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Wisconsin vs. USF: 5 Badgers to Watch

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In just two days, the 2019 version of the Wisconsin Badgers football team will be unveiled for the first time as they take on the USF Bulls in Tampa Bay, Fla.

That feeling is glorious, but it is time to hone in on the matchup and not just the season ahead.

So, each week we will look at the Badgers who may have the most impact on the game and break down why that may be the case.

Consider these the 5 Badgers you should be paying the most individual attention to in the opener.

5. Quintez Cephus, WR

The good news is two-fold here. First off, Cephus is back in the fold after his legal and school expulsion matters were cleared up. Second off, the Badgers don’t “need” Cephus to have a successful passing attack like they may have last season.

But, Cephus’ return to the Badgers could mean an already deep and quality receiver group gets just that much more dangerous. People forget that he racked up an impressive 30 receptions for 501 yards and six touchdowns in just 10 games during the 2017 season.

There are a lot of curiosities surrounding his quick return. Is he still the same player, will he play a lot of snaps or will the coaching staff look to ease him back in to game play?

Personally, I’m curious to see just how different Cephus is on the field because of what happened to him off of it. That kind of personal change can be really good news or really bad news on the field and by all indications, he’s been super focused and super happy to be back playing the game.

Will that show against USF though?

4. Collin Larsh, K

Lost in all the offseason talk of change on defense, quarterback battles and who will be the backup to Jonathan Taylor was the graduation of Rafael Gaglianone.

That means a new kicker will be in place and by all indications the weather in Tampa Bay in a few days could be a little bit tricky. That means special teams play could be valuable.

By all accounts, Larsh has been very consistent in camp and easily won the job of replacing Gaglianone. However, his first field goal attempt of the season will also be his first field goal attempt of his career as a Badger.

Wisconsin has had a lot of inconsistency in its special teams play, partly due to injuries to Gaglianone. Showing that UW has a consistent kicker, in what could be less-than-ideal weather circumstances would be a huge boost of confidence for this program.

3. Garrett Rand, DE

It may be easy to overlook Rand on paper because it feels like he has been around awhile, but this will be his first action in over a year after tearing his Achilles in summer workouts last year.

Speaking of last year, without Rand in place, it was clear this defensive line wasn’t the same. UW’s sack numbers dropped dramatically and so did their overall aggressiveness. We’ll see if that changes with Rand in, but I have a feeling it will in a noticeable way.

Coming in to this season, Rand has played in 28 games and recorded 18 total tackles and one pass defensed. But, he has only really scratched the surface of his potential.

With that injury in the past, will he begin to reach towards his 4-star potential and become a dominant force along the line? USF would be a great place to start and if he can, that may free up a very athletic group behind him to let loose as well.

2. Izayah Green-May, OLB

Wisconsin has got to find a way to rush the passer better than it did last season and it certainly needs to up the aggressiveness a few notches. Enter sophomore outside linebacker Izayah Green-May.

Coming in to fall camp he was the after thought at the position opposite of Zack Baun. It was thought that Noah Burks and Christian Bell would battle it out. But, Green-May had the preverbal light bulb go off for him in fall camp and earned his way in to the starting role over Burks and Bell.

His 6-6 and 221-pound frame make him unique at the position. He can give tackles fits with his length and his speed and seems to be able to understand when to and how to use both of those to his advantage.

This will be his first major action in a Badgers uniform, so it will be interesting to see how he performs when the spotlights are on and TV cameras will catch his every play.

A lot of UW’s ability to be aggressive will come from how Baun and Green-May set the edges. Let’s see if things are different for this group in 2019 than they were in 2018 …because if not, this won’t be a fun defense to watch.

1. Jack Coan, QB

As if this wasn’t the obvious choice here? Simply put, the Badgers offense in 2019 is likely to go as far as the quarterback can literally throw them.

Everyone in the country knows about Jonathan Taylor and opposing defenses have thrown everything at UW to try and slow him down. It hasn’t worked to a large extent, but it is on the passing game to grow and make defenses back off of the run game this season.

That’s on Coan now, who ran with the No. 1 offense for every rep that he took in fall camp. It was clearly his job to lose and he didn’t do that.

So, will Coan continue to show the growth needed of a long-term answer at quarterback or is he just a stop-gap to younger options like Chase Wolf or 4-star recruit Graham Mertz?

There’s no doubt that Coan’s performance in this game is going to be put under a microscope by fans, the media and the coaching staff. Let’s see how he handles knowing this offense is his to run with.

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Can Benton step up to big challenge against Michigan?

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Through two games, the Wisconsin Badgers defense has been the talk of the town. Pitching back-to-back shutouts and doing so with a lot of new players in the mix was equally impressive.

Maybe the competition wasn’t the best, but a young group of players stepped up and the result has been zero points on the board and a 2-0 record.

One name has played above the rest in the group of freshman and sophomores in the mix — true freshman nose guard Keeanu Benton.

He had no choice but to play last week, as regular starting nose guard Bryson Williams went down with an injury late in the week and there isn’t much depth at the position.

If you pay attention to the analytical side of the game, Benton took his opportunity and ran with it though.

You may not see it on the stat sheet (1 tackle, 1 tackle for loss), but Pro Football Focus named Benton the best of all the Badgers in the win over Central Michigan two weeks ago.

He was in the top 10 players in the win over USF in the opener as well. That’s about as good a start as you could have hoped for for the young man.

Benton played 19 of the 45 plays that the Chippewas had last week, accounting for just over 42 percent of all snaps. His grade of 89.1 edged out Jack Coan’s grade of 86.9 for the top spot in that game.

Most importantly, Benton graded out well against the run, with an 89.6 rating in that category alone.

Given that Michigan has tried hard to establish the run early on in the season, having Benton play so well with his limited snaps is going to be huge come game day against the No. 10 Wolverines.

The hope for the Badgers was that Benton could use that experience and build off of it as starter Bryson Williams returned from an injury sustained in the build up to the CMU game.

Unfortunately, as the Badgers get ready for the Wolverines we already know that Williams will be out. He was listed as such on UW’s first injury report for this week.

While we’ve seen great work overall from Benton in the first two weeks of the season, and the Badgers defense has produced great things on paper, this is going to be a much bigger challenge.

Michigan comes in to this game ranked 45th in the country in rushing, having gone for 341 yards in just two games. Admittedly, most of that work was done in the opener against Middle Tennessee, where they ate up 234 yards.

Against a much more stout Army defense, Michigan’s ground game stumbled to just 108 yards on the same 45 carries it had in the opener.

Michigan has punched the ball in to the end zone five times already, including the critical scoring in the 24-21 win over Army in Week 2.

On the other hand, Wisconsin’s run defense has been its bread and butter. UW leads the nation in rush defense, giving up just 41 total yards on 44 carries over the course of the first two games of action. There hasn’t been any touchdowns given up since the Minnesota game to end the regular season last year too.

Benton has been a big help in that effort over the course of his first two games in action and his fellow players are quick to take notice of his efforts early on in his career at Wisconsin.

“Coming in, Keeanu was raw. He still is kind of raw. But he’s a big body, he’s fast, he’s strong, but what we’ve seen from him so far in camp and in the first two games, he’s definitely a playmaker,” defensive end Isaaiah Loudermilk said Monday, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Senior captain Chris Orr has also been impressed with what Benton brings to the game.

“He’s big. Big,” Orr said to the Wisconsin State Journal. “When I first saw him, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, put him right there in the middle in front of all of us. Let him eat up them blocks.’ But I think what I’m most impressed about is that he doesn’t just stay on blocks. When he gets double-teamed, he’ll eat the double then split it and go make a play.”

Doing that on Saturday against better overall competition will be a telling sign of where Benton is and where his potential lies.

If he can step up on the big stage against the biggest opponent to date, the sky may just be the limit for him and this Badgers defense.

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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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Badgers football

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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