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2018 Big Ten Football Preview: Wisconsin Badgers

Location: Madison, Wisconsin

2017 Record: 13-1 (9-0)

Head Coach: Paul Chryst

2018 record: 3-1 (1-0)

All-time record vs. OSU: 18-59

What has happened thus far in 2018:

Wisconsin opened the season with three straight non-conference home games that it was expected to win with ease. While the Badgers easily handled Western Kentucky and New Mexico, 34-3 and 45-14 respectively, the BYU Cougars came into Camp Randall Stadium looking for a fight. The Badgers and Cougars traded touchdowns through most of the game before BYU took a three-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Wisconsin got in position to kick a field goal to tie it, but BYU iced Wisconsin’s kicker with a pair of timeouts, leading to a missed kick and securing BYU’s 24-21 win. Coming off the loss, Wisconsin traveled to Iowa where, after going back and forth for most of the game, the Badgers scored two touchdowns in the final minute to win their first Big Ten outing 28-17.

Impact Player:

Sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor is picking up where he left off after his freshman campaign, where he gained over 2,000 yards from scrimmage. Through four games, he’s averaging 157 yards on the ground — 6.2 yards per carry — with a season-high 253 yards on 33 carries against New Mexico. Look for him to be more involved with the passing game this year, as he’s already approaching the total number of receptions he had last year.

Strengths:

While Taylor has performed as advertised, junior quarterback Alex Hornibrook has seemingly taken his next step in Wisconsin’s offense. He’s improved across the board, including yards per attempt and passer rating. He’s also cut down on his interceptions. He led the Badgers downfield to give them a chance to tie against BYU and orchestrated the game-winning drive against Iowa in a display of clutch passing ability that wasn’t present in previous seasons with him at the helm. On the defense, the Badgers have held their opponents to only 172.8 passing yards per game and a completion percentage of 58 percent, good for a top 20 defense in the country through four games.

Weaknesses:

The receiving corps for Wisconsin is thin, with only six receivers having at least two receptions after four games. Junior wide receiver A.J. Taylor and freshman tight end Jake Ferguson have combined for 27 of the team’s 61 total receptions and are the only two receivers with double-digit catches on the roster.

The Badgers’ run defense has given up 4.4 yards per carry, allowing 135 rushing yards per game, which are high given the lack of quality opponents so far. Wisconsin still has teams like Michigan and Penn State left on its schedule, both averaging over 200 yards on the ground, so the Badgers will have to fortify their run defense before they take on these run-heavy teams.

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