The Badgers beat the Boilermakers for the 14th straight season on Saturday afternoon, 45-24. Jonathan Taylor, in perhaps his last performance at Camp Randall Stadium, steamrolled Purdue for 222 rushing yards and one touchdown. The rest of the team wasn’t as impressive but...a win is a win!
Belz, Kevin, Ryan and Tyler break down the game and give their thoughts on 62-yard field goals and what might happen next weekend in Minneapolis.
We need to start with Jonathan Taylor. In his most likely last game at Camp Randall Stadium Taylor had another outstanding performance. What stood out to you this week and what is your favorite memory of his career?
Ryan: He was Jonathan Taylor. His ability to turn nothing into something, to stretch short gains into medium to long gains is unmatched. He’s the perfect blend of power and speed. He has carried (pun intended) this team at so many points throughout his career and today was another instance where he kept Wisconsin moving. It was yet another vintage Taylor performance.
If I had to pick one moment of his career, I would say the same as Kevin, his game against Purdue last year, where he dropped three bills on Purdue and scored three times, including the game-winner. And I am not closing the book on him coming back, just yet. I mean, it’s all but closed, but you never know.
Belz: Jonathan Taylor is a special player. I feel as though he will walk away fairly under-appreciated after following Melvin Gordon, Corey Clement, Montee Ball, James White, the list goes on. Wisconsin has been a running back and offensive line factory, but Taylor is possibly the best back of the bunch. This week was another shining example of his complete arsenal, as he busted the long chunk plays, but also was able to average just a smidgen under eight yards a carry because of his patience and ability to navigate through and around tacklers.
In terms of his career, the Purdue game, like Ryan and Kevin said is a no doubter, but for the sake of differentiation I will go with second college game. After running only nine times for 87 yards in his first collegiate game, he dropped 223 and three touchdowns on Florida Atlantic, in only his second game to burst onto the national landscape. In that game he had long touchdown runs of 64 yards and 29 yards where he made some insane broken tackles, and then kickstarted the afterburners to carry Wisconsin in that game.
Kevin: Taylor’s ability to turn a three yard gain into an eight or nine yard gain is what makes him so lethal. The 51-yard touchdown run was obviously impressive, but Taylor consistently moved the chains and kept the Badgers in third and shorts with his ability to cut on a dime and break tackles. My favorite memory of JT is probably his 321-yard, three touchdown performance at Purdue last season. He was absolutely incredible in that game and scored the walk-off touchdown in triple overtime.
Tyler: The kid is something special. The last few weeks have really been amazing to watch. To be honest I get a little bit surprised when he doesn’t pick up five plus yards on a carry. He’s been incredibly fun to watch and I wish him a long and successful NFL career. My favorite memory has to be the Purdue game, although the game at Nebraska was pretty fun too. Seeing him get into space and just truck or finesse around people is pretty special. Thanks for the mems, JT.
Should Zach Hintze be the new place kicker?
Ryan: I don’t think so. Collin Larsh has been the guy all year and he’s gotten into a groove recently, hitting his last four attempts. I think it would be tough to make the switch now. That being said, holy crap… that kick by Hintze was amazing. I have never seen a kick from that far away in person before. I also think it was a HUGE momentum shift in the game on Saturday and helped Wisconsin continue to extend its lead.
Belz: Collin Larsh isn’t going anywhere. He will likely be the guy next year as well, so no need to shake up the apple cart at the end of the season and derail his confidence. Hintze kicks like he is wearing a steel toe boot, but that 62 yard bomb was momentous. He flashed some of that in fall camp, but what a cool moment for him on senior day. Camp Randall went bonkers over that, and like Ryan said, it definitely gave the team a boost to end the half.
Kevin: Hintze’s 62-yarder was awesome, but I think the Badgers should stick with Collin Larsh the rest of the way. He’s been a serviceable kicker all year and with only a couple games left in the season I think it makes sense to go with the guy with the most experience.
Tyler: If you go for it you don’t need a kicker. Do that instead.
What the hell happened to the defense over the last few weeks? What needs to change?
Ryan: I think it’s just been a variety of looks that they have been getting lately. Big Ten offenses are better than MAC offenses and it has shown. A big stressor post-game by defensive players was just the variety of looks that Purdue gave them early on, including trick plays. Once Purdue let up on their creativity, it was more so business as usual for Wisconsin on defense and they were able to put up five-straight scoreless drives. The biggest thing that is hurting Wisconsin of late has been their pass coverage. Too many opposing receivers are being left open and Wisconsin is getting burned with long passing plays. They need to solidify their coverage schemes and also find more ways to pressure the QB.
Belz: I think the defense actually played really well in the second half, but the first half was a train wreck. It was more of the same for the Badgers since Illinois with the over pursuit and lack of coverage. Players were out of position in the secondary too often, and the Purdue receivers were wide open at times. Purdue always employs a crazy number of trick plays, but Jim Leonhard will need to really need to dial up some creativity of his own to cover-up some of the blemishes as of late, because Minnesota’s offense is better than anything Wisconsin has seen since Ohio State.
Kevin: After getting gashed by the run last weekend at Nebraska, the Badgers were torched through the air against the Boilermakers. Quarterback Aidan O’Connell played well, but his wideouts were open way too often and tight end Brycen Hopkins was making catches all over the field. The Badgers will have their hands full this weekend with Minnesota’s passing attack, and the secondary, particularly the cornerbacks, will need to tighten up their coverage.
Tyler: It’s been a mixed bag of things. I think Purdue and Jeff Brohm did a good job of watching tape and seeing that Wisconsin struggles with the read option type offense’s. Purdue loves to throw the ball but they mixed in a lot of run and play action looks to keep the secondary on their heels. That group looks a lot more like early 2018 right now.
The tackling was also horrible again. To me that is inexcusable two weeks in a row. If they don’t clean up a lot of things this week those Minnesota receivers are going to have a field day with the Wisconsin secondary. Still, I have faith in Jim Leonhard to get it corrected, but man it’s been ugly the past few weeks.
Speaking of terrible things...what the hell was up with all of those turnovers?
Ryan: They needed to protect the ball better. This has been the only knock on JT throughout his career and it’s something he will need to work on. On the wildcat missed hand-off, Cruickshank was thinking Taylor was going to take it and Taylor was thinking Cruickshank was going to keep it, so there was a communication break down. Coan’s interception was an instance where he tried to force something and just held onto the ball a bit too long. Even though it was intercepted, I like that he forced the issue. Cephus is a dangerous weapon and if Wisconsin wants to win next week and beyond, keeping him involved is going to be key as he is such a game changer.
Belz: The Badgers were very careless with the ball. I loved the wildcat looks, and some of the creativity with motions, but that can’t lead to four turnovers. Three fumbles is very uncharacteristic for Wisconsin, and it can’t happen going against better competition next week.
In regards to the interception, it was baffling. The Badgers were gashing Purdue on the ground and it was second down with only two yards to go. The play-action fake was great, and Cephus had his man beat by 15 yards. Coan severely under threw the ball, something that can’t happen on a deep route. That ball needs to be in the end zone where it is either too far or just right for Cephus to make a play on it. If Coan can’t get it there, it shouldn’t have been thrown at all.
Kevin: I appreciated that Joe Rudolph called a creative game yesterday, but the ball carriers need to be more careful when running jet sweeps and option plays. Taylor’s fumble issues have been well-documented and will always be there, but any other player cannot afford to put the ball on the ground with Wisconsin having very little margin for error next week at Minnesota and hopefully against Ohio State in Indy.
Tyler: I am all for the Badgers being more creative with their offense. It’s something we all called for at the end of last year. 2018 it was stale and it didn’t work so again I am a fan. But there’s a time and a place. When you’re up 14 and JT is running down their throat, just turn and hand it off and put the game away. Don’t fumble a read option and make it closer than it had to be. Wisconsin never really felt like they were going to lose or let Purdue back into the game, but the offense could not get out of its own way and continually played with their food yesterday. When you have the chance to put a game away, you have to do it.
Who gets your game ball for offense and for defense? As always, this does not have to be a Badgers player.
Ryan: Jonathan Taylor on offense. Chris Orr on defense.
Belz: I think Taylor has to be the guy on offense, but Quintez Cephus looked really good. That acrobatic touchdown grab was a thing of beauty. Chris Orr on defense. That offsides penalty loomed large, but so did his eleventh sack of the season and nine tackles.
Kevin: Taylor gets my game ball on offense. His talents were on full display against the Boilermakers and his 222-yard rushing performance was the 12th 200-plus yard game of his career (most in FBS history). My game ball on defense goes to Chris Orr. Outside of a costly offsides penalty he was great yesterday and finished with nine tackles and a sack.
Tyler: JT, Orr. Both showed out in their last game at the Camp.
Early look at Minnesota...what does Wisconsin need to do to get the Axe back?
Ryan: They’re going to need to up their pass defense in this game. Wisconsin has been beat a lot lately through the air and Minnesota is a team that can sling the ball all over the field. Offensively, I think another approach filled with wildcats and jet sweeps will do them well, Wisconsin has a lot of play makers on the perimeter and they don’t use them that much, but when they have, they have not disappointed.
Belz: Get healthy in the secondary quick. The Badgers defensive backs were dropping like flies in the Purdue game. In addition to health, Jim Leonhard will need to scheme up some chaotic looks for Tanner Morgan, because he has picked apart secondaries all year. If Morgan has time to throw, Minnesota has far too talented of receiving options to cover for long stretches. I think the Badger offense will be fine, but the defense as a whole will need to play their best game.
Kevin: Wisconsin’s pass defense really needs to bring their A-game next weekend. The Gophers have two elite wide receivers in Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson, and quarterback Tanner Morgan can really sling the rock. The Badgers’ secondary, particularly cornerbacks Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams, will need to be ready for Minnesota’s passing attack and avoid giving up big plays to their talented wideouts.
Tyler: Secondary has got to tighten up or they are going to get picked apart. Rashod Bateman is a top receiver in the country, and I am not sure the Badgers have anyone that can line up with him 1v1. His underneath game is really special and Morgan seems to hit every pass to him.
Additionally, they’ll need to get some more pressure dialed up to help those guys out and when you bring it, you gotta get there or it’ll be chunk play after chunk play. On offense, do what you’ve been doing just take care of the damn ball.
Oh, and get it to Cephus 8-10 times.