The last couple blowouts the Wisconsin Badgers started the 2019 season with show far more promise than any of their games last year. In 2018 the Badgers held a record of 8-5. This was an utter disappointment compared to the playoff predictions by top analysts. But this year, the expectations are still high. Wisconsin has still been talked about on top of the Big Ten and are still rising through the College Football AP rankings. With a 49-0 win against a USF team that was once able to contend against the top 25, the Badgers looked extremely promising. Keeping the shutout streak going, they railed former Florida head coach Jim McElwain’s Central Michigan team 61-0. Like the scores, there are some stark contrasts to last season.
Jonathan Taylor: It is hard not to talk about the Wisconsin Badgers without mentioning their Heisman hopeful candidate. Odds as it seems, he has also improved his play and his stats over the first two games. Taylor is running with more confidence than he did all of last year. The amount of breakaway runs he has had this season gives this offense the usual Wisconsin steamroll effect they have become known for. While Taylor has a third of a yard less per gain and only 237 yards rushing this season, his load has been limited as most top backs are in non-conference play. As many color-commentators have pointed out during games, Taylor is a part of the passing game. Having almost eclipsed his reception total of last season in two games, Taylor has five more reception yards than he did all of last year combined. With a lofty average of 13 yards per catch, according to the Washington Post, there is nowhere further to look for the engine of this electric offense than Jonathan Taylor himself.
The Defense: After a rough go of things last season, on top of significant injuries, the Badgers have reloaded and are led by Senior linebackers Chris Orr and Zach Baun. This group looks extremely dominant after shutting out USF and Central Michigan. Combined over the last two games, the Badgers held those opponents to a total of 100 yards. This kind of dominance has been due to a new reign of dominant linebackers. Zach Baun leads the team with 2 sacks and Mike Maskalunas with 10 tackles. The defense suffered a major, with Scott Nelson out for the season with left leg problems. They will have to keep that next-man-up mentality and keep that aggressive Jim Leonhard style of defense.
Jack Coan: When Alex Hornibrook announced that he was transferring to Florida State, many thought Graham Mertz, the highest Badger recruited in history would be under center. This was not the case when Badgers head coach Paul Chryst announced last year’s backup and replacement when Hornibrook was concussed for the later part of last season. This year, Coan has come out as a completely different player. Like Taylor, he has already surpassed his stats from last year. He has also found the confidence in the position Hornibrook never had. He keeps his composure for the most part and has completed a large amount of his passes. He also is not afraid to try the deep ball, when he unleashed a 46-yard bomb to Quintez Cephus against Central Michigan. This is a substantial improvement to Hornibrook, as the Badgers have now found a prototypical quarterback for them. He hands the ball off to Taylor, can sit back in the pocket and sling it down the field.
The Receiving Core: Last year, the Badgers lacked any sort of production down the field. Nobody could get open, balls were being dropped and all they could manage were short passes. They had huge losses at receiver as Quintez Cephus was out and tight end Troy Fumagalli had been drafted to the Denver Broncos. This year, with Cephus back after winning his case and Ferguson stepping into the huge void of Fumagalli, this is giving the Badgers offense the zip that it just did not have last year. Coan now has four different, healthy and explosive options at receiver. In addition, he also has Ferguson and Tayor out of the backfield. This season the passing numbers should continue to go up, along with the hype from a strong receiving core.
The Badgers kept up their pace of dominance in their first real test against the 11th ranked Michigan Wolverines. In the First Quarter, the Wolverines saw a lot of Heisman hopeful, Jonathan Taylor running into the endzone. By the end, Taylor scored twice and rushed for more yards than he had last week against Central Michigan. In the second quarter, Taylor spent most of his time in the injury tent, so the defense and Coan picked up the slack.
Coan flashed his ability to run the ball by scoring two rushing touchdowns and the defense continued their streak, holding the Wolverines scoreless through the first half.
The defense suffered some real losses however, when both of their starting safeties were ejected in two consecutive plays, which will carry over to the first quarter of next week’s game against Northwestern. The Wolverines eventually found the endzone, but their quarterbacks could never maintain any sort of consistency. The Badgers eventually pulled away with an impressive 35-14 victory. Continuing the path, they have been forging to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship game. They should find another tough matchup against the defending Big Ten East champs from last season, the Northwestern Wildcats. The Wildcats have always given the Badgers trouble, exemplifying the tough coaching style of Pat Fitzgerald. The Badgers will have to maintain their tough demeanor they held the last three games to remain undefeated.