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A.J. Taylor and Wisconsin wide receivers make most of opportunity

Without Cephus and Davis, Wisconsin’s receivers put their best foot forward.

Matt Fleming

Coming into the 2018 season, the No. 6 Wisconsin Badgers looked to have the best stable of receivers in school history, giving junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook a talented group of receivers.

However, after a turn of events, the Badgers needed to look to their depth at wide receiver, with arguably two of the team’s best receivers out for the first two games.

Junior Quintez Cephus is suspended indefinitely as he is facing two felony sexual assault charges that will proceed to trial. Wisconsin also suspended sophomore Danny Davis for its first two games after being mentioned in the same April incident that brought charges against Cephus.

Cephus was projected to be the top receiving threat in 2018, following a sophomore season that was seen by most as a break-out year before it was cut short by injury. Davis, who played in all but four games as a freshman, scored three touchdowns in Wisconsin’s Orange Bowl victory over Miami.

Filling the void left by Cephus and Davis since have been junior A.J. Taylor and redshirt sophomore Kendric Pryor, along with a few others in keeping the Wisconsin passing attack potent. Taylor has turned into a star, picking up where he left off following last season’s Orange Bowl. After hauling in eight receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown in Wisconsin’s victory over Miami to cap last season’s performance, he currently leads the team in receptions (10) and receiving yards (219).

In Wisconsin’s season-opening win over Western Kentucky, Taylor led all players with five receptions and 85 receiving yards. Following a couple of early missed opportunities, Taylor caught a 21-yard pass from Hornibrook that was thrown on a dime between two defenders, getting Wisconsin down to the two-yard line late in the first half. This reception setup Hornibrook’s touchdown pass to Pryor two plays later.

Taylor encore performance in Wisconsin 45-10 victory over the Lobos showcased a five-reception, career-high 134-yard afternoon that included a touchdown.

His first reception was a thing of beauty. On third-and-6, Hornibrook connected with Taylor on a 28-yard one-handed reception, which kept Wisconsin’s opening drive alive.

All other receivers combined for 17 yards, compared to Taylor’s 134. New Mexico as a team had 134 receiving yards.

Through the first two games, Taylor is tied for second in the nation in receptions of 20 or more yards, with six. He is also 18th in the nation with 109.5 receiving yards per game.

In the season opener, Pryor caught four passes for 51 yards, including a two-yard touchdown reception. He also picked up 19 yards on a rush, but he would not touch the ball in the second game of the season.

Pryor, no stranger to running the ball, has had a successful career starting with the ball out of the backfield. On six career carriers, Pryor has two scores and a rushing average of 13.67 yards per carry.

A couple of local products, redshirt sophomore walk-ons Adam Krumholz (Stoughton) and Jack Dunn (Madison Edgewood) recorded their first career receptions. Krumholz technically starting his first career game last week against New Mexico, while Dunn has also handled punt returner duties, returning one for 10 yards.

True freshman Aron Cruickshank, who turned heads in camp, has yet to record a reception in his first two games, but he does have one carry for 11 yards and he has returned three kicks, averaging just over 20 yards per return. That included his long of 30 yards during a third quarter kickoff in the season opener.

A fellow true freshman early enrollee like Cruickshank, Taj Mustapha reeled in his first reception—and touchdown—late in the fourth quarter last week in the win against New Mexico.

Outside of his receivers, Hornibrook has completed passes to four other players —two tight ends and two running backs. Of the four, redshirt freshman tight end Jake Ferguson seems to have emerged as the top receiving option among tight ends early on with five catches for 47 yards.

Ferguson caught four of his five receptions in the season opener while redshirt sophomore running back Garrett Groshek has two receptions—including the screen pass that went for a 43-yard score in the opener.

BYU (1-1) comes to Madison this weekend and has allowed 205.5 passing yards per game. Coincidentally, Wisconsin is averaging 204 yards through the air early on.

With the suspension of Davis being lifted, Wisconsin will likely get better through the air. As a freshman, the Springfield, Ohio native hauled in 26 receptions for 418 yards with five touchdowns and provided a deep threat for Hornibrook. Remember, the two connected on a 50-yard reception last season in Wisconsin’s 40-6 win in Provo.