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Grading Wisconsin’s win over Western Kentucky

Badgers get 2018 started right against the Hilltoppers.

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Entering 2018 with great expectations, No. 4 Wisconsin dominated Saturday’s Friday’s season opener at Camp Randall Stadium against Western Kentucky, knocking off the Hilltoppers 34-3.

As we did for games last season, here are the unit grades.

Offense: B+

Even though the offense hung 34 on Western Kentucky, it felt like Wisconsin left points on the field.

Redshirt junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw for 257 yards and two touchdowns. He looked solid throughout, but missed a couple of open throws in the second quarter that could have broken the game wide open early. He finished the game with a 155.8 quarterback rating.

Sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor opened the scoring with a 47-yard first quarter run on Wisconsin’s second series of the game. Taylor finished the game with 145 yards and two touchdowns but did not receive another carry after a late third quarter fumble.

Running back Garrett Groshek broke a short screen pass and turned it into a 43-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter to cap Wisconsin’s scoring for the evening. Sophomore wide receiver Kendric Pryor, though being carted off early in the third quarter with cramps, finished the game with four catches for 51 yards and a touchdown.

Defense: A

Wisconsin’s young defense stood tall in its first test. Redshirt senior linebacker Ryan Connelly was all over the field, registering five tackles and a sack. Redshirt freshman safety Scott Nelson impressed with seven tackles and two pass break-ups, something our Owen Riese called out after the game. Redshirt senior linebacker T.J. Edwards tied for a team-high seven tackles.

Western Kentucky rarely threatened, but Wisconsin managed to create red zone turnovers when the Hilltoppers did. Redshirt freshman cornerback Faison Hicks intercepted a botched running back pass deep in Badgers’ territory to take potential points away from WKU. Redshirt sophomore safety Eric Burrell forced a fumble late in the fourth quarter to keep the Hilltoppers out of the end zone.

Special Teams: B+

Redshirt senior kicker Rafael Gaglianone made two field goals and all four extra point attempts.

Junior punter Anthony Lotti averaged 39.5 yards on four punts. He had a long of 49 and pinned Western Kentucky deep when given the opportunity, having three of his four boots go inside the 20-yard line.

True freshman wide receiver Aron Cruickshank returned his lone kickoff 30 yards when filling in for the injured Pryor.

Coaching: A-

The Badgers came out running and were never seriously threatened. The young Badgers defense handled themselves well, particularly the secondary. Wisconsin set the tone and was only a few execution errors away from blowing the doors off Western Kentucky.

Overall: A-

The Badgers held serve in a game they were supposed to win handily. Had they been slightly more crisp on offense, Wisconsin could have hung 50 on the Hilltoppers, but a blowout season-opening win is a perfectly fine way to start 2018.

Wide receiver depth will be a question over the next few weeks, and the offense has some opportunity to clean up execution. In particular, Taylor’s fumble brought back bad memories from last season.

For today, however, it was a good Friday in Madison.