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UW seniors have more than just final home game on mind against Michigan

Badgers seniors also have revenge on Michigan on their mind as they take to the Camp Randall turf one last time this Saturday.

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Saturday will be an emotional day for 15 seniors in Wisconsin Badgers uniforms. It will be their final appearance in the Cardinal and White at Camp Randall Stadium.

But, that group will also have a bit of extra emotion saved up for avenging a loss everyone on the team would have liked back last season — to Michigan nonetheless.

A 14-7 loss to Michigan, in the first meeting between these two teams since 2011, still stings for the Badgers. It was the first of three losses on the season, but the one that stings the most according to some players.

“We had those three losses last year, but that was the one — we never want to be outplayed,” senior tight end Troy Fumagalli said to Badger247. “They were big and physical. They outplayed us last year and there’s no other way to say it.

“I think a lot of the guys that played in that remember that and carry a chip on their shoulder going into this game.”

Wisconsin mustered up just 159 yards of offense, and uncharacteristically couldn’t find anything going in the run game.

“It was a bad feeling, we played really bad,” said junior left tackle Michael Deiter. “We couldn’t run the ball. It was just a big stalemate all day and we couldn’t get any movement.”

UW had just 71 yards on 28 carries and no touchdowns via the ground, also going just 4-of-15 on third downs. Things didn’t get any better thanks to three turnovers in that game.

Just about everything on the stat sheet is different for the Badgers offense in 2017 though.

There’s no stat line that is likely to tell the Badgers tale on Saturday than the run game. Wisconsin comes in ranked second in the Big Ten in rushing (245 yards/game), while Michigan comes in third at 110.3 yards per game to opponents.

UW is 24th in the country in scoring offense (36.3 points per game) and racks up 433.1 yards per game too. A lot of that is thanks to true freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, who has put up 1,525 yards (3rd nationally) and 152.5 yards per game (4th nationally), and a stable of young wide receivers coming in to their own.

About the only thing that isn’t different is the fact that sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook can’t stop throwing bad interceptions.

Last season, Hornibrook threw three interceptions in this contest, none bigger than an underthrow of a deep ball that could’ve given Wisconsin a tie ballgame late. Jourdan Lewis got the pick and sealed the win for the Wolverines.

This season, Hornibrook has been more efficient, but hasn’t dropped the interceptions. In fact, they have been more costly, including a pair of pick-sixes last weekend against Iowa. On the year, Hornibrook’s 12 interceptions are second worst amongst all Big Ten quarterbacks. He also does sport 17 touchdown passes and has shown a crazy ability to overcome bad mistakes.

But, no question looms larger over this game than which offense can actually make the other defense blink.

Wisconsin’s offense is under no illusions that anything is going to come easy this weekend.

“They’re good, man,” said offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, via Badger247. “Those d-lineman, they stand out. They can make plays individually, win 1-on-1’s, explosive guys inside, edge rushers, they can play the run, they can rush the passer. Their backers can fly to the ball, get off blocks. When you see teams consistently win 1-on-1’s, that’s a sign they’re pretty athletic.”

The Wolverines defense is easily the biggest challenge Wisconsin’s offense is going to face. Mistakes have to be limited and turnovers kept down too. Consider that advantage Michigan, as the Badgers haven’t been able to do either for most of the season and have survived despite bad turnovers and untimely penalties on offense.

On the flip side, UW’s defense is giving up just 81.5 yards per game to opponents on the ground. Michigan comes in to Saturday finally finding its footing in the run game as of late. The Wolverines have gone for over 200 yards rushing in three of the last five games.

A season-long drain at quarterback seems to have finally stopped with the insertion of Brandon Peters at quarterback.

The Wolverines had to insert him after Wilton Speight went down with injury and his backup, John O’Korn, was highly ineffective in his sted. Peters has responded with confidence and the offense has taken off with him in the mix.

Peters has completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 329 yards and four touchdowns to zero interceptions on the year.

While the yardage may not seem like much, his ability to not throw interceptions has led to an offense that is clicking like it never did before. Junior running back Karan Higdon has emerged as a threat in the run game at exactly the same time as Peters was inserted.

At a minimum that is down to teams having to respect a passer who can, you know, actually pass the football effectively. Not being able to consistently jam eight or nine players in the box makes for a much better time for a pro-style offense.

But, it should be noted that just as the Wolverines have busted for over 200 yards as a team in three of the last five games, Higdon has gone over the 100-yard mark in each of those games.

However, he was held to just 45 yards against Penn State in a loss and last week only had 50 yards on 10 carries in a win over Maryland.

Something is going to have to give in this matchup in Madison, and while Michigan may look for motivation in playing spoiler the rest of this season, the Badgers will clearly be looking for semblance of revenge for last season themselves.

It doesn’t hurt that getting said revenge would also mean an 11-0 record and a senior class going out with a victory once again. Just don’t expect revenge to be Wisconsin’s biggest motivation.

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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Badgers football

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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