MADISON—The No. 4 Wisconsin Badgers returned to Camp Randall Stadium to start their season for the second year in a row on a Friday night. Unlike 2017, however, the Badgers controlled the game seemingly from the outset, as they put up 24 points in the first half on way to a 34-3 victory against Western Kentucky.
Despite the Hilltoppers stretching the Badgers defense horizontally early, Wisconsin was able to fly around and impose their will on the inexperienced Conference USA opponent. WKU was breaking in a new quarterback in redshirt senior Drew Eckels, and while he didn’t make many mistakes, it’s a tough task for your first start to come to Madison and deal with Jim Leonhard’s defense. There was some up and down play from the Badgers’ offense, but the game was never in doubt.
Here are the three things we learned from Friday night’s win:
Jonathan Taylor: still good!
The sophomore rushing phenom got off to a quick start of what some think may be a Heisman campaign for Taylor. Eleven carries for 100 yards and two touchdowns—with two long runs—in the first half made for a good first impression for the season. It wasn’t his biggest rushing output of his career—finishing with 145 yards on 18 carries with the two scores—nor his cleanest outing with the lost fumble in the third quarter, but it’s a solid start to his sophomore season.
Jonathan Taylor has played in 15 career games at Wisconsin— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) September 1, 2018
Get this: He's run for 100+ yards in 11 of those 15 games...
Another night of Jonathan Taylor doing Jonathan Taylor things. #JT23 pic.twitter.com/bKTpjX2cnc
Scott Nelson is here to stay
The redshirt freshman made play after play from the outset of the ballgame, and looks to have cemented himself as the starting free safety. Nelson is a physical hitter in the run game—tying for the team lead with seven tackles on the night—and also recorded two pass breaks-ups, one of which could have been an interception. The Detroit native will be a versatile piece for defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard in the back end of the Badgers defense, and though it is just one game, it looks like he could continue the trend of secondary members being impact players on this Wisconsin defense.
New faces, same results for UW defense
Granted, it’s not all new faces in the cardinal and white, but for a unit that lost over 150 starts from their defensive line a year ago, as well as three defensive players drafted, the Badgers put the clamps on the Hilltoppers on Friday night. Obviously with so much turnover in the secondary there were some hiccups, but they will provide valuable teaching moments for Leonhard.
Redshirt senior inside linebackers T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly (12 combined tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss) were all over the field and appear to have turned it up a notch from a year ago. That is not a good thing for opposing offenses.
Western Kentucky finished with 305 yards in the game—41 on Western Kentucky’s final drive with 64 seconds left in the game—and were only five of 16 on third downs.
Though this being the season opener and just one game, Wisconsin’s defensive unit was able to withstand an up-tempo offense and not allow a touchdown.