After an outstanding performance in Nebraska and Northwestern, the University of Wisconsin football team has positioned itself to be number one in the Big Ten West division.
With a win over Nebraska under their belts, Wisconsin arguably has already passed their toughest road game this season and moved up to number seven in national rankings according to the AP poll.
There are a couple of key factors that Wisconsin must capitalize on if they want to win the Big Ten West division.
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The last two Big Ten games proved Wisconsin has no trouble with producing offense. Running back Jonathan Taylor has been a beast for the Badgers. The first-year freshman has a career-high of 249 rushing yards against Nebraska and is averaging 7.9 yards per game. As a result, Sports Illustrated has placed Taylor on the Heisman watch list.
Taylor’s performance could not have been achieved without the offensive line, who have done a fantastic job opening holes and protecting quarterback Alex Hornibrook. The Wisconsin offensive line is not only helping to keep Taylor healthy for longer, but they also make running routes easier for him.
Hornibrook and his wide receiver corps are also doing well in the passing department. Hornibrook has thrown 300 yards passing in three games and continues his trend of having a dominant performance in the second half of the game. The rise of Danny Davis and Quintez Cephus (23 catches, 401 receiving yards) have also stepped up their game in the absence of tight end Troy Fumagalli.
While Fumagalli did miss a game against Northwestern, Hornibrook’s number one target came back against Nebraska and has been solidifying the Wisconsin offense in any way he can. Fumagalli is a diverse tight end who is capable of not only blocking, but also running and rushing. This combination of skills is highly sought after in the modern era of football, and has become in high demand in the NFL.
If Taylor can maintain his performance, Hornibrook connects his passes,and Fumagalli gets healthy, the Wisconsin offense will be unstoppable against Big Ten opponents.
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When the offense is stalling the Badger defense can always be count on to make big plays. Jim Leonhard, the defensive coordinator has done a fantastic job making the defense top notch. In Northwestern, the defense made key stops including numerous sacks and a safety from D’Cota Dixon. In Nebraska, the defense made key stops including a 78-yard touchdown return from outside linebacker Chris Orr.
Wisconsin held opponents to 21 points in the second half. In addition, the defensive corps already has three pick-six returns for touchdowns which is a major factor in Badger wins. UW’s defense has also managed to have four games this season in which they have prevented opponents from scoring a single point during the second half.
Leonhard and his defense have proved that even without standout linebacker Jack Cichy and other key players the defense can still thrive in Big Ten competition. As with the offense, if the defense can keep up or excel in their performance, then Wisconsin will be prime to win the Big Ten West division.
The Badgers must capitalize on the rest of the schedule after winning tough games against Northwestern and Nebraska. With two of their harder challenges out of the way, Wisconsin looks to the remainder of their season, which is filled with much easier opponents.
Maryland has been doing well for themselves this season, but they have been up against some relatively easy opponents as well. In their last matchup together, Maryland almost upset Wisconsin (Wisconsin – 31, Maryland – 24). But with home advantage and pumped-up homecoming atmosphere, Wisconsin should be able to pummel Maryland.
Many thought Maryland football was on the rise this year, but after the Terrapins lost to Northwestern in week seven, it seems as though they are still having the same struggles from previous seasons. Maryland should be a relatively easy game for Wisconsin, and should result in a homecoming celebration unlike any other.
Wisconsin’s remaining away games are against unranked opponents including Indiana, Illinois and Minnesota. The Badgers should be able to win these games based on their past away game performance in BYU and Nebraska.
The only potential roadblocks seen in Wisconsin’s schedule are games against Iowa and Michigan. However, both are home games. In addition, Iowa has been struggling in the Big Ten Conference (1-2 record) and Michigan has recently suffered a huge upset against Michigan State.
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In contrast, the closest Big Ten West opponent that can compete for first place, Nebraska, has a tough schedule ahead of them. They have a home game against No. 9 Ohio State and an away game at No. 3 Penn State. Both games are going to be really hard for Nebraska to win, and they might not win games against Iowa, Northwestern or Minnesota either.
Based on the performance so far Wisconsin’s schedule should help the team to achieve their 15th Big Ten Conference title.