. In his first action back, he averaged 10.5 yards per rush in the blowout of Rutgers, earning an easy 115 yards to work back in the groove. Not surprisingly, Wisconsin’s newly discovered balance on offense led to about twice as many points.
Vince Biegel, Wisconsin LB — Biegel’s hair (mullets and otherwise) is a thing of absolute beauty, even if you cannot see it normally underneath his helmet. While Joe Schobert has received many accolades for leading this defense in sacks and tackles for loss, his linebacker mate Biegel has also put up great numbers on the season with 5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. With offenses paying special attention to Schobert, look for Biegel to take advantage and make some big plays against the Maryland offense this week.
Will Likely, Maryland KR/PR/CB — Anytime Maryland is on the television, you always have to look for Likely, even on offense where he is taking some snaps now at receiver. Regardless of who the coach has been, this staff has understood that the best thing that can happen on this team is getting the ball to Likely in open space and letting him make some magic. There are other players who could cause some issues for Wisconsin, but none come close to the threat Likely presents.
4 Bold Prognostications
Corey Clement goes for 100 yards again but doesn’t play more than 2.5 quarters: Wisconsin is still working Clement up to speed, and there’s no reason to risk his health in games that should not challenge the Badgers. Accordingly, I predict the Badgers will race out to a quick start and a big lead in the first half, including a couple big runs by Clement to get him over 100 yards for a second-straight game. That will allow Wisconsin to stop playing Clement at halftime or sometime in the third quarter, which is a good move heading into the closing stretch.
Vince Biegel generates a couple of sacks against Perry Hills: With the prediction for a fast start for Wisconsin, that will force Maryland to try and throw the ball to get back into the game. Not only will that likely lead to a couple of interceptions, this will also provide a great opportunity for the linebackers of Wisconsin to rush the quarterback and make some big plays. Schobert has been the dominant force, but this week feels like a good time for Biegel to break out and have the best game against the Terrapins.
Wisconsin rushes for more yards than it passes: Joel Stave has led a dynamic passing attack thanks to the struggles keeping running backs healthy in 2015. That has led to a unique situation for this football program where the offense has passed for an average of 100 yards more per game than the rushing yards accumulated. But with the running backs becoming more healthy now and one starting receiver Rob Wheelwright out due to injury, this is the week Wisconsin returns to normal Wisconsin run-first football.
Will Likely is shut out of the end zone: Wisconsin has watched plenty of tape on Likely, including the 4th quarter touchdown return last week against Iowa. The Badgers have one of the better kick coverage units, but I expect the strategy to change to avoid defending any returns in this game. Meanwhile, Wisconsin also should not make any big mistakes like a pick-six, which means Likely will not reach the end zone for any game-changing plays.
5 Staff Predictions: (overall season record; record against the spread)
Andy: Wisconsin 45-10 (68-17 overall; 37-47 ATS)
Dave: Wisconsin 31-7 (69-16 overall; 44-39 ATS)
Greg: Wisconsin 37-13 (62-23 overall; 47-36 ATS)
Matt: Wisconsin 38-17 (68-17 overall; 50-33 ATS)
Phil: Wisconsin 31-10 (23-9 overall; 11-18 ATS) *joined in Week 5
Badgers fall victim to the trap, lose to Illinois
This is why they don’t play the games on paper. On paper, the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers should have been able to make quick work of a struggling Illinois Fighting Illini team.
Instead, it was a slog for the Badgers offense and Illinois took advantage of three turnovers for 17 points en route to a shocking 24-23 victory.
With the Badgers driving to potentially salt away a hard-fought victory, Jack Coan threw just his second interception of the season and Illinois drove the ball deep in to Wisconsin territory and kicked a game-winning 39-yard field goal as time expired.
Wisconsin’s usually rugged run game was off, and the stingy run defense was far from that. Yes, Jonathan Taylor went over the 5,000-yard mark for his career on the first carry of the game, but he would put up just 132 yards on 28 carries on the day and UW’s defense allowed a season-worst 141 yards on the ground to Illinois.
Prior to this game, Wisconsin’s worst performance on offense was 97 yards against Northwestern.
Taylor’s struggles included a brutal turnover, as he gained a first down at the Illinois 17-yard line but coughed up the football trying to fight for extra yardage a third time on the play.
Illinois drove the ball down for a touchdown in just 1:19 of game time and what could’ve been a three-score game turned in to a 23-21 lead with 5:53 to play.
Wisconsin drove the ball past midfield on the next possession appearing poised to put the game out of Illinois reach again, but stumbled near midfield.
On a 2nd and 11, Coan attempted to drop a pass to Jake Ferguson in between the zone. However, Tony Adams had backed off the underneath and picked off the pass at the Illinois 47-yard line.
From there, Illinois ripped off big run after big run to get themselves in to field goal range and the rest was history.
Ironically, it was Coan who powered the Badgers offense for most of the day, throwing for 263 yards on 24 of 32 passing.
Reggie Corbin and Dre Brown combined for 153 yards on the day for the Illini on 28 carries, and came up huge when they needed it as the game went on.
Illinois outplayed the Badgers up front on both sides of the ball and deserved this win.
This was easily the most shocking loss in the Paul Chryst era and a date with Ohio State looms large if Wisconsin wants to continue to hope to make it to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game.
A loss next week and all control of their own destiny goes out the window.
Badgers mid-season report card: Defense
As Saturday’s game against Illinois inches closer to kick, it’s also a good time to remind ourselves that we are at the halfway point of the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers season.
UW is 6-0 and ranked No. 6 in the country in both polls (if you want to care about those things). So, how did Wisconsin get here and who has been vital to all of that success so far?
Well, we’re taking a look back at the first half of the season for you. Earlier this week we took a look at our grades for the Badgers offense. Today, we take a look at the defensive side of the ball.
Defensive Line: A+
One of the biggest question marks coming in to the 2019 season was the UW defensive line. With no Olive Sagapolu and two starting defensive ends coming off of major injuries, how would this group look in 2019? Well, the answer is pretty damn good.
Bryson Williams, the starting nose guard, went down with a bad injury early in the season and in stepped true freshman Keannu Benton, who ripped off back-to-back performances that were rated No. 1 on the team by Pro Football Focus.
Isaiahh Loudermilk had a small injury early on and has been very good since his return, while Garrett Rand is doing work on the other side. Perhaps the biggest story is that this group has been disruptive in a major way.
We’ve had Matt Henningsen score a touchdown not once, but twice and the defensive linemen have racked up 3.0 sacks to date. Not too bad for a group of unproven, but talented players.
Another big question mark coming in to the year was if the Badgers could get enough pressure from its linebacker group to make a difference in 2019. Last season was a dramatic drop off in sacks and tackles from loss as a team, but there has been no such issue in 2019. j
Zack Baun has been one of the best players in the country through the halfway point of the season. He’s put up 26 tackles, has one pick-six, 10.5 tackles for loss and 6.0 sacks (tied for 8th nationally) through the first six games of the season.
It’s earned him Pro Football Focus mid-season first-team All-American honors. Considering he didn’t produce at nearly this level last season, it’s been a huge start for the senior.
On the opposite side of him, we’ve seen the combination of Izayah Green-May (missed time with a broken thumb) and Noah Burks become dangerous players in their own right. As a team, Wisconsin has put up 23 sacks through six games, which is more than they had in all of 2018 (19.0).
Jack Sanborn has been great and the pairing of him with Chris Orr has unleashed one of the most athletic and dangerous combinations of inside linebackers the Badgers have had since switching to the 3-4 defense when Gary Andersen arrived.
You could not draw up a more productive start to a season from a linebacker group if you tried.
If you just go by the stats, it is hard to argue that Wisconsin isn’t playing some of its best ball against the pass that we’ve ever seen. I mean, they have allowed a Big Ten low three passing touchdowns and the team has eight overall interceptions, with two going for a defensive touchdown.
But, some of the stats can be misleading, especially those eight interceptions. The good news for the secondary is that five of the eight interceptions are attributed to the defensive backs, with starting safety Eric Burrell picking off a pair of passes.
It isn’t just the starting group that has held up well either. Wisconsin has had a next man up mentality and it has worked well. Colin Wilder and John Torchio stepped up when both Burell and fellow safety Reggie Pearson got tossed for hits to the head against Michigan.
Deron Harrell is credited with four pass breakups and Wilder with five to lead the secondary group in that category.
Overall, it’s hard to pick apart this group, but if there’s one area to watch it is their inconsistency in intermediate and deep balls. Luckily, most offenses don’t have enough time to set up a deep passing game so it hasn’t been much of a worry at all.
Let’s just go over these stats given up by the Badgers defense once again:
4.8 points per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally
44.6 rushing yards per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally
129.0 passing yards per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally
173.7 total yards per game — ranks 1st in the Big Ten and nationally
In fact, Wisconsin’s 173.7 total yards per game given up is 60.3 yards per game better than the next best team — Ohio State — has given up this year.
Given all of that information, how could it not be an A+ so far this season? After all, Wisconsin is the first Big Ten team since the 1962 Minnesota Gophers team to pitch four shutouts in the first six games of a season.
Badgers mid-season report card: Offense
Believe it or not, but we have already reached the middle of the 2019 Wisconsin Badgers football season. I know, it doesn’t seem possible because there seems to be so much football ahead.
You would be right, what with Ohio State, Iowa and Minnesota still looming large on the schedule and all.
But, as we want to look forward, we need to know the foundation that future has been built on. How have the Badgers faired so far in 2019? Let’s take a look position by position.
Offensive Line: A –
All seems to be rosy for the Badgers offensive line. They’ve given up a Big Ten-low of eight sacks and are the No. 2 rushing attack in the league, trailing only Ohio State. While you could say the Buckeyes have yet to face a real defense, they still are consistently putting up better numbers than Wisconsin has.
We’ll see if that holds up, but on the whole it is hard to argue that this group hasn’t been very good. They’ve dealt with a few injuries and haven’t really missed a beat for the most part.
If there’s one area that has put them from an A to an A- in my book, it is their performance in the run game against Northwestern and Michigan State at home. In both cases, Jonathan Taylor really struggled to get going and the offensive line found themselves back on their heels quite a bit. Thus, Taylor’s struggles.
Yes, both Northwestern and MSU are very good defensive fronts, but if you want to earn the top grades, you have to win more than they did up front against those two defensive lines. That’s especially worrisome when you see the defensive fronts that both Ohio State and Iowa can put out there.
This unit is very athletic and certainly can do some special things. But, it needs to be more consistent against high level defenses if the Badgers want to prove they belong in the College Football Playoff conversation. Not having a single member of this group on the Pro Football Focus mid-season All-American list tells me this group hasn’t been as good as potentially then can be by the end of the year.
Running Backs: B
Yes, Jonathan Taylor is a Pro Football Focus and everywhere else mid-season All-American and yes, he’s en route to break all sorts of historical marks, but there’s more to this group than Taylor and for that reason we have to give this group an overall grade of B.
In fact, if you were to take Taylor away from this position group, you would be far lower on the grade. Redshirt freshman Nakia Watson has picked up 53 carries for just 238 yards and is averaging 4.5 yards a carry. While that average isn’t bad, Watson hasn’t shown any flashes of being the next big star running back at Wisconsin with ample opportunities to do so.
Bradrick Shaw and Garrett Groshek haven’t been big factors in the Badgers run game either and Julius Davis appears headed for a complete redshirt. What happens if Taylor goes down? There hasn’t been anyone producing at a high enough level to give us confidence that it’ll just be “next man up” as we’ve seen year over year over year at UW since 1990.
John Chenal and Mason Stokke (pre-injury) have been very good fullbacks in the traditional Wisconsin mold, but they could be a bit better at their blocking technique and that will come with time on the field as both are younger options at fullback.
Overall, this group is doing well, I just downgrade for a lack of a second dynamic option at running back so far this year.
Tight Ends: B+
Much was expected out of junior tight end Jake Ferguson, so much so that many believed he would showcase himself and leave for the NFL after this season. After six games, I’m not so sure that is going to happen.
Yes, Ferguson is second on the team with 15 receptions, but he’s averaging 11 yards a catch and has just one touchdown to his name. Those numbers pace far behind last season.
There just seems to be something missing from the explosive player we saw in 2018, who caught 36 passes for over 450 yards and had four touchdowns to his name.
On the bright side, Ferguson has become a more reliable blocker and that could be the thing that gets him to the NFL a year early. We’ll see what happens the second half of the season though.
As for the rest of the group, it’s been hard to grade because injuries have piled up and not a single other tight end as caught a pass for the Badgers so far this season. So, when I look at Ferguson’s play, it’s hard to not give him a solid grade, but room for improvement and impact in the second half.
Wide Receivers: B-
There is no doubt that getting Quintez Cephus back in a Badgers uniform has been huge. But, with that said, this group has not produced the big plays we’d hope to see after a few years of experience for names like Danny Davis, A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor.
Cephus is the only receiver with a touchdown to his name, albeit there have only been eight passing touchdowns on the season. However, the leading TD man is running back Jonathan Taylor, who has four already this year.
Pryor came up big against Michigan State and overall this group has produced well when given the opportunity. But, the inability to get separation and thus stretch the defense holds them back.
Maybe the coaching staff is also holding back what we see from this group, as by-in-large, UW hasn’t had to open up the full offense to win a game this season.
Quarterback: A –
Alright, it’s time for Badgers nation to eat some crow here. Everyone thought that Coan was the second-coming of Alex Hornibrook after his first efforts last season. But, through the first six games, Coan has been anything but the second-coming of Hornibrook. In fact, you could say he’s been the anti-Hornibrook.
He’s been clutch, he’s making the smart decisions and he’s keeping drives alive. Doing that at Wisconsin, with the best running back in college football, is exactly what is needed.
Coan is completing a ridiculous 76.3 percent of his passes, which leads the league and is second nationally only to Joe Burrow at LSU. Now, he has only thrown for 1,119 yards (8th in the B1G) and you could say that isn’t great, but consider how he’s become a complementary piece to the run game and you can see why his efficiency and clutch play matters more.
Additionally, his eight touchdowns to just one interception ratio is phenomenal. Ohio State’s Justin Fields is the only other starter in the Big Ten that has thrown just one pick through the halfway point of the season.
I wanted to give a higher grade, but Coan has struggled to hit the deep ball at times and seems most comfortable hitting the seven to 15-yard passes. That’s fine, but having someone to really stretch a defense out of eight-man boxes would be nice.
Maybe I’m nitpicking, but Coan has established himself as the rightful starter and put to bed most of the critics by becoming the go-to force in the win over Michigan State after a shaky couple of weeks against Michigan and Northwestern.
Having three multiple-touchdown games given what Jonathan Taylor is doing on the ground is impressive through six games.
Defense leads Badgers to win over Northwestern
It sure wasn’t pretty, but the Wisconsin Badgers took down reigning West division champions, the Northwestern Wildcats just the same.
UW’s defense came up big in the 24-15 victory. What happened, which players were the highlights and what needs to be worked on as the 4-0 Badgers go out of conference next week?
Our publisher, Andrew Coppens, comes to you with his full recap of UW’s win.
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