The Maryland football team continues their 2017 season when they take on Wisconsin at Camp Randall on Saturday afternoon.
Despite a 2-0 start, the Terrapins currently sit at 3-3 after back-to-back losses at the hands of Ohio State and Northwestern. Most recently, Maryland fell to Northwestern last Saturday 37-21 despite a 210-yard effort from star wideout D.J. Moore.
On the other hand, Wisconsin has been one of the most impressive teams in college football this season. The Badgers stand at 6-0 and come into the game ranked as the No. 5 team in the nation.
Wisconsin is fresh off of their most hard-fought victory of the season. The Badgers narrowily topped Purdue 17-9 despite 219 rushing yards and a touchdown from star freshman running back Jonathan Taylor.
To get a closer look at the Badgers, we caught up with Badger of Honor Site Expert Noah Seligman. We asked Noah about this year’s Badgers to gain a better understanding of why this group is so dangerous.
For the Wisconsin perspective, make sure you’re following Badger of Honor (@BadgerofHonorFS) on Twitter.
1.) What makes Jonathan Taylor so dangerous?
So for starters, the Wisconsin offensive line is an experienced unit that has shown decent depth to fill in with some injuries. In addition the TE and WR (especially Quintez Cephus) have done a great job with downfield blocking helping to spring long runs. As for Taylor, he is a solid dude at 5-feet-11-inches and 214 pounds. So with that build, he has no problems running between the tackles even as a true freshman. But he has the right combination of skills to be a versatile running back. There is no question he has the physical tools in terms of his power and pace. He’s a hard man to tackle. As Pro Football Focus reported, last week 194 of 219 yards after contact. Taylor What makes him special is that the true freshman has demonstrated impressive patience and vision. One other thing to note. Last week Taylor actually caught a pass for the first time in six games. So that’s a new part of his game that the Badgers may try to cultivate in the weeks ahead.
2.) How good is this offense?
Sort of hard to say. Last week, Wisconsin scored just 17 points against Purdue. They turned it over three times inside the Boilermakers 40. So the offense can move the ball but turnovers have hurt the cause. Wisconsin’s turnover margin is 0. They have fumbled five times and tossed six ugly interceptions. Despite some turnover problems, the Badgers have the 3rd-ranking scoring offense in the conference putting up 36.3 points per game. Per usual, the Badgers have the top rushing offense in the Big Ten. Most impressively the Badgers 3rd down offense has been great, leading the Big Ten with a 54.1 conversion percentage.
It’s still Wisconsin. The formula doesn’t change. Run the ball and pass off play action when necessary. Obviously teams need to guess right on gap control in run blitzes. As far as the passing game goes, Quintez Cephus has emerged as the leading receiver. Senior TE Troy Fumagalli is still working his well back to full health. But when fit, is a big reason for that good 3rd down percentage. If they take care of the football, the Badger offense grinds down opponents well.
3.) Wisconsin’s run defense is currently the top rated unit in the Big Ten. What are the reasons for that success?
In short, talent. Despite losing star ILB Jack Cichy to an ACL tear before the season, the linebacking group is still loaded with athleticism. Leon Jacobs plays with his hair on fire on every snap. It’s got to be terrifying for opposing defenses. Meanwhile, ILB Chris Orr tore his ACL on the first snap of the 2016 college football season. He’s back and looks to be fully healthy. He’s probably the fastest guy in the unit. Meanwhile, the defensive anchor is personified by TJ Edwards. He was ejected for targeting during the Purdue game. I wrote a post on it and came to a different conclusion. Finally, Andrew Van Ginkel and Garret Dooley are leading the Badgers in tackles-for-loss putting opposing offenses behind the chains.
One other asset is the experience in the secondary especially the safety position. Derrick Tindal and Nick Nelson are doing a good job as cornerbacks freeing up safeties D’Cota Dixon and Natrell Jamerson to support run defense. Dixon is leading Wisconsin tackles with 39 including 3.5 TFLs. The Badgers can use the safeties for extra support knowing the corners don’t need extra help. Of course, they haven’t seen D.J. Moore yet so that may change the secondary obligations.
We should also give a shout out to Olive Sagapolu as nose tackle along with Alec James and freshman Isaiahh Loudermilk do a good job blowing up the blocking scheme and giving the linebackers a clean shot at the ball carrier.
4.) In what ways has Alex Hornibrook improved since last season?
That’s hard to say. He’s been pretty inconsistent thus far. I wrote about his ups and downs as he’s played well one week and poor the next. Of course, he also had a historically great day. With one drop separating him from a perfect performance in guiding Wisconsin to a monster win on the road against BYU. Hornibrook has shown flashes of great QB play. He is decisive, throws accurately, and spreads the ball around. But he’s also capable of throwing baffling interceptions where his mechanics turn to mush and he stares down his target.
His footwork in particular can go awry at times and that leads to a poor load and launch and bad throw. One problem for Hornibrook is he doesn’t have a cannon for his left arm. So he tends to rainbow or float a lot of passes which gives the defensive back an extra beat and extra step to defend the pass. Wisconsin doesn’t need Hornibrook to win games. He just can’t lose them. The Badgers are perfectly fine with a the classic game manager. What’s frustrating at times for Badger fans is that the ability is there.
Hornibrook clearly has the requisite tools to guide the offense. But he just doesn’t seem to do it with the right consistency to avoid some killer mistakes. After throwing a dreadful interception returned for a touchdown on the road against Nebraska, the Badgers basically just ran the ball the final 20 minutes of the game. It worked. But it wasn’t an endorsement of confidence in the signal caller. Hornibrook isn’t a mobile quarterback so if you can get pressure he isn’t going to hurt you with his legs.
5.) What is the ceiling for this Badgers team?
Am I suppose to say the roof is the ceiling? I can’t find a game on the remaining regular season slate where Wisconsin is not going to be favored. They get Maryland, Iowa, and Michigan at home. Meanwhile, they avoid Penn State, The Ohio State, or Michigan State from the Big Ten East. Therefore, it’s not really a bold prediction to suggest Wisconsin can, will, should enter the Big Ten title game undefeated.
So truthfully, it will very likely come down to 60 minutes in the Big Ten title game for an undefeated Wisconsin Badger football team to make the College Football Playoff. From there, I’m not willing to say they’re on Alabama’s level but the College Football Playoff is definitely a realistic destination for the Badgers.
That all depends on avoiding turnovers and penalties which can ruin any game. Frankly, Wisconsin was very fortunate against Purdue to avoid an embarrassing home loss which would have ruined the season.