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Closing the book on Wisconsin’s Week 1 win

The good, the bad, and the intriguing from the season opener.

Western Kentucky v Wisconsin Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

THE GOOD: What stood out to you in Wisconsin’s win?

Bob Wiedenhoeft: There are quite a few positives in this win, but to me it was Taiwan Deal. This guy has stuck through several seasons of injuries that have hampered or halted his ability to contribute. It seems like he was on the team a decade ago competing for serious playing time.

Wisconsin needs a backup who can come in and rush for five yards per carry, and this full-strength version of Deal seems to be able to make that happen. Against Western Kentucky, he showed pretty good vision, good cuts, and slippery power in his eight carries for 53 yards. I’m excited to see if Deal can build off of this performance, especially if Paul Chryst continues to bench Jonathan Taylor immediately after fumbles.

Owen Riese: Kendric Pryor and A.J. Taylor both stepped up when needed. With Quintez Cephus and Danny Davis out on Friday, the two remaining receivers combined for nine catches and bailed out Alex Hornibrook when they needed to. Neither of them set the world on fire, but your two most veteran wide receivers being as advertised to start the season is always a good sign.

Drew Hamm: The defensive backs, especially Scott Nelson, held their own against Western Kentucky’s passing “attack.” Faion Hicks had a pick to end a potential WKU scoring drive, which was nice to see. Caesar Williams had a pass defended and Nelson had two, while also getting involved in the running game with a tackle for loss. It is pretty clear that Coach Son can now just “plug and play” on defense, regardless of who the Badgers lose. Rafael Gaglianone was perfect on the day, in all aspects.

Kevin O’Connell: I agree with Drew, the secondary played great in the season opener. Western Kentucky certainly isn’t a juggernaut in the passing game, but all things considered, Williams, Hicks, and Nelson all showed flashes in their first starts in a Wisconsin uniform. Williams is going to be a mauler on the outside, while Nelson looks like he has a knack for the football. One of the Badgers’ biggest question marks heading into the season was the inexperienced secondary, but if week one is any indication, Jim Leonhard has prepared this unit well to compete against the pass.

Tyler Hunt: There are always critics of Hornibrook, but I was really impressed with his ability to show flashes of what we saw against Miami to end the season last year. I thought he stepped up really well into the pocket to make some impressive throws. The ball also looked like it was coming out with a bit more velocity than it did last year. There were still some mistakes and questionable throws, but for not having his two favorite receivers I thought Hornibrook looked really confident in the pocket and has clearly has gotten stronger throwing the ball. We heard about it all off-season when he impressed at the Manning camp, but it was nice to see it live in action. Lastly, zero interceptions is something everyone should be happy with. After throwing 15 last season, it’s good to get a clean sheet early to get that confidence going.

Andrew Rosin: After watching Michigan State and Penn State almost get trapped, I’m happy that this was a big, snuggly win where there was no danger of disaster. The defense played well against an offense that could easily be rolling by the end of the year. You got production on all facets of the offensive side of the ball. Our beloved Brazilian got points. It probably doesn’t raise the esteem, but I’ve seen some hairy non-conference escapes. This was good for my health.

THE BAD: What needs polishing or refining heading into Week 2 vs. New Mexico?

Bob Wiedenhoeft: I’d like to see some growth from Hornibrook and his receivers after the play breaks down. There were a few plays where Hornibrook had excellent protection, but the receivers completed their routes. Sometimes, the receivers seemed to stand around, unsure what to do with the extra time. Other times, Hornibrook forced the ball into coverage when someone else was quite less covered. For instance, there was one play early in the second quarter where A.J. Taylor was moving left toward a gap in coverage, but Hornibrook was locked into Jonathan Taylor on the right side, who continued a wheel route deep. As Hornibrrok let the ball go, Jonathan had three defenders on him, and he did a good job preventing an interception. I’m not going to say that A.J. was open, but nobody was within 10 yards of him, and he was certainly more open than Jonathan was.

Owen Riese: The offensive line’s pass protection definitely needs some improvement. A lot of pressures applied early in games can be attributed to scripted plays not necessarily adjusting to defenses how they would/will later in the game. No one will ever confuse Wisconsin’s offensive line as pass-protection specialists, but the protection does need to improve. We’ll see how it turns out, but Dietzen at left tackle could be a trouble area against some of the more threatening pass rush units the Badgers will encounter later in the season.

Drew Hamm: Something, anything, needs to be done about Jonathan Taylor’s ball security issues. Has anyone suggested Gorilla Glue on his gloves?

Kevin O’Connell: The offensive line definitely has some room to improve. Obviously, the über-talented starting five will be OK, but the Hilltoppers’ front seven did apply some decent pressure in the first half. I’d love to see the big uglies assert their dominance next week against New Mexico and create some momentum heading into the Big Ten schedule.

Tyler Hunt: Overall, I was impressed with the defense and think it’ll be just as good as it has been the last couple seasons, but I think the tackling needs to improve before next week. It felt like there were a lot of misses by the entire defense. It didn’t cost them too much on any one occasion, but better teams will take advantage of that. I also felt the defense struggled with pursuit against the read-option plays. It felt as though the linebackers were caught flat-footed trying to make the right read. While that’s the point of the offensive scheme, I think the defense needs to get better at pursuit like it was last year. I have full confidence it will improve, but it was something that appeared to jump out. With New Mexico being a full triple-option attack, the Badgers will be tested again and I think they’ll look a lot crisper in the fundamentals.

Andrew Rosin: As Tyler said, New Mexico runs the full triple-option. Sure, they put up 300 yards passing last week, but there’s a large difference between Incarnate Word and the Badgers, and they also ran the ball 66 times. This is going to be a game where the Badgers are going to have to hit on their assignments. It’s probably not going to be a game where you see outright disaster if the Badgers don’t, but New Mexico has talent that can take advantage of a young defense being sloppy on the ground game.

Game balls: Who deserves them?

Bob Wiedenhoeft: Jonathan Taylor did what he needed to do to edge out Stanford’s Bryce Love as the top running back candidate for this season’s Heisman Trophy. Taylor rushed for two touchdowns, 148 yards, and 8.1 yards per carry. Meanwhile, Love rushed for 29 yards and 1.6 per carry against San Diego State in a 31–10 Stanford win.

[Double checks to make sure Taylor moved past Love] ... Wait, Love is still favored over Taylor? I just don’t want to type anymore after seeing that.

Owen Riese: Deal. He didn’t play at all in 2017 and had less than 20 carries in 2016 despite rushing for over 500 yards and six touchdowns in Corey Clement’s absence in 2015. While his 53 yards on eight carries aren’t setting the world on fire, Deal is a testament to the hard work and determination the Wisconsin program prides itself on. “Those who stay will be champions” comes to mind. Strictly from a humanitarian standpoint, it was nice to see Deal on the field and contributing.

Drew Hamm: There were a number of players that deserve a game ball (Nelson, T.J. Edwards, Jonathan Taylor to name a few) but I think Hornibrook and his clean performance should be honored. If everyone is gonna kill him when he throws a pick, it is only fair that we note when he plays well.

Kevin O’Connell: I’ll go with Edwards. The fact that the 2017 first-team All-American came back to school was a massive coup for the Wisconsin defense. He finished with seven total tackles, five solo, and was a force against the Western Kentucky rushing attack. Unsurprisingly, it looks like Edwards is going to continue where he left off last year and be the leader of a potent Badger defensive unit.

Tyler Hunt: I think Nelson deserves a game ball for his performance Friday night. So many people questioned the secondary coming into the season with the unfamiliar faces, but after seven tackles while flying around the field, Nelson quickly silenced a lot of those doubters. For those who pay close attention to the program, you knew Nelson’s abilities and he showed them last night. If he plays like that all season, he is going to be a scary player for years to come. Couple that with the development of Hicks and Williams along with the experience of D’Cota Dixon and you have a solid secondary to round out a productive defense. Hat tip to Leonhard.

Andrew Rosin: I’ll throw in for the freshmen defensive ends. You have a walk-on in Matt Henningsen and someone who will likely go back on the offensive side of the ball next year with Kayden Lyles and they stood up to the speed of the game. As I mentioned before, what’s coming next week will be a bigger test. Yes, Isaiahh Loudermilk is off the injury list and that will help matters, but the freshmen are going to get plenty of reps to build off of a strong start.

UP NEXT: New Mexico. Name one player you want to see pop out to you next week.

Bob Wiedenhoeft: I really liked the limited looks we had of Aron Cruickshank in week one. He seems to play bigger than his 5’9, 154-pound frame would indicate, and he certainly looked both quick and fast. I would love to see Chryst incorporate Cruickshank in a few unique offensive looks, perhaps a jet sweep or a bubble screen.

Additionally, the more I’m forced to spell Cruickshank, the quicker I will have it memorized.

Owen Riese: Give me some Caesar Williams. The redshirt sophomore started his first game on Friday night, but his length and size on the outside is something Wisconsin hasn’t had at corner … ever, really. His potential is something that will be intriguing to track moving forward. I think he makes a play this weekend.

Drew Hamm: Everyone on the offensive line. There wasn’t a lot of push in the running game and Hornibrook was sacked thrice. Sports Illustrated cover athletes play better than that.

Kevin O’Connell: I’d like to see tight end Jake Ferguson continue to get targets at tight end. He looked awesome on Friday night, but with some more looks, I think we are potentially looking at an All-American level talent. In the first start of his college career, the redshirt freshman finished with four catches for 43 yards, but more importantly, he looked the part and I would love to see his usage increase against the Lobos.

Tyler Hunt: I’d like to see Andrew Van Ginkel pop out next week. Going against the triple option, the linebackers are going to get a lot of opportunity to make plays. Don’t get me wrong, I am not at all knocking Van Ginkel, as he’s one of my favorites and has a ton of athletic abilities, but it seemed he had a pretty quiet night. I believe Van Ginkel can dominate a football game with his length and speed like he did down the stretch last year, so I’d like to see him have a huge, show-out next weekend against the Lobos.

Andrew Rosin: I’m going to say something shocking to all the B5Q fans who have been here a while. I agree with Drew. The offensive line rode into this season as a three-quarter ton wall of taking names and breaking holes open. But most of the offense was in chunk plays. New Mexico’s front seven will provide a good opportunity for a more inexorable march down the field for the Badgers’ offense.