Wisconsin kicks off its season tonight at 8 pm central time versus the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. Having gone 6-7 last season, Western Kentucky shouldn’t pose too much of a challenge against the fourth ranked Badgers. However, this should be a good test. With multiple position groups being question marks going into this season, this game should give us a decent idea as to how far Wisconsin is from being ready for conference season.
Players to Watch
Western Kentucky doesn’t have an obvious standout player, with zero Hilltoppers being named to Conference USA’s preseason all-conference team. However, wide receiver Lucky Jackson is more than just a cool name. Last season he featured as a deep threat for WKU, averaging a team high 15.4 yards per reception and scoring on a 93-yard pass. Tonight, Jackson and fifth-year senior Drew Eckels should put Wisconsin’s young cornerbacks to the test. With Dontye Carriere-Williams leaving the program, Caesar Williams, Faion Hicks, and Madison Cone will need to grow up fast. If they blow a few coverages, Jackson could keep Western Kentucky hanging around longer than they should.
For the Badgers, Jonathan Taylor should be the name on everyone’s mind. After breaking onto the scene last year, the sophomore running back is entering this season with Heisman hype. Western Kentucky has a fun mascot, but they shouldn’t do too much to slow down Taylor and the Badgers’ offensive line. This game for Taylor should be about living up to the hype, dropping some serious stats, and showing off a little versatility. Plenty reports came in about the Badger back working on his pass catching with head coach Paul Chryst. If he can figure into the passing game, then he can keep Wisconsin’s offense moving – even when WKU brings nine players to the line of scrimmage.
The position matchup to watch closely this week will be Wisconsin’s receivers versus the Hilltoppers defensive backs. We know that the Badgers will be able to run the ball this year with Jonathan Taylor and co., but the passing game will need to show some life with Danny Davis and Quintez Cephus both suspended. Kendric Pryor, A.J. Taylor, Jack Dunn, and Adam Krumholz will go up against an experienced secondary that returns four starters from last year. While it shouldn’t be a major accomplishment to get the passing game going against Western Kentucky, it will make Jonathan Taylor’s day a little easier, and should be a good sign for the rest of the season. Pryor and A.J. Taylor showed off their talent last season, but they will need to prove that they can be the leading men for the Badgers while Krumholz and Dunn will need to prove that they can hang in a real game. These four will be counted on a lot this season, so if Hornibrook struggles to get them involved, we may need to start thinking about where we left our panic buttons.
Florida State’s new head coach Willie Taggart actually started his head coaching career at Western Kentucky (his alma mater), before jumping to South Florida, Oregon, and finally the Seminoles.