Ohio State and Penn State are making noise, but what about the Badgers?
Most of the Big Ten discussion this season has surrounded Ohio State and Penn State, with good reason as they are two of the nation’s most talented teams. Many, however, are not paying attention to the dominance of a team in the Big Ten West: the Wisconsin Badgers, who have risen to number five in the latest AP Top 25 poll. Many have attributed the Badgers success to their ability to approach their schedule one week at a time. But there has been plenty more than that working for Wisconsin.
A Freshman Phenomenon
Last year at this time, freshman running back Jonathan Taylor was carrying the football for Salem High School in Salem, New Jersey. Now, he’s one of the top running backs in the country, rushing for 1,112 yards and 11 touchdowns through Wisconsin’s first seven games. Against Maryland, Taylor tied the record for fewest games to reach 1,000 yards as a freshman and joined some elite company in that category.
Jonathan Taylor reached 1,000 rush yards on the season in his 7th game— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 21, 2017
That matches the FBS record for fewest games needed by a freshman pic.twitter.com/mJibbQ8xwc
Taylor’s ability to find holes and break tackles are unusual for freshman running backs as those skills come with maturation. However, he has shown that he has those skills, and paired with his breakaway speed, Taylor has already put his name up with some of the best backs in the country. This run against Purdue showcases his ability to read his blockers and make tacklers miss.
So far this season, Taylor has put up over 200 yards rushing three times, two of those in conference play. It’s no secret that his play is a major reason why Wisconsin is experiencing this level of success. The big boys in front of him, however, are another key cog in the Badgers attack.
The Hogs Up Front
Wisconsin’s identity for the past two decades has been offensive line play, made evident by former Badgers including All-Pro Joe Thomas, Travis Frederick, and 2017 1st-round pick Ryan Ramczyk anchoring offensive lines in the NFL. This season is no exception as the Wisconsin offensive line is dominant again, led by sophomore offensive tackle David Edwards. Edwards has been one of the best pass-blocking offensive linemen in the Big Ten this season according Pro Football Focus.
💪💪— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) October 18, 2017
Wisconsin’s David Edwards gave up his first pressure in six weeks last week. Still finds himself atop this list in the B1G. pic.twitter.com/ti4lvsm5Im
Not bad for a former high school quarterback. Edwards isn’t the only underclassmen in the starting lineup; he is also joined by sophomore Jon Dietzen and freshman Tyler Biadasz, with the lineup rounded out by juniors Michael Dieter and Beau Benzschawel. Wisconsin once again has one of the best offensive lines in the nation, and in a conference that is dominated by the trenches, the Badgers are the cream of the crop.
Defense By Committee
Coming into the 2017 season, the Wisconsin defense was expected to be anchored by a linebacking crew led by senior Jack Cichy and sophomore Zack Baun. Those expectations were shattered before the first game, as both were sidelined for the year, Cichy due to a torn ACL and Baun due to a foot injury. The Badgers defense have not missed a step in their absence, as they are ranked sixth in the country in total defense, with eight players recording 20-plus tackles this season. The leader of the defense has been junior linebacker T.J. Edwards, who has 38 tackles, along with three interceptions and this huge hit against Nebraska.
The strength of the Badgers defense is in its numbers, which has gone to show how good the depth on this Wisconsin team is. It’ll continue to be hard to move the ball up in Madison.
A Favorable Schedule
The Badgers have played a rather favorable schedule in 2017. According to ESPN’s FPI, Wisconsin’s strength of schedule is 63rd in the country, rather low for a team in the top five. Out of the seven opponents Wisconsin has faced, four of them have a won-loss record below .500 and the other three are either at or one game above .500. However, the Badgers schedule does crank a notch in intensity when November rolls around, as they take on rivals Iowa and Minnesota along with a tough Michigan team in the final three weeks of the regular season. The final three week stretch could be the validation the Badgers have been looking for all season.
All stats courtesy of ESPN.con, Sports-Reference.com/cfb, and NCAA.org
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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