Wisconsin lost to Illinois, they’re overrated, they’re not a threat, the Badgers suck, blah blah blah. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Buckeye fans. It’s very...very likely that the Badgers lost to the Fighting Illini because they were looking ahead to this weekend’s matchup, and if that’s the case, that means they’ve been preparing to play Ohio State for about two weeks now. In other words, we’re going to see the best of this Wisconsin football team, and we should not expect otherwise.
While it’s mostly Wisconsin defense this, Wisconsin defense that, their offense is not to be dismissed. Between a consistent quarterback, a solid offensive line, and running back Jonathan Taylor, who is arguably their biggest threat, the Badgers remain near the top of the rankings in both total offense (No. 37) and rushing offense (No. 17).
Here’s what you need to know about the players who (literally) run Wisconsin’s offense:
Junior running back Jonathan Taylor
Taylor is No. 3 in the nation in rushing yards (957), just barely ahead of Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins (947), shares the No. 1 spot in rushing touchdowns (15), and has scored the most TDs in the nation (19). The 5-foot-11, 219-pound junior has rushed for more than 5,000 yards in his 3-year college career and—in case that wasn’t impressive enough— has added receiving to his resumé with 16 receptions and four receiving touchdowns already this season.
With his first carry of the game, Jonathan Taylor has eclipsed the 5,000 career rushing yard mark.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 19, 2019
He is now just the 3rd player to accomplish the feat before his senior season.
He joins LaMichael James (Oregon, 2009-2011) and Herschel Walker (Georgia, 1980-1982). pic.twitter.com/HfPJO5bOLe
However, Taylor hasn’t performed at the level we’re used to seeing from the running back in the Badgers’ past two games. Michigan State’s defense kept Taylor at an average of 3.1 yards-per-carry and 80 rushing yards— the first time this season he didn’t rush for at least 100 yards.
Illinois—who had since been allowing teams 201.8 rushing yards-per-game— held the running back to 132 rushing yards, 4.7 yards-per-carry, and 1 TD. Considering Ohio State’s rushing defense has been holding opponents to an average of 2.56 yards-per-carry, fourth-best in the FBS, and 92.7 yards-per-game, it’ll certainly be difficult for Taylor to break out of his funk against the Buckeyes.
It’d be foolish to assume Taylor— and Wisconsin’s offense in general—will be the same team they were against Illinois and Michigan State, let alone in 2017, on Saturday. Taylor is fifth in the ESPN Heisman Watch, has scored at least one TD in every game this season, and is well-protected by a stellar offensive line, who, unfortunately for Ohio State, is returning senior guard Jason Erdmann, giving Wisconsin a complete starting O-line.
On Jonathan Taylor, Greg Mattison pointed out Taylor ran a 10.4 100m dash in high school and has great speed in the open field, while he is also physical and has great balance. "You don't get 2,000 yards in the league that we play in, without being an outstanding running back."— Dan Hope (@Dan_Hope) October 22, 2019
Still, 2017 and many years prior have proven that Ohio State understanding and thus limiting Wisconsin’s running back equates to a win over the Badgers. And with a new and improved Buckeye defense, stopping Taylor should be...dare I say... easy?
Junior quarterback Jack Coan
Believe it or not, a Wisconsin quarterback has actually been instrumental this year in complementing its running back’s efforts.
In his first season as the Badgers’ starting quarterback, Jack Coan has completed 127 of 167 passes for 1,383 yards, with nine TDs and just two interceptions. He is second in the nation in pass completion percentage (76%).
Former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer had a lot of positive things to say about the quarterback’s performance in the Badgers’ 38-0 win over Michigan State on his segment “Urban Analysis” on the Big Ten Network.
“This is not passing 101—this is graduate-level stuff,” Meyer said. “...Coan — look at the timing, timing and ball placement. By the time the back foot hit — this is excellent, man — this is when you know Wisconsin’s got a great team. Watch when the foot hit and the ball’s out. You can’t defend this. This is really well done.”
Coan completed 18 of 21 of his passes for 180 yards and 1 TD against the Spartans.
The following week, he completed 24 of 32 passes for 264 yards and a TD in their 24-23 loss to Illinois. He was particularly successful on third down, completing 10 of 11 attempts for 158 yards, with eight conversions.
However, that one unsuccessful third down was a crucial one. While still in the lead (23-21) against the Fighting Illini, Coan tried to hit tight end Jake Ferguson, but Illinois cornerback Tony Adams made a leaping interception to give the Illini the ball at their own 47 with 2 minutes 32 seconds remaining. We all know how that turned out.
Still, through all seven games this season, he has completed 35 of 42 third-down attempts (83.3%) for 390 yards, with 24 conversions. If Coan can remain consistent on third down conversions and avoid making mistakes during crucial moments, Ohio State, for the first time in awhile, will be facing a two dimensional, well-balanced Wisconsin team. Who knew there was such a thing?
Honorable mention: Junior wide receiver Quintez Cephus
So far this season, Cephus has 24 receptions for 353 yards, 3 TDs, and a long of 46.
The above catch shows Cephus’ athleticism, and the kind of wide receiver skill that Wisconsin was lacking last season when Cephus was suspended from the team due to sexual assault allegations.
Michigan State likely put all their focus on Taylor, and didn’t expect Cephus to be a threat, considering there was only one defender even close to Cephus during that catch.
Not only are they a better match up, but I would also expect Ohio State to be more prepared than the Spartans, likely assigning cornerback Jeffrey Okudah to Cephus—in which case, don’t lose too much sleep over this one.