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Badgers Opposition Research: Breaking down Utah State’s defense

It’s time to scout the Utah State Aggies defense

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Wisconsin’s first opponent is the Utah State Aggies, a familiar name given that is the school that gave us Gary Andersen and the one that put a real scare in to the Badgers last time around. That was 2012 though, and these two programs are in vastly different positions.

Earlier this week we took at look at what to expect from the Aggies offense, now it is time to flip the script.

So, let’s take a look at the state of the Utah State Aggies defense heading in to Friday night’s game.

Biggest Strength: Secondary

Utah State has a lot of holes to fill on its roster period. One area they are totally fine with appears to be in the secondary. The Aggies return starters at both cornerback spots and have two safeties with starting experience as well.

In fact, there are five players with starting experience in the secondary as the season opens. If that isn’t a sign of strength then I don’t know what is.

Leading the group is fifth-year senior cornerback Jalen Davis, who was at one point an honorable mention all-Mountain West pick. That was two years ago though, and he’s looking to bounce back after a rocky season in 2016. In fact, he made some bold predictions before the season:

“After last year, I’m not going out like that,” he said, via the Cache Valley Daily. “I’m not going to have any of that be tolerated. I’m going to be all-Mountain West. I will be. That’s how I’m going to help my team out.”

One theme you will see with Matt Wells’ team is that there are a lot of questions surrounding the roster, and even with a lot of experience back, there are new players who are stepping up as well. It means competition amongst the secondary is good and that’s never really a bad thing when you’re looking to get your four best players out there.

A great example of this is the corner opposite Davis, as Ja’Marcus Ingram is listed as the starter despite offseason legal troubles and returning starter Wesley Bailey on the roster still.

Biggest Weakness: Defensive Line

The exact opposite of the secondary is the Aggie defensive line. Only senior defensive end Ian Togiai returns as a starter from last season and he does represent a good challenge for the Badgers offensive line. He finished last season with 38 tackles, 3.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks, not bad numbers for a defensive end in the 3-4 scheme the Aggies like to run.

But, as they turn to 2017, he’s a known quantity that can be dealt with. Beyond Togiai there is little in the way of known depth and what is there wasn’t all that productive last season either. Junior Gasetoto Schuster starts at nose guard, but he’s just 295 pounds and has big shoes to fill with the departure of Chad Seefeldt.

The other starting end spot goes to fellow sophomore Jacoby Wildman, who had just two total tackles while appearing in 11 games last season.

Add in the fact that this group gave up an average of 203 yards rushing and 378.9 yards of total offense and you can see why this group is a weak spot heading in to the 2017 season. That doesn’t mean they can’t be a strength, but going up against a much more settled and physical Badgers offensive line is certainly not a fun way to find out how good or bad you really are.

Biggest Question Mark: What to make at Linebacker

Utah State technically return two starters at linebacker entering 2017, but neither of them are going in to this game listed as a starter on the two-deep. Instead, Wells is hoping an infusion of new talent via recruiting the JUCO ranks has paid off.

The goal is speed and strength, and Wells didn’t see that on the roster as he was looking forward to 2017 and made the changes needed in his mind. JUCO transfers Louy Compton (OLB) and Suli Tamaivena (ILB) are in the fold as are sophomores Chase Christiansen (ILB) and Justus Te’i (OLB).

Wisconsin’s coaching staff should be plenty familiar with what the Utah State defense wants to do, after all the basis for UW’s own 3-4 scheme is the one brought by former Aggies DC Dave Aranda, who is now with the LSU Tigers.

Given the infusion of new names, there has to be a big question mark as to the ability of this group to be up to speed heading in to the opener.

Player to Watch: Ja’Marcus Ingram, CB

As we mentioned before, the secondary appears to be the strength of the defense. But, there is one player that comes to mind to watch in this game and that is redshirt freshman cornerback Ja’Marcus Ingram. He’s 6-1, 185 pounds and with so much youth in the Badgers wide receiver group this could be a very key matchup to watch.

Ingram got himself arrested in the offseason, but amazingly has been allowed to play despite a plea deal for witness tampering charges.

On the field, few players have been talked about more this offseason in Logan, Utah than Ingram has.

Even veterans like senior leader Jalen Davis have called him out by name.

Wisconsin has two young receivers to watch in Quintez Cephus and Danny Davis. Expect Ingram to draw duties on those two and whomever isn’t named Jazz Peavy as necessary in this one.

Andy Coppens is the Founder and Publisher of Talking10. He's a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and has been covering college sports in some capacity since 2008. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyOnFootball

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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Iowa Hawkeyes: What we’re watching for

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Kicking off conference play with a bitter rivalry game is one thing. Doing so following a bitter loss in the non-conference finale is another. 

That’s what the Wisconsin Badgers face as they go to Iowa City to take on the Hawkeyes this Saturday night. 

What could this matchup hinge on? We’re going to be watching for a few key things to tell us how this game is going to go. 

Badgers O-Line vs. Iowa D-Line

It’s true, one could likely put this as a thing to watch every year between these mirror image programs. But, in 2018 and following a loss in which the Badgers offensive line played far below expectations, this is going to be a tell-tale sign of how things are going to go on Saturday night. 

Winning the battle up front is normally a big deal, but in this contest it truly will be be the difference between a win or loss. UW’s O-Line has to show up in a way it really hasn’t so far this season — against the pass rush.

Iowa comes in to this game with 12 sacks as a team, second-most in the Big Ten behind Penn State’s 13. The Hawkeyes starting defensive line has proven to do most of that damage, with end A.J. Epenesa racking up four sacks already. Anthony and Matt Nelson have a sack each and Parker Hesse has two to his name. That’s a total of eight of the 12 sacks Iowa has put up. 

UW’s offensive line has given up six sacks on the season along, which is tied for 10th early on the season. 

You can bet this is going to be a huge point of emphasis for the Badgers offensive line and winning it could mean winning the game. 

Iowa’s Run Game

One of Wisconsin’s strongest points to its defensive success as of late has been its ability to make offenses one-dimensional. Relying on the pass game is something that usually hasn’t ended well for opponents. 

However, early on this year the Badgers defense has had trouble containing the run game of opponents.

New Mexico caught the Badgers off guard with a variation of the option offense in the first half of its Week 2 matchup before settling in and allowing just 77 yards on the ground. Last week saw BYU run consistently against the Badgers defensive group, racking up 191 yards as a team in the win. 

It’s led to Wisconsin ranking just eighth against the run in the Big Ten, allowing opponents to put up 130.6 yards per game on the ground. 

Iowa is looking to establish a run game behind Monona Grove product Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin. The early results suggest that is a work in progress to say the least. 

So far this year, the Hawkeyes are averaging 173.6 yards per carry. That may seem high, but given the opponents played they rank just 11th in the Big Ten. Young leads Iowa in rushing, but his 234 yards on the ground is only good for 12th individually in the conference. 

Wisconsin can’t let the Iowa’s mediocre run game get going and expect to win. Let’s see if UW can learn from the film Iowa State put up, allowing just 105 yards on the ground in a defensive slug fest two weeks ago. 

Can Hornibrook Break Out?

It seems like this is a weekly wish for Badgers fans, and rightfully so. He’s teased us with greatness at various points in his career, but he’s never been able to harness that greatness on a consistent level. 

Any hopes of that happening in 2018 seem to have diminished already. It’s easy to see why when you compare his numbers last season to this season — they are eerily similar. 

Take a look for yourself: 

Courtesy GoIowaAwesome

Yes, you can point to Hornibrook being unlucky to have one of those two interceptions counting against him, but the numbers are what they are and once again we’re seeing a QB that’s efficient when he has to be, but is far from spectacular more often than not. 

After an opener in which he put up 257 yards, Hornibrook hasn’t topped the 200-yard mark in either of the next two games. Sure, he wasn’t counted on much (just 11 attempts) against New Mexico, but he went just 18 of 28 and averaged just 6.8 yards per attempt with 190 yards and no touchdowns against BYU last weekend.

If that doesn’t sound like inconsistent football, I don’t know what will from a quarterback. 

If ever there was a game for the junior to get back to that level he showed us in the Orange Bowl, this would be a perfect time to do it. 

We’ll keep hope alive for a bit longer, but at some point we’ve got to see him turning the corner to believe this team can get to the level needed to compete nationally. 

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Wisconsin Badgers vs. Iowa Hawkeyes: 5 Things to Know

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How do you get over a heartbreaking defeat? The Wisconsin Badgers will find out quickly, as they turn around from a loss to BYU last week with a game against rival Iowa on Saturday night. 

The now annual battle for the Heartland Trophy has a lot of attention on it, and rightfully so. Could the winner be the frontrunner for the Big Ten West division?

While we won’t know the answer to that for a few weeks, there are some key facts to know about these teams and this game. So, let’s look at five things you should know heading in to the battle for the Heartland Trophy (and Wisconsin’s continued dominance in the battle for the Rusty Toolbox). 

5: A win on Saturday would make Wisconsin the 5th team in Big Ten history to reach 700 wins as a program. 

Despite decades of bad football, the Badgers program is on the verge of history. The program currently sits at 699-491-53 overall in its history. Wisconsin would join the ranks of the 700-win club with the likes of Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State and would become just the third long-term member of the Big Ten to make it to that milestone. What better way to reach win No. 700 than to do it against a rival like Iowa? 

4: Iowa is looking for a 4-0 start for the fifth time in the Kirk Ferentz era

Good starts to the season generally mean good finishes. Case in point the Kirk Ferentz era for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Iowa has previously started 4-0 in 2003, 2006, 2009 and 2015. In three of those four previous seasons they’ve won at least 10 games. The lone outlier is the 2006 season, in which they started 4-0 and limped to the finish line with a 6-7 overall record and a 2-6 record in Big Ten play. 

What does that tell us? It tells us that either Iowa wins and goes on to dominate the West division…or it losses and won’t be able to catch the Badgers. Either way, this shows just how important this game is to the future of both programs in 2018. 

3: Wisconsin is going for its third-straight win the series with Iowa. 

The Badgers are owners of back-to-back wins in this series, taking a 17-9 decision in 2016 and a 38-14 win at Camp Randall last season. UW has also won five of the last six games, including a three-game win streak (2010, 2014, 2015) in the series. In fact, since the East-West division split for the Big Ten, the Badgers-Hawkeyes series 

2: Iowa is second in the nation in total and scoring defense.

Whatever you make of Iowa’s schedule heading in to conference play, the fact of the matter is that the Hawkeyes have been impressive on defense so far this season. They are allowing just 209 yards per game and an average of 8.0 points per game. Of course, it’s also been nice to play all three games in the friendly confines of Kinnick Stadium, but the Badgers offense is going to be tested much like it was last week against BYU if you look at the stat sheet. 

1: That is the number of losses in true road games for Wisconsin under Paul Chryst.

Playing on the road in the Big Ten is supposed to be really hard, but for the Paul Chryst-led Badgers it has been easier than it is supposed to be. UW is 14-1 in true road games in the four years Chryst has been at the helm of the program, and own a 9-game road winning streak. That win streak is second longest active road win steak in the country, trailing only Oklahoma’s 17-game win streak. 

Wisconsin’s lone loss on the road in Chryst’s tenure was to Michigan in the 2016 season. That loss was a narrow one, with the Wolverines winning 14-7. 

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Badgers Hangover: Season far from over for UW

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One look at the Twitter universe around the Badgers after Saturday’s loss to the BYU Cougars and it is easy to see Wisconsin’s season is over with.

The common refrain went something like this: 

But, the Twitterverse is often not indicative of reality. Such is the case with the all the doom and gloom surrounding the 2018 Wisconsin Badgers season. 

As one person on Twitter said in response to a Tweet we made, the season really isn’t lost. The path forward is more difficult, but there is history to show that winning a lot the rest of the season goes a long way towards repairing that one loss early on in the season. 

Another thing lost in all of this doom and gloom from around the social media world? BYU is pretty dang good. 

The Cougars have played three Power 5 opponents to start the season and are 2-1 — owning wins on the road against Arizona and Wisconsin. It’s loss to Cal was a narrow one and guess what? BYU happens to still have three more games against Power 5 opponents.

Up next for BYU is a date with McNeese State prior to a big one with Washington. Then there is a red-hot Boise State program and a season-ending date with Utah too — all three of them on the road no less. Those are major teams to compete against and potentially win against. 

Is it far-fetched to think the Cougars can’t win those games? Not after what we saw on Saturday inside Camp Randall. This is a program that is stout up front, assignment sure and has a quality run game. You can win a lot of games in college football with that formula…just ask the Badgers. 

How the Cougars play the rest of the season will only matter if the Badgers do their part and win out though. 

That begins with regrouping for a major rivalry game at Iowa on Saturday night. Winning that against a 3-0 Hawkeyes team sets up the Badgers for it’s first step towards national respect once again — controlling its own destiny in the Big Ten West division. 

Then there are big matchups with Michigan and Penn State to win as the season goes along. Get both of those games and Wisconsin is suddenly right back in the picture. 

Of course, all of this is speculation and if’s and but’s and wonderment. That’s what losing a game will do — make you speculate instead of controlling your own fate. 

Ultimately, the Badgers still have their main goals in front of them. Win the Big Ten West division. Play for and win a Big Ten championship and let the chips fall where they may for the College Football Playoff committee. 

Wisconsin still controls how those things could happen — even if Saturday’s loss felt like a familiar gut-punch to hype and hope for the Badgers faithful. 

It certainly isn’t time to jump off the bandwagon or abandon all hope. 

Saturday’s loss hurts, but if we are being honest, one loss doesn’t define a season like it used to in college football. Wisconsin’s reaction to that loss…well, that will define it’s season. 

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BYU stuns Badgers as non-conference play comes to an end

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All good streaks must come to an end.

Wisconsin had a 41-game home win streak in non-conference play coming in to Saturday’s contest with the BYU Cougars. It no longer has that streak as the Cougars bested the Badgers 24-21 at Camp Randall Stadium. 

The Cougars used a large part of Wisconsin’s game plan to beat the hosts — beating them in the trenches and racking up 191 yards on the ground in the win. 

Squally Canada needed just 11 carries to get 118 yards and two big touchdowns. His first score tied things up at 7-7 and his second took away another Badgers lead, scoring from two yards out early in the third quarter to make it 21-14. 

UW’s Heisman hopeful, Jonathan Taylor, was largely bottled up on the day. He ran the ball 26 times for just 117 yards and never got in to the end zone. Instead, it was senior Taiwan Deal pushing the ball over the goal line twice for the Badgers.

With the run game struggling, much of the hope turned to the pass game. Junior Alex Hornibrook didn’t respond well, completing 18 of 28 passes, but only gaining 190 yards. 

He also had a bad turnover, missing the underneath coverage on a huge third down play on the Badgers opening second half drive. 

Any momentum that the defense was able to gain was squandered over and over by the offense on the day. 

But, this one started off looking like the Badgers had found a way to spark itself early on — a problem that plagued them in the first two weeks of the season. 

Wisconsin got on the scoreboard first against BYU as running back Taiwan Deal capped off an 8-play, 63-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run.

But, the lead was short-lived, as BYU answered right back on their next drive. Cougars running back Squally Canada capped off a 75-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown and it was 7-7 just 3:10 after the Badgers took the lead. 

BYU forced a 3-and-out by the Badgers on the next possession and then drove the ball right down the UW defense again. However, it was a trick play that put the Cougars up 14-7, as Aleva Hifo hit Moroni Laulu-Pututau on a wide receiver pass for 31 yards. 

Despite the struggles, the Badgers responded back with a late touchdown by fullback Alec Ingold to knot the score at 14-14 with 1:17 to go in the second quarter. 

After a three-and-out forced by the Wisconsin defense to open the second half, it appeared the typical quick start to the half was in order in Madison. 

That feeling didn’t last long though, as Alex Hornibrook threw an interception on the ensuing possession. It was returned to the Badgers 27-yard line and the defense needed to come up big. 

However, BYU took advantage of the miscue and punched in a short-yardage TD by Canada to make it 21-14 Cougars with 9:54 to play in third quarter.

Wisconsin tied things up two possessions later, as it went 10 plays and 82 yards for a touchdown. Deal got his second score of the game and it was 21-21 with 12:43 to play in the final stanza. 

The defense gave up a huge run to Canada on the ensuing drive, but held up after that and forced a 45-yard field goal to make the game 24-21 Cougars with 9:58 to play in the game. 

UW couldn’t get anything going on the next drive, eating over three minutes of clock in just five plays and were forced to punt. 

That gave the defense one last opportunity to make a stand, and they did exactly that. However, BYU’s punt bounced in front of Jack Dunn, who let it go and rolled inside the Badgers own 10-yard line. 

The ensuing drive saw Wisconsin attempt to take the clock down and get within scoring range at the same time. Instead of going for the touchdown and the outright victory, it appeared head coach Paul Chryst was content turning things over to his senior kicker Rafael Gaglianone. 

However, that strategy backfired as Gaglianone missed a 42-yard field goal attempt way wide left with just 35 seconds to play in the game. 

The senior was seen apologizing to his teammates for the uncharacteristic miss, but this loss was far from his fault.

Even if he would’ve made the field goal, overtime would’ve loomed large and anything could’ve happened at that point. 

Wisconsin will look to rebound next week as it opens Big Ten play against the rival Iowa Hawkeyes. Kick is scheduled for 7pm CT on ABC from Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. 

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