MADISON-In their second game of the season, the Wisconsin Badgers took on Florida Atlantic University. Unlike Week 1, which saw a sluggish start by the Badgers, Wisconsin put together a more complete game in Week 2.
Although there were many bright spots for the Badgers on Saturday, a few weak spots will need to get cleaned up before the team starts taking on better opponents.
Running Back University is back
With Bradrick Shaw out, freshman running back Jonathan Taylor got his first career start against FAU and wasted absolutely no time in bringing Camp Randall to its feet. On the second drive of the day for Wisconsin, Taylor ripped a run right up the middle, taking it 64 yards to the end zone for the first touchdown of the day.
The true freshman would end up with 223 yards and three touchdowns on the day. His second touchdown was most impressive as Melvin Gord…I mean Taylor, broke about three tackles on an outside run taking in a 29-yard rush for a touchdown.
Seemingly every time Taylor got the rock, he either broke it out for a huge gain or was a shoe lace tackle from a huge gain.
With Shaw out with a leg injury, Taylor may have stolen the job for good as he made everyone on FAU’s defense look silly several times.
By the end of the first quarter, Taylor was already well over 100 yards and by the end of the game he was every fan’s new favorite Badger.
Wisconsin offense will be relying on youth
Obviously Taylor was the freshman of the day, but true freshman receiver Danny Davis III also saw first possession snaps against FAU.
In the first quarter, Davis hauled in a beautiful throw from quarterback Alex Hornibrook for a 35-yard reception. It was Davis’s first career reception and set up a rushing touchdown for Taylor.
Sophomore receiver Quintez Cephus also played well making great plays on the ball. He ended the day with two catches for 47 yards. Most jump balls seem 50/50 between the receiver and the cornerback, but with Cephus, the odds are always in his favor because of his speed and large frame.
After just two games this season, it seems head coach Paul Chryst and the Badger offense will be relying heavily on young players to carry the torch.
Sophomores and freshman play and start in all of the skill positions for the Badgers and all of them are continuing to make big plays and are improving with every in game rep they get.
So much so they are starting to replace seniors like receiver Jazz Peavy and running back Chris James.
That doesn’t mean there weren’t growing pains though. Hornibrook, late in the second quarter felt pressure and forced a throw that ended up being intercepted.
Taylor, in the third quarter, was pushing for extra yards but tried doing too much and ended up fumbling the ball.
The only upperclassmen that the Wisconsin offense will rely is senior stud tight end Troy Fumagalli. A star in the making, Fumagalli ended his day with eight receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown. Only missed passes and penalties by the defense can bring Fumagalli down it seems.
For better and for worse though, Wisconsin’s offense will live and die on the shoulders of young players.
Defensive backs struggle in first half
Early on it seemed the Badgers were absolutely dominating the game and should have been routing FAU. At halftime though, they were merely up by ten with FAU playing fast and confident.
The reason: Wisconsin’s pass defense.
In the first quarter, senior defensive backs Derrick Tindal and Natrell Jamerson blew their coverage on missed communication allowing for a 63 yard touchdown pass for FAU.
Nick Nelson also was burned a couple times and the Wisconsin defense allowed chunk play after chunk play which allowed FAU to keep it close.
Replacing the leadership and skill that Sojourn Shelton and Leo Musso brought to the defensive backfield last season is clearly going to be much harder than anticipated.
In the second half, Wisconsin made the adjustment of using more nickle defensive packages that put three cornerbacks on the field at the same time. The third cornerback in the second half was redshirt freshman Dontye Carriere-Williams.
The adjustment seemed to slow down FAU’s passing game and hopefully first year defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard and his defensive backs will adapt more quickly as not every opponent will be FAU this season.