Camp Randall has never been short on tradition.
“Jump Around,” “Varsity,” “Build Me Up Buttercup” and being drunk and disorderly characterize football in Madison with sentimentality more akin to a family reunion than a spectator sport.
Perhaps as familiar as any of Camp Randall traditions, is the persistent echo of a dominant Badger home opener, one which took place once again Friday night.
The 34-3 takedown of Western Kentucky University marked the 23rd consecutive season in which Wisconsin has won their home opener.
Takeaways from the game
Jonathan Taylor is still good at running fast and far with the football (but fumbles are still an issue)
Yes, perhaps you may have heard. Jonathan Taylor, an early front-runner for the Heisman Trophy, is as good as anyone in the nation.
Friday was the 11th time in his 15-game career Taylor eclipsed the 100-yard milestone. He finished the night with 145 yards and two touchdowns.
“Keep churning out yards, keep churning out yards,” Taylor said after the game of the offense’s steady performance.
Taylor’s performance was not only a familiar refresher of last season because of his dominant stat line, but also because of a seemingly clumsy fumble in the second half. Taylor said the ball was knocked out from behind him, though it looked like a momentary lapse. Keeping custody of the ball has been an issue for the sophomore running back and was something he worked a lot on in the offseason.
“You can’t expect it to never happen — you hope and you work for it to never happen. You look at the film which is what I’m going to do and you gotta learn from it,” Taylor said.
Offensive Line shows depth, though not their dominant self in the trenches
Both long touchdown runs from Taylor were behind the prescient downfield blocks of offensive linemen senior Michael Deiter and sophomore Cole Van Lanen.
“Those two guys work well together,” Taylor said. “They were blockin’ their tails off and I commend them for that.”
Van Lanen played much of the second half at left tackle, shouldering redshirt junior Jon Dietzen’s workload.
“There’s no difference between [Van Lanen] and [Dietzen], which is nice,” Deiter said.”If ‘Dietz’ is hurting at all we can get fresh legs in for him and [Van Lanen] will do just fine.”
Despite the two breakaway runs by Taylor, the Badger run game was simply fine. Surely nothing to complain too much about, but it often looked like Taylor was being sent up the middle to seek out gaps that didn’t exist.
Hornibrook also took a few hits throughout the game, which, against an unimpressive WKU defensive line, is not insignificant, though not necessarily something to sound the alarm about just yet.
Big Ten passing game dissonance
Badger football is getting a little too big for its britches. Throwing the ball downfield? Finding receivers in the back of the end zone? Who are these people?
Despite Wisconsin losing two top receivers due to sexual assault allegations, quarterback Alex Hornibrook was able to go for 257 yards on 17–29 through the air, including two touchdowns.
The highlight of the night for the aerial attack was a Hornibrook-led 75-yard two-minute drill heading into the half that culminated in a beautiful dime to Kendric Pryor, who showed expert body control bringing in the pigskin.
We will be hearing from Scott Nelson for a long time
Freshman safety Scott Nelson was electric in front of the Friday night Camp Randall crowd.
He was everywhere on the field, credited with seven tackles (one for a loss) and two pass break-ups. On one early play, Nelson jumped a route and seemed destined for the first pick-six of his career, but he didn’t hold on and merely broke up the pass. Nelson sprinted 15 yards down-field in an apparent frustrated, energetic fervor and let Badger fans know what they have in Nelson is a playmaker with energy to burn.
The young Badgers are hungry
The first game of the season meant the first games of quite a few careers and speaking with some of the new blood after the game the excitement was contagious.
“I don’t how to describe it, it was so much fun,” Nelson said. “Three-and-outs were kinda frustrating ’cause you just wanted to play. You never want them to get a long drive but it was just so much fun you just wanted to stay out there.”
“It was a dream come true,” sophomore cornerback Caesar Williams said of the first start of his career. “Having my mom there and having her see me do what I love to do … even when tickets were ten dollars and nobody was coming to see me play she was there, and she’s still here.”
The Badgers will need to tighten some things up in future games in order to justify their No. 4 AP Poll ranking, namely their interior run blocking and containing the opposing quarterback in the pocket, but this team looks complete and will only improve as the season chugs on.
This Saturday Wisconsin will host New Mexico at Camp Randall.