Finishing the year 8-5, Wisconsin did not live up to the high expectations many outside the program believed the Badgers could meet. However, there were some bright spots, and there is a lot to look ahead to in 2019.
With that, our writers came together in our Slack channel on Thursday evening for a discussion (since lightly edited for clairty) on everything from this past season.
Jake Kocorowski: Alright, welcome to another edition of the B5Q roundtable, where the points don’t count and we all get to fire Drew Hamm at the end of this.
Bob Wiedenhoeft: Wait, is Drew leaving?
Andrew Rosin: It’s a bit.
Drew Hamm: After every roundtable, ESPECIALLY with Rosin in the mix.
Jake: Anyway, we’re here to recap the 2018 season that was.
First question, well, topic. This is a Jonathan Taylor appreciation topic. What stood out most to you about his performance this season?
Ryan Mellenthin: I can think of 2,194 things.
Drew: And Kirk Ferentz saying Iowa State’s running back is the best back he’ll see all year ain’t one.
Bob: He didn’t have the passing attack of the 2017 season, but he still had a better season. Love that the fumbles were down (haven’t fact checked that, but I’m 99 percent sure).
Jake: They were down.
Bob: I wonder if 2019 will be his last year in Madison.
Ryan: I hope not, but I wouldn’t doubt it. He also only had one game where he didn’t break the century mark [this season], which is amazing IMO.
Andrew: There was a legitimate flirtation with Harvard after de-committing from Rutgers, so he’s definitely someone who will consider the academic end, but by all logic if you’re a potential top-10 pick for the 2020 draft, especially at running back, you probably should declare.
Jake: I think he improved in almost every single facet of his game. If he can enhance his pass catching and blocking further, he could be the most all-around back Wisconsin’s had since James White [or ever].
Andrew: You’re risking a Bryce Love season if you stay.
Bob: He seems to be a really hard worker, so I bet 2019 will be spectacular if healthy.
Ryan: I would love to see him get involved more in the passing game.
Bob: I imagine he’ll take a few more strides in the throw game.
Andrew: I wouldn’t put it past him to flirt with the NCAA rushing record if the Badgers win the division.
Outside of Taylor, name one positive from the rest of the team. There are a few players I can think of off the top of my head.
Drew: T.J. Edwards.
Ryan: T.J. Edwards. 113 total tackles, three interceptions. I also liked the progression of Jake Ferguson.
Drew: Ferguson has all the makings of an NFL tight end.
Ryan: For sure.
Bob: All the linebackers, I think.
Ryan: Develop more of a passing game and Ferguson should thrive.
Andrew: Ryan Connelly, Edwards, and Andrew Van Ginkel are all going to be missed despite the depth at the position. I also have to give a positive to Taiwan Deal for getting back from multiple severe injuries to be a strong RB2 this year.
Jake: [typing at same time as Andrew] Deal emerged as a great complement to Jonathan Taylor. After all of his injuries, a most successful senior campaign to go out.
Great minds think alike, Andrew.
Andrew: LOL. No one would have blamed him for leaving the team, either.
Ryan: He was the real Deal this year.
Drew: Deal ran so violently this season and I loved it.
Jake: ::glares at Ryan for pun::
Ryan: Sorry, not sorry.
Drew: ::insert Deal With It Dot GIF::
Jake: Everyone’s fired.
Bob: Punish him, Jake.
Ryan: And isn’t Kayden moving back to offensive line next year?
Andrew: Yeah, there’s definitely going to be an opening at guard he can fill.
What was the biggest disappointment out of the 2018 season?
Andrew: I’m going to wait out the Alex Hornibrook discussion.
Ryan: The passing game. After the Orange Bowl, everyone boarded the hype train that was Hornibrook and the receivers, and then Quintez Cephus got into legal trouble and then the rest of the guys just never got going.
Drew: Besides the overall record, passing game, and the decline on defense. I was most saddened by my beautiful, Brazilian, baby boy’s [Rafael Gaglianone] rough season.
Bob: Wisconsin got rocked by Northwestern and Minnesota. Even knowing it would be a down year for Hornibrook wouldn’t have been enough for me to think UW would be eliminated from the Big Ten West with two weeks to go.
Andrew: For me, it was the injuries. The team missed [tight end] Zander Neuville all year. They also didn’t have Isaiahh Loudermilk or Garrett Rand for extended stretches on the defensive line, and losing Olive Sagapolu after eight games didn’t help matters much, either. And the very young secondary didn’t have D’Cota Dixon, Scott Nelson, or Reggie Pearson for extended stretches as well.
Not to mention the symptoms from Hornibrook’s head injury.
Ryan: Yeah, injuries decimated this team.
Andrew: He regressed, but they only trusted Jack Coan to throw against Purdue.
What’s the area of improvement (player, position group, statistic) you want to see addressed heading into 2019?
Ryan: Quarterback. Yes, Taylor is the best running back in the nation and you can use him as the centerpiece of your offense, but you also need a passing attack, especially if you want to beat teams like Michigan and Ohio State.
Bob: I want to see the defense that was swarming against Miami show up for more of next season. More specifically, 4.44 yards per carry allowed is not good enough IMO.
Drew: Let’s get back to beating Northwestern and Minnesota before worrying about the Big Ten East. I also hope to see the young secondary make big strides this offseason.
Ryan: A passing attack would also go a long away against Northwestern and Minnesota.
Jake: I’d like to see the defensive line step up more with a year of experience. You hope Bryson Williams continues to develop at nose tackle, and with the return of a healthy Rand, that has to help the position group.
Drew: He’ll get that pick-six next year and Jake will be able to tweet about a Wildgoose chase, too.
Jake: Intrigued by someone like an Isaiah Mullens on the defensive line. Also, I’m so waiting for that Wildgoose opportunity … it’s in the drafted tweets.
Bob: Honestly, I want to enjoy watching the Badgers play in 2019. Didn’t happen too much in ‘18.
Who is the player you’ll watch heading into 2019?
Ryan: Graham Mertz.
Drew: ::resists answering Mertz::
Andrew: I’m not watching Graham Mertz because I’m watching Logan Brown.
Bob: It’s lovely watching Mertz throw the ball. It’s like watching Adam Scott swing a 7-Iron.
Drew: I’m excited to see if Nakia Watson can get some carries and be a big, beefy ballcarrier man. I’m also interested to see if Nick Saban-approved Christian Bell can grab a starting spot and make some plays.
Ryan: Paul Chryst and quarterbacks coach Jon Budmayer reportedly have noted that Mertz has a chance to make an impact right away, and after this season, it’s anyone’s job.
Jake: I knew y’all would say that about Mertz. I’ll be keeping an eye on him as well, but I’m going defensive side of the ball and whoever will step up at OLB opposite Zack Baun. Van Ginkel departs, and they need someone like Bell, Noah Burks, Tyler Johnson, Izayah Green-May, or Jaylan Franklin to really step up. Can a Spencer Lytle, who’s enrolling mid-year, make an impact?
Andrew: Also, I’m watching to see the strides Wildgoose makes. Cornerback is a position that’s a bellwether for how good the Badgers are and he was the best one by the Pinstripe Bowl.
Ryan: Bellwether. Love it.
Bob: Chris Orr is going to be around, right?
Jake: Yes he will.
Bob: I’ll go with Chris Orr, then.
Andrew: Yeah, if Orr is healthy, he should get his starting spot back.
Jake: And he played really well in the Pinstripe Bowl (eight tackles, one interception).
Drew: Orr getting that graduate degree!
Bob: Grad school is terrible.
Drew: Regular school is terrible.
Bob Wiedenhoeft: lol