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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Utah State Aggies Preview: Two programs meet at very different crossroads

The Badgers take on the Aggies for just the third time in history. Will the third time be a charm for Bucky?

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When: Fri., Sept. 1; 8pm CT
Where: Madison, Wis.; Camp Randall Stadium (80,321)
TV: ESPN
All-Time Series: Tied 1-1
Last Meeting: Wisconsin win 16-14 (2012)

When one brings up the Utah State Aggies to a Badgers fan, two things likely pop in to that person’s head. It’s either, that damn Gary Andersen or oh man, we barely survived that game in 2012.

This isn’t 2012 and Gary Andersen isn’t coaching on either sideline on Friday night. Yet, some have those feelings and ideas about the 2012 version of the Aggies still stuck in their heads.

Matt Wells has been in charge since 2013 and had the Aggies at or near the top of the Mountain West conference. That wasn’t the case in 2016, as the team suffered through a rough roster transition and slipped to a 3-9 season.

A lot continues to change for the Aggies, while the Badgers come in as preseason favorites in the Big Ten West division.

The new season has us feeling a lot like this…

…and don’t forget to listen in to WDUZ for all the pre-game thoughts in Green Bay!

Will we see a repeat of the 2012 scare, or will Wisconsin and Utah State continue to go in opposite directions in the college football world? Let’s take a look inside tonight’s game.

1 Burning Question: Can the Badgers offense show balance?

Last season the Badgers offense was one of the most un-balanced in college football. UW finished last season ranked 39th in rushing offense (203.1 yards per game) but a horrific 104th in passing offense.

That isn’t very Paul Chryst-like to say the least, and heading in to a new season with a new full-time starter at quarterback and plenty of changes at the skill positions there is a lot of optimism about things changing for the better in 2017.

Alex Hornibrook started seven games last season, but this is his first season as a full-time starter going in to Week 1. He’ll have a new running back starting behind him and a handful of receivers playing much different roles than last season.

Sure, steady receiving options are back in tight end Troy Fumagalli and wide receiver Jazz Peavy.

However, a lot of youth is creeping up the roster and that is the reason for optimism and a much more dynamic passing attack in 2017.

Newcomer Danny Davis, a four-star wide receiver out of Ohio is in the two-deep and there are bigger roles for now sophomores Quintez Cephus and A.J. Taylor — both of whom got their feet wet in 2016.

We’ve heard a lot of talk and some flashes of an improved passing game in spring and fall practice. Can that translate to success on the field in a real game though? That’s the biggest question and the most burning one for the Badgers in 2017.

2 Key Stats:

15.6: That is the number of points given up by the Wisconsin Badgers defense in 2016. 

Wisconsin’s defense finished fourth in the country in points allowed last season, and that is a lofty number to live up to. With two NFL draft picks gone at outside linebacker and some changes in personnel in the secondary, can UW live up to previous levels of production? Utah State has a veteran quarterback and really dynamic offensive coordinator. Let’s see if UW can hold the Aggies to under three scores.

37: That is the number of consecutive home non-conference wins for the Badgers. 

While that number may be slightly impressive, it actually is close to becoming historic. Currently, the UW home non-conference win streak is alone in sixth place in FBS history (since 1946). A win tonight moves UW to within one game of a tie for the fifth best mark in history. Wisconsin’s current streak is also the second-longest active one next to LSU’s 47-game win streak.

3 Key Players:

Nick Nelson, CB (Wisconsin): There’s a reason why so many aren’t worried about the loss of four-year starter Sojourn Shelton at cornerback. His name is Nick Nelson and it appears the Hawaii transfer is more than ready to meet the challenge. In fact, some are openly wondering if he could be a one-and-done player for the Badgers given how impressive he has been in locking things down in practice. Let’s see if the hype matches reality when it is another team. If so, UW’s cornerback pairing may be one of the best in the Big Ten.

Kent Myers, QB (Utah State): Will the Badgers get the Myers of 2015 or the Myers of 2016? We talked about him being the key in our opposition research piece earlier this week and there’s little doubt the offense goes as the QB goes in Matt Wells’ spread offense. He’s got to be more accurate and a better reader of defenses in 2017. Wisconsin’s multiple look defense is going to be a really good test of which version we’ll see in 2017.

Tyler Biadsz, C (Wisconsin): Let’s just say being good enough to push a returning all-Big Ten player out of his position brings a lot of hype. Well, that is exactly what redshirt freshman Tyler Biadsz did by taking advantage of extra snaps in spring ball. This will be his first ever collegiate game and his ability to command the line of scrimmage and get his fellow linemen in to the right position is going to be key.

Prediction: Wisconsin 34, Utah State 10

Anyone remembering the 2012 game needs to put that one out of their mind. These are very different teams going in different directions as of late. Utah State doesn’t have a premier running back like it did, nor do they have a darling of the CFB world like they did in 2012.

While the Badgers have questions to answer, they are more of the wonderment than the serious variety. Look for UW’s offense to score plenty and its killer defense to stand up to a mediocre Utah State offense. Don’t be surprised to see the Badgers playing Jack Coan in the fourth quarter with the game in hand. If that happens, UW’s winning easily.

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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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