—By Cory Hilborne (@RodgersToJordy)
The Wisconsin football team is off to a 4-0 (1-0 Big Ten) start following a decisive win over Michigan State in East Lansing this past Saturday. The schedule only gets tougher from here starting with a trip to Ann Arbor and a showdown with fourth ranked Michigan. Ahead of this week’s matchup, I want to take a look back through the first four weeks of the season and grade the different position groups.
Quarterbacks – B
Bart Houston showed some flashes in the three and half games he started for the Badgers. He ultimately struggled with accuracy which lead to Alex Hornibrook taking over against Georgia State and getting the Start against Michigan State. Hornibrook looked calm and cool for someone getting their first collegiate start in a Big Ten opener against a top-10 team on the road. Turnovers have been a problem in the early part of the season for these two and will need to improve if they plan on getting through this daunting schedule with a winning record. Hornibrook seems to have all the tools to be the leader of this team not only this year, but for years to come.
Running Backs – B-
We all know the rich history that is the Wisconsin run game. With recent success from tailbacks such as Montee Ball, James White, Melvin Gordon III and the success that Corey Clement showed his first two years in Madison we have come to be a little spoiled. So far this year Corey Clement is averaging just 3.9 yards on his 65 carries. In comparison, in 2013 he had 67 carries for an average of 8.2 yards per carry. Dare Ogunbowale has showed some flashes but as a whole the group has some work to do.
Wide Receivers – B+
While they aren’t necessarily putting up huge numbers, they have been successful when called upon. Jazz Peavy leads the group with a line of 16 catches/274 yards/2 TD’s. Robert Wheelwright is right behind him with 15/228/0. I’m still waiting for a third WR to step up and make plays on a consistent basis, but right now I have been very pleased with how these two have stepped up and taken advantage of the opportunities they have had.
Tight Ends – B
Troy Fumagalli had a huge game against LSU in the opener catching seven passes for 100 yards. Since then,he has just seven catches for 69 yards. Granted he missed most of the Georgia State game with an injury. Kyle Penniston dropped a couple passes early on in relief but bounced back with the game-winning touchdown. Eric Steffes caught his first career touchdown last week against the Spartans. For a team that rarely uses three WR sets on offense, the tight ends are going to have to continue to play well on third downs going forward.
Offensive Line – B
In week one against a very talented front seven for LSU this unit held up above expectations. Bart Houston was rarely pressured and the offense rushed for 134 yards. The coaching staff had finally seemed to have found the starting five guys up front. Then came injuries to Micah Kapoi and Jon Dietzen, the teams top two guards. Michael Deiter, who normally starts at center moved to LG against Michigan State and Brett Connors stepped in at center. The line held up well in pass protection but struggled to open up holes consistently in the run game. Getting Kapoi and Dietzen back hopefully this week can only improve things for this offense.
Defensive Line – A-
Olive Sagapolu, Connor Sheehy, Chikwe Obasih and Alec James have anchored a d-line that is allowing the fewest rush yards per game of any Big Ten team at 80.5 yards/game. This group is playing really well in the early part of the season and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
Linebackers – A+
This group is once again playing lights out football. We saw what Jack Cichy was capable of in the bowl game last year when he recorded three straight sacks (I still can’t believe he did that). Vince Biegel was an absolute monster last year and early on this season is playing how we have come to expect him to play. The only real surprise, if you want to call it that, is the emergence of T.J Watt. He leads the Big Ten in sacks with 4.5 and is ninth in the Big Ten with 5.5 TFL. The linebackers lead a defense that is the top scoring defense in the Big Ten allowing just 11.8 points/game and number two in total defense holding opponents to 277 yards/game.
Defensive Backs – B+
The DB’s have been flying around the field making a ton of plays. Wisconsin already has 6 INT’s through the first month of the season (had 12 all of last year). Sojourn Shelton has played like the shutdown corner he was his freshman year. Leo Musso showed his ball skills with that 66-yard scoop-and-score fumble return that was forced by week one hero D’Cota Dixon.
Kickers/Special Teams – A-
Rafael Gaglianone has connected on 7 of 8 FG attempts this year with a long of 48. Andrew Endicott made his first and only FG attempt last week hitting from 41 yards out. He did however miss an extra point. P.J Rosowski has been great on Kickoffs with 15 touchbacks on 25 attempts. Him and Anthony Lotti have combined to average just less than 40 yards a punt and have pinned opponents inside the 20-yard line on 6 occasions.