Entering Wisconsin’s opening contest against South Florida there were plenty of questions about a team breaking in a mostly new offensive line, and a young quarterback making only his fifth career start. On the defensive side of the ball Jack Sanborn, Izayah Green-May and Reggie Pearson were all players taking on a larger role than a year ago.
Jump forward to late Friday night and some of those questions and storylines seem alleviated after Wisconsin throttled South Florida 49 – 0 on the road.
In this weekly installment, let’s rattle off three items that I think we learned about the Badgers after their game.
A “Jonathan” of all trades
A lot had been made about Jonathan Taylor increasing his role in the passing game last season. Come the end of the season though he only accounted for eight receptions and 60 yards. In fall camp the media was able to see an added emphasis on getting Taylor the ball in the pass game again, but the question was will it happen once games start.
After one game it is safe to say Taylor will likely be seeing more receptions in 2019. On Friday, Taylor caught his first receiving touchdown of his collegiate career on a screen pass and later caught another touchdown on his way to compiling 48 receiving yards, nearly as much as he had the entirety of the season prior. He led the team in receiving yards, in addition to his 135 yards on the ground and two rushing touchdowns.
I WANT TO KISS JONATHAN TAYLOR ON THE MOUTH!— Bucky's 5th Quarter (@B5Q) August 31, 2019
ANOTHER TOUCHDOWN FOR THE HEISMAN TROPHY CANDIDATE!
Not only was this a great sign for the Wisconsin offense, but it is also a positive development for his pro future. Taylor reintroduced himself to the national college football landscape in a big way Friday, and I for one will be very interested to see what else he has in store.
The defense is more energetic, deeper
After a year of injuries hampered the Wisconsin defense last season, the team came out healthy and rejuvenated on Friday against South Florida. The Bulls were only able to gain 157 yards, and only mustered one drive that made it across into Wisconsin territory, in a shutout. The defense played with a greater energy than was seen at times last year, and Chris Orr’s vocal leadership appears to have given the defensive unit a boost of confidence.
With a revamped defensive line, the Badgers held USF to only 1.1 yards per carry. Which was nice to see since stopping the run was an area of emphasis this fall camp by the coaches and players. The defensive unit was also able to get to the quarterback with four sacks, a welcome sign for a team that struggled at getting pressure a year ago.
USF's Drives through three quarters:— Bucky's 5th Quarter (@B5Q) August 31, 2019
Fumble returned for touchdown
End of half
Turnover on downs
With an early lead, the Badgers were able to rest their starters and allow the younger second unit to play the bulk of the second half. The second group didn’t miss a beat, surrendering no points against the starting Bulls offense. The extra reps in game action for that group should pay dividends later in the year, as the defense as a whole looks to have a greater pool of talent.
This was clearly evident along the defensive line, as defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard was able to rotate a lot of different players in and watch them hold their own. True freshman Keeanu Benton had a nice opening game with a quarterback pressure and he was strong against the run as the nose tackle with the second group. Matt Henningsen, a backup defensive end, was able to make his imprint on the game as well with a sack, and a fumble return for a touchdown. This added depth will be vital for conference play.
The offensive line didn’t seem to miss a beat in the run game, paving the way for 234 yards rushing. While Jonathan Taylor lead the team, both freshman Nakia Watson and senior Bradrick Shaw also found the end zone, with Watson gaining 80 yards in his debut.
In the passing game Jack Coan distributed the ball around to nine different targets for 199 yards. He completed 73 percent of his passing attempts, and two touchdowns, a welcome sign after the team ranked 114th in passing yards last year. Coan missed a couple of deep balls to Quintez Cephus, who returned to action after missing all of last year, but overall he controlled the flow of the game well as the signal caller. If the offensive line can clean up some protection issues, that should further help the passing game as well.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON IN THE 2019 SEASON!— Life and Football (@LifeandBall) September 1, 2019
Nakia Watson (@nakiawatson04) a RB for @BadgerFootball is a BIG TIME PLAYER!
He made his Debut after RS in 2018. His 1st Carry to His 1st TD came in Game 1.
Blessings on Blessings!!!!!!! pic.twitter.com/F3rxpAPAcw
Having a more balanced attack could go a long way in helping Wisconsin return to greater heights offensively under Paul Chryst. With 433 yards of total offense there was only a 35 yard difference in yardage between rushing and passing, giving fans hope that the offense can be more dynamic and unpredictable this season.
Wisconsin now prepares for a game on Saturday against Central Michigan. It will be particularly interesting to see if that offensive balance continues.