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5 priorities for Wisconsin Badgers bye week

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It’s here, the one weekend of the fall when it’s perfectly okay to ditch the Badgers and hang with the family. They just don’t need to know it’s also the bye week and there really is no Badgers game this weekend. 

Either that or the love of the Badgers has rubbed off on everyone else and they know better by now. 

But, for the Wisconsin Badgers this week is more than just a chance to recharge the batteries and enjoy a rest. It is also about reflection and figuring out how to get to the end of the season with all of its goals still intact. 

So, what should the five biggest priorities be for the Badgers over the next two weeks? Let’s take a look in no particular order. 

Get Healthy

I’m pretty sure this is number one on ever teams priority list heading in to their respective bye weeks. The good news here is that the Wisconsin Badgers aren’t suffering with a rash of injuries like some other teams across the college football landscape are. 

Andrew Van Ginkel and Zander Neuville were the big question marks for this past Saturday, and both played. What a better way to get them healthy than two full weeks of rehab work heading in to the game against Nebraska to open up the October slate? 

There are likely nagging issues to offensive and defensive lineman that can get worked on this week as well. Rest is always good and after four weeks of play, this is a perfect time to get the rest needed for the big conference games to come. 

Find a vertical pass game

So far this season the biggest miss in the Badgers offense has been the ability to stretch the field on opponents. Quarterback Alex Hornibrook has completed just eight passes for 25 or more yards this season, with a long of 44 yards. 

Over the past two seasons, Hornibrook has completed longs of 61 and 57 yards. He also hit 18 passes over 25 yards last season and 14 of them in a more limited role in 2016. 

With Quintez Cephus suspended and awaiting trail on two charges of sexual assault, the wide receiver group lost its best deep threat on the field. 

A.J. Taylor and Danny Davis are more of the slot type receiver and Kendric Pryor has become more of an intermediate route runner. It would be nice to see Davis open up the field a bit more like we saw in his freshman season, but he’s only had two games to go off of thanks a two-game suspension for his alleged role in the Cephus incident. 

The good news is that despite the numbers being down in the vertical passing game, the sample size is also small. UW has only thrown the ball 94 times this season, which trails only Nebraska and Maryland for fewest attempts in the Big Ten so far. 

I fully expect that the more Danny Davis we see, the more vertical the passing game is going to get over the next few weeks. If so, look for the entire offense to open up as teams can’t continue to stack the box and not get burned deep. 

Find some consistency at QB

But, all of that vertical pass game stuff also requires Hornibrook to become a consistent threat and that hasn’t happened yet either. At this point, it may never happen. One just needs to look at the last two weeks as the perfect example. 

With the run game in check, Hornibrook was just 18-of-28 passing for 190 yards and no touchdowns to one interception against BYU two weeks ago. 

He followed that up by going 17-of-22 for 205 yards and three touchdowns to zero interceptions against Iowa. That performance also included the game-winning drive in which Hornibrook was perfect and threw the touchdown pass.

For a third-year starter this type of inconsistency is troubling for an offense that needs the pass game to come alive. No one is asking Hornibrook to thrown for 300 yards and 4 touchdowns every Saturday. But, the problem has been his ability to shred bad defenses and then get shredded by good defenses. 

Will we see Hornibrook do more of what he did against Iowa going forward? Finding a way to get that type of game more consistently has to be a priority for the Badgers offense. 

Reflection on Secondary play

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard hasn’t been afraid to mix and match with his youthful secondary through the first four games of the season. 

About the only sure bet has been cornerback Caesar Williams, who appears to be the best bet to be a lockdown corner against some of the better receivers to come. 

Leonhard has inserted the likes of Faion Hicks, Derron Harrel and Madison Cone at cornerback to start games already this season. The results have been mixed. 

Wisconsin is fourth in the Big Ten in pass defense, has given up just five passing touchdowns through four games and have four interceptions. All of those things are good news, but UW is also allowing a lot of plays that better teams will convert in to more points. 

There have been five passes over 25 yards and 14 plays of 15 yards or more. Luckily it’s been soft coverage and keeping people in front of them that has contributed to those numbers. 

Which players who have rotated in will be trusted to come up big as the games get bigger, the attention gets more intense and everything is under the microscope. 

About all we know is that Caesar Williams has been trusted along with Scott Nelson as youthful members in this secondary. They need to settle in to a rotation they can trust at the other cornerback spot. Seeing the film, talking to the players and reflecting on what has gone on is a great place to start in figuring out this mystery. 

Test out wrinkles to the offense

Normally the Badgers will line up, tell you the play that’s coming and still beat you silly with it. But, with upcoming games against tough defenses like Michigan, this is a perfect week to work behind the scenes on some wrinkles to the game plan. 

Why not throw in a few players who haven’t seen the field in very specific packages or why not work on throwing out of packages that have always been run plays before? 

Paul Chryst’s offense may seem simple, but talk to any opposing coach and they’ll tell you he’s one of the better play-calling minds in the game. Why not put that to good use in the bye week?

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Badgers football

Badgers in the 2019 NFL Mock Drafts

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Believe it or not, we’re just three weeks away from the start of the 2019 NFL Draft. While, it’s likely your focus is on your favorite NFL team, its needs and who will go where, for fans of college football it’s also a time to sneak a look at where their favorite players will be going.

So, as we near the draft, I thought it a perfect time to take a look at where every former Badgers player stands. We’ll look at some of the most comprehensive 7-round mock drafts.

Making our cut were CBS Sports, Draft Wire, Draftteck and Walter Football.

Without further ado, let’s jump in in alphabetical order.

Beau Benzschawel, OL

CBS Sports: 3rd Round (No. 102 overall) to the Baltimore Ravens
Draft Wire: 4th Round (No. 114 overall) to Carolina Panthers
Draftteck: 4th Round (No. 116 overall) to Miami Dolphins
Walter Football: 5th Round (No. 149 overall) to Cincinnati Bengals

Ryan Connelly, LB

CBS Sports: Undrafted
Draft Wire: 7th Round (No. 238 overall) to Chicago Bears
Draftteck: Undrafted
Walter Football: 5th Round (No. 159 overall) to Seattle Seahawks

Michael Deiter, OL

CBS Sports: 4th Round (No. 108 overall) to New York Giants
Draft Wire: 3rd Round (No. 75 overall) to Green Bay Packers
Draftteck: 5th Round (No. 169 overall) to Los Angeles Rams
Walter Football: 2nd Round (No. 55 overall) to Houston TexansO

D’Cota Dixon, S

CBS Sports: Undrafted
Draft Wire: Undrafted
Draftteck: 6th Round (No. 190 overall) to Minnesota Vikings
Walter Football: Undrafted

David Edwards, OL

CBS Sports: 6th Round (No. 174 overall) to Seattle Seahawks
Draft Wire: 3rd Round (No. 94 overall) to Los Angeles Rams
Draftteck: 3rd Round (No. 88 overall) to Detroit Lions
Walter Football: 6th Round (No. 181 overall) to Buffalo Bills

T.J. Edwards, LB

CBS Sports: 5th Round (No. 162 overall) to Chicago Bears
Draft Wire: 7th Round (No. 215 overall) to Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Draftteck: 5th Round (No. 145 overall) to Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Walter Football: 6th Round (No. 178) to Jacksonville Jaguars

Alec Ingold, FB

CBS Sports: Undrafted
Draft Wire: Undrafted
Draftteck: Undrafted
Walter Football: Undrafted

Olive Sagapolu, DT

CBS Sports: Undrafted
Draft Wire: Undrafted
Draftteck: 6th Round (No. 182 overall) to Denver Broncos
Walter Football: Undrafted

Andrew Van Ginkel, OLB

CBS Sports: Undrafted
Draft Wire: Undrafted
Draftteck: 7th Round (No. 235 overall) to Oakland Raiders
Walter Football: 6th Round (No. 211 overall) to Cincinnati Bengals

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WATCH: Chryst addresses Spring Ball at halfway point

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Believe it or not…the Wisconsin Badgers are halfway through the 2019 spring practice season.

On Tuesday, Chryst addressed the media on where things stand. The head coach made it known the team is nowhere near ready to take the field in the fall, but that competition is fierce.

So much so, that there is nearly an open competition going on at every position on the team.

Some may see that as a bad thing, but considering the youth and the amount of graduated players, the fact that there are multiple players stepping up and performing well enough to compete for positions on this squad is a good thing.

Check out what else the head coach had to say at the halfway point here:

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Badgers using Axe loss as motivation for 2019 season

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The 2018 season did not go exactly as planned for the Wisconsin Badgers football program. Putting the cap on a disappointing season was UW’s first loss in 15 games to bitter rival Minnesota.

Not seeing Paul Bunyan’s Axe in the Badgers trophy case had to be a strange feeling when it happened. But, it has also become motivation for the Badgers to remember that awful feeling and never let it happen again.

To that end, apparently the coaching staff has put a picture of the Gophers players chopping down the goal posts following their win last seasons.

Ferguson and others note that the loss and the fact that UW went from a preseason College Football Playoff contender to the Pinstripe Bowl has served to make this offseason much more serious than a year ago.

“When we walk into the locker room, we’ve got the Nebraska trophy, the Iowa trophy, and then on the right is where the Axe would be,” Ferguson told the media. “Right behind it where it would be is that big picture.”

“Kinda pisses me off,” he continued. “But I think it’s a good thing we have that, and I’d say a lot more guys are focused up and a lot less goofing around in the weight room. Everyone’s holding each other accountable.”

With a much younger team and a whole lot of spaces up for grabs, things should be serious this spring as well.

The Badgers will move on from Alex Hornibrook at quarterback and four players have taken nearly equal reps overall so far this spring.

There’s youth being served along the defensive line, at linebacker and a host of young (but experienced) players at cornerback to give the Badgers plenty of focus overall.

But, it is interesting that with over seven months to go until the Badgers and Gophers knock heads again for the longest-played rivalry in college football, the Badgers have focused in on getting that trophy back in their possession.

While winning the trophy doesn’t guarantee success, it certainly has gone a long way towards letting everyone know the Badgers are successful on a near annual basis for the previous 14 years.

Can that focus on getting the Axe back be a catalyst for the improvement needed from the young roster? Only time will tell, but the fact that those young players appear to be locked in this early is a positive sign.

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5 Badgers who need to break out this spring

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As with any talk of spring ball, individual play is always at the forefront. It’s what Wisconsin Badgers head coach Paul Chryst is emphasizing the most this spring.

With injuries to potential starters like Christian Bell, Tyler Biadsz and Cole Van Lanen, there are more spots open for reps this spring. Add in a young overall roster and you can see why spring is big for the Badgers in 2019.

But, there are some players who need to showcase themselves more than others. For a group of players it may be their last chance to put it all together and show the coaching staff the belong in the mix.

So, let’s take a look at the five players who need to break out the most this spring.

Noah Burks, Jr. (Outside Linebacker)

MADISON, WI – NOVEMBER 03: Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor (23) is tackled by Wisconsin outside linebacker Noah Burks (41) and Wisconsin defensive end David Pfaff (52) during a college football game between the University of Wisconsin Badgers and the Rutgers University Scarlet Knights on November 3, 2018 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI. (Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Will Burks turn the potential that had him as a 4-star linebacker coming out of Carmel (Ind.)? It hasn’t totally happened so far and part of it has been other players ahead of him, but part of it has been his inability to win a position in the regular rotation.

To date, Burks has amassed 21 games played, 8 total tackles and a forced fumble to his name. If he’s ever going to take on the role as a starter, this spring is the time to do it. Christian Bell is out and there is plenty of room for snaps if one can prove they deserve them.

Burks has a big opportunity in front of him and the good news early on in practice is that he seems to be taking to that opportunity. Look for his name to be one that makes the jump necessary by the end of April.

Jack Coan, Jr. (Quarterback)

BRONX, NY – DECEMBER 27: Wisconsin Badgers Quarterback Jack Coan (17) gets set under center during the Pinstripe Bowl Game between the University of Miami Hurricanes and the University of Wisconsin Badgers on December 27, 2018 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY. (Photo by John McCreary/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Yes, he’s got experience as a starting quarterback and yes he is entering his junior season. But, one could argue no player needs to take the bull by the horns more than Coan does. With Alex Honribrook off to Florida State, the quarterback position is wide open this spring.

All the hype may be around early entrant Graham Mertz, and if he wins the job great. But, ideally the Badgers would like to not put Mertz in a situation where he’s not fully ready.

That requires Coan to show he’s growing and can be trusted to be a solid option, unlike what was there for most of last season. If Coan can’t put it all together in the spring, will he ever be able to be a solid option for the coaching staff to count on?

Anthony Lotti, Sr. (Punter)

ANN ARBOR, MI – OCTOBER 13: Wisconsin Badgers punter Anthony Lotti (15) punts during a game between the Wisconsin Badgers (15) and the Michigan Wolverines (12) on October 13, 2018 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. (Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’re talking about punters…yes punters. The truth is, Wisconsin needs better overall play from special teams and arguably no area needs more improvement than the consistency from the punter position.

Lotti came in as one of the most promising punters in the country according to scouts and hasn’t really lived up to that hype. He’s got 140 punts under his belt in the first three years, averaging just 38.8 yards per punt though.

Last season saw Connor Allen also get a crack at the punting duties and he wasn’t much better, booting 22 punts for an average of 37.5 yards per punt.

With a roster in flux at major positions on both sides of the ball, having some confidence in the special teams units would be nice. That means Lotti turning on the big leg and accurate punting that he was known for coming in to Wisconsin.

If he can’t turn it on consistently this spring, it could be time to give a new face a look in the fall.

Nate Carter, So. (Tight End)

Wisconsin knows it has a star in tight end Jake Ferguson, but what it doesn’t know is who in the heck can be counted on behind him. Expected second-string tight end Luke Benzschawel is out for an extended amount of spring ball and even he hasn’t proven to be a pass-catching threat.

In fact, there isn’t a Badgers tight end outside of Ferguson who has caught a pass in college ball yet. So, enter former quarterback turned tight end, Nate Carter.

The Waunakee native is 6-5 and nearly 210 pounds, so clearly he will need to put on some weight. But, if he can emerge as a good pass catcher and pick up some blocking schemes this spring perhaps the Badgers have another option.

Clearly the coaching staff thinks enough of his athleticism to put him in to a pass-catching role. Will that pan out or will the Badgers be searching for that other answer further in to the fall?

Aron Cruickshank, So. (Wide Receiver)

BRONX, NY – DECEMBER 27: Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver Aron Cruickshank (1) runs during the fourth quarter of the 2018 New Era Pinstripe Bowl between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Miami Hurricanes on December 27, 2018 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, NY. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

One part of Wisconsin’s passing game woes seemed to be inconsistent (at best) play at QB, but UW also struggled to get separation down field from its wide receivers too.

One potential cure for that is speedy sophomore Aron Cruickshank. The coaching staff thought enough of him to make sure he got the ball in his hands a few different ways all the way through the 2018 season.

But, can he go from a gimmick player to a real threat in the every-down offense? So far the returns in practice this spring indicate he’s having fun burning the crap out of UW’s defensive backs.

He’s already hooked up for a number of deep passes and made the quarterbacks lives easier. If he could help open up the deep passing game to go along with Jonathan Taylor’s home run hitting ability in the backfield, this could be a dynamic offense.

Of course, spring ball isn’t Saturday’s in the fall, but having him emerge as a true weapon in the regular pass game would be massive.

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