While the weather didn't cooperate Saturday, the Wisconsin offense was able to get back on track against Kent State in a big way. Wisconsin took care of business against the Golden Flashes, in swift fashion behind the play of Heisman hopeful Jonathan Taylor and a stout defense, 48-0.
In this weekly installment, let’s rattle off three items that I think we learned about the Badgers after their game Saturday.
Senior linebackers are key
Coming off of disappointing seasons a year ago, linebackers Chris Orr and Zack Baun knew this year was their curtain call. To this point, the two seniors have been nothing short of phenomenal. In addition to being the leaders of the best scoring defense in the nation, the duo have accounted for 10 sacks between them, 13.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.
Badgers OLB Zack Baun effectively ends the first half with a sack. He has three sacks in the first half today. What an unbelievable senior season he's putting together. Halftime: Wisconsin 28, Kent State 0.— Jesse Temple (@jessetemple) October 5, 2019
Orr and Baun have each had to overcome their share of injury issues over their careers, but finally healthy they are showing out in a big way this season. Without their contributions, there is no way that this defense would be where they are at statistically in the FBS.
Chris Orr earned B1G defensive player of the week honors after a strong game against Northwestern a week ago. He built on that momentum with a two sack performance against Kent State.
Baun has had a sack in four of Wisconsin’s five games thus far, including three against the Golden Flashes Saturday for a grand total of six sacks to date.
The emergence of the talented seniors is a testament to their work this off-season, but also to the type of program development Wisconsin is known for. While most fans knew both of the names coming into the season, most did not think Orr and Baun would be having this strong of an output this year.
Zack Baun doing Zack Baun things.— Dane Brugler (@dpbrugler) September 28, 2019
Burst off the edge to beat the left tackle, get held, and disrupt the QB, leading to the Wisconsin pick-six.
Why he's a #NFLDraftRiser
Under center is better
Last week against Northwestern the Wisconsin offense ran almost entirely out of the shotgun and pistol. In fact, Jack Coan was under center for only 12 total snaps, with three of them coming in kneel down situations at the end of the game. While Paul Chryst noted that this was strategically done for the game plan, it was an oddity for fans and a veer from what the Badgers offense traditionally looks like.
After being under center nine times all of last week, the #Badgers first drive had Jack Coan under center on eight plays.— Zach Heilprin (@ZachHeilprin) October 5, 2019
Jump forward to Saturday, and Wisconsin was back to the basics. Coan, and backup Graham Mertz, took the vast majority of their snaps under center against Kent State.
Albeit against inferior competition, the Wisconsin ground game was back to dominance, running for 354 yards on the ground, with five rushing touchdowns. Coan was also more crisp than a week ago, throwing for 134 yards through the air and a pair of touchdowns to Jonathan Taylor and Jake Ferguson.
R2, X, L1, L1, L2, L2, L2, SQUARE— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) October 5, 2019
Jonathan Taylor is a cheat code...
▪️ 19 carries
▪️ 186 yards
▪️ 4 rushing TDs
▪️ 1 receiving TD
(T-School Record 5 TDs)
There's still 12:21 left to play 3Q...#JT23 || #OnWisconsin pic.twitter.com/Q9FhMAfxOY
With a big test upcoming against Michigan State, the Wisconsin offense rebounded nicely, but it will be interesting to see if that is more indicative of offensive progress or the talent differential on display Saturday.
Fans: MACtion < B1G
While tune-up games like the contest against Kent State are a necessity to keep the FBS college football machine moving along, they provide little for fans.
Pair an underwhelming matchup with five consecutive home games, and terrible weather, and the results are a student section that was maybe half full. In the general seating there was a similar trend, with plenty of open spots throughout the stadium.
It’s lit!! Honestly, who would come to an 11AM game... against Kent St... in the cold... with no booze. As a student I wouldn’t come and you wouldn’t either. pic.twitter.com/2Vat8RiR5Z— Ben Brust (@BenBrust) October 5, 2019
The University of Wisconsin listed attendance at 74,559. That is a number that is slightly higher than the home opener against Central Michigan. While the metric of attendance can be debated, the number of open seats seen by observers in the stadium can’t be, and there was definitely open seating. The Central Michigan game did not have nearly as many open spots, nor did the other previous home games.
While I do not think this singular game is an issue, many fans might. With heavy rain in the forecast, the confines of home seem to be much more appealing than getting sick for the sake of watching Wisconsin dismantle a MAC team after back-to-back-to-back games at home for some fans.
As a season ticket holder, I was there, and wouldn’t miss it. But I understand the no-shows, and they are inevitable in situations like this.
With another marquee B1G game upcoming, fans should be back to their normal selves at Camp Randall next Saturday.