The 2017 season was record-breaking for the University of Wisconsin football team. For the first time in school history, the football team reached 13 wins after defeating the Miami Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl.
This past season likely did not come as a surprise to the Badger faithful, but it certainly alerted the rest of the country to the Badgers’ high level of play.
At times this past season, quarterback play for the Badgers was inconsistent. During Big Ten play, sophomore quarterback Alex Hornibrook threw at least one interception per game, with eight in enemy territory. Despite these woes, the Badgers still went undefeated until their loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship game. Big thanks to Wisconsin’s defense for this feat.
This past season, Wisconsin’s defense only allowed on average 13.93 points per game. The Badger defense suffocated opponents’ offenses and made it very difficult for other teams to find a rhythm. Without Wisconsin’s elite defense this past season, the Badgers may not have had the same level of success.
The first time the Badger defense struggled all season was against the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship when Ohio State earned most of their points from plays that went for 50-plus yards. Ohio State was able to dismantle the Badgers usually steady secondary and defeat Wisconsin 27-21.
After the heartbreaking loss, both Badger offense and defense rebounded as they defeated the Hurricanes in Miami. Offensively, the Badgers were nearly perfect, which is good news for Badger fans.
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Next season, 10 out of 11 starters on offense will return, including quarterback Alex Hornibrook and running back Jonathon Taylor. Taylor came in sixth in the Heisman race after a stellar freshman campaign.
This news is obviously exciting, as the Badgers have been lacking a balanced offense the past several years. Even though the Badgers had success running the ball, consistent quarterback play can take the Badgers to the next level.
The downside to the 2018 season will be the losses of key defensive personnel. Part of the reason the defense was so elite this season was because of their playing experience. Out of the 11 starters on defense, six were seniors and the five remaining were juniors.
As of now, junior cornerback Nick Nelson, a transfer from Hawaii, is the only junior to forfeit his last season of eligibility and declare for the NFL draft. The only junior who has announced his return to the Badgers thus far is inside linebacker, T.J. Edwards.
Edwards, an AP first-team All-American, was second in solo tackles only to fellow junior Ryan Connelly, and inside linebacker. Edwards contributed 53 solo tackles, and with the help of his teammates, he was a part of 81 tackles on the season.
He tied for second in tackles for loss with 11 and tied for first with four interceptions. Edwards is a dynamic player that served the Badgers well this past season. If he stays healthy, he will likely be a leader and an anchor for a young defense.
Despite playing quarterback in high school, Edwards made the transition to linebacker rather seamlessly. After redshirting his first year to learn the position, he became a starter at his new position and never looked back. Over the last three seasons, Edwards played in 39 games, 38 of which he started.
In 2018, the Wisconsin defense will be made up of a mix of older, more experienced players and younger players. Edwards will likely be the centerpiece of the defense and will be expected to perform many different roles. Because of his versatility, it gives defensive coordinator Jim Leonard more freedom when placing players in their respective positions.
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Nose tackle Olive Sagapolu and Connelly will both likely be back for their senior seasons. Both players started this past season and will bring experience in 2018. Andrew Van Ginkel, an outside linebacker, will likely get the start next season.
Van Ginkel made a name for himself when he came up with two key interceptions in the Big Ten Championship game and in the Orange Bowl, respectively. After each interception, the game’s momentum shifted to benefit the Badgers.
D’Cota Dixon will likely lead the Badger’s secondary at the safety position as the new cornerbacks and safeties are likely to be sophomores and juniors without much playing experience.
Fortunately for the Badgers, Wisconsin has a strong defensive program, and despite a young defense next year, Badger fans should not be surprised if the Wisconsin defense continues to shut down opponents, especially while T.J. Edwards is still in Madison.