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What fans need to know about the Wisconsin Badgers

October 6, 2018

A preview of Wisconsin, the first trip to Camp Randall Stadium of the Scott Frost era.

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Record: 3-1, 1-0 Big Ten

Offensive yards per play: 6.70 (tied 19th nationally)

Defensive yards per play: 5.52 (tied 74th)

Turnover margin: plus-4 (tied 20th)

Penalty yards per game: 52.5 (tied 53rd)

Coach

Paul Chryst (37-8 at Wisconsin)

Like the coach he’s facing this weekend, Chryst is leading his alma mater after playing quarterback in college. Given his first break by a former Nebraska coach — Mike Riley hired him with the San Antonio Riders of the World League of American Football in 1991 — Chryst rose through the ranks while developing a reputation as a bright offensive mind. He coordinated Wisconsin’s offense from 2005 through 2011, then spent three years as Pittsburgh’s coach before returning to Madison in 2015. All he’s done since is win 23 of 27 league games — not to mention consecutive Big Ten West Division titles — while earning the last two Big Ten coach of the year honors.

Offense

Type: Pro-style

Coordinator: Joe Rudolph

The Badger attack generally hasn’t dominated statistically under Chryst and Rudolph, producing average units in terms of points and yards per game. What the duo has done, however, is put Wisconsin among the top five teams in the country in time of possession every year they’ve been leading their alma mater — their 35:02 average this season is seventh — and helped the defense in the process. Rudolph also coaches UW’s offensive line, which landed three All-Americans last year, while receivers coach Ted Gilmore is passing game coordinator in addition to being receivers coach. Rudolph (2007, tight ends) and Gilmore (2005-10, receivers) made coaching stops at Nebraska.

Defense

Type: 3-4

Coordinator: Jim Leonhard

The move appeared bold to outsiders last year when Chryst promoted Leonhard — who had no previous coaching experience at any level prior to 2016 — to lead Wisconsin’s defensive unit. But the former UW All-America defensive back and 10-year NFL player thrived in his first season in the role, with his unit ranking second nationally in total defense, third in scoring defense and No. 1 in pass efficiency. Leonhard was a finalist for the Broyles Award (given to the country’s top assistant) and was in talks with schools like Alabama, Florida State and Texas A&M for a coordinator job in the offseason before the 35-year old decided to stay home. His 3-4 scheme emphasizes playmakers, particularly at linebacker.

Players to watch

Jonathan Taylor, running back: The former three-star recruit from New Jersey broke out last year, topping Adrian Peterson’s FBS freshman rushing record (1,977 yards) and finishing sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting. Boasting a downhill running style, Taylor has topped 100 yards rushing in all four games this season and averages 157 per outing. Wisconsin isn’t afraid to ride the 5-foot-11, 221-pound sophomore, evidenced by his 33 carries for 253 yards against New Mexico last month. Though not heavily involved in the passing game — five catches for 20 yards — Taylor is dangerous in short-yardage spots and can house a carry at any moment.

T.J. Edwards, linebacker: Equipped with the kind of frame (6-1, 242) and motor in the mold of past Wisconsin linebacking greats, the senior captain has a pick and pair of QB hurries to go with his 19 tackles. A four-year starter, he considered turning pro after his 81-tackle, four-interception season last fall but returned this year as a preseason first-team All-American.

They said it

“You plan on each week, getting that team’s best shot. You see what they’re capable of being and that’s a really good football team. You watch the film and you can see it. Whatever’s happened before doesn’t matter.” Chryst on throwing out Nebraska’s 0-4 record

Three stats

13: Times in 16 red-zone possessions that Wisconsin has scored a touchdown. The 81.25 touchdown percentage is 10th in the country.

7:19: The gap between Wisconsin’s average time of possession and Nebraska’s. The Badgers (35:02) are seventh nationally in the category while the Huskers (27:43) are 104th.

Five: Straight games won by the Badgers in the series. Nebraska has been outscored 213-110 across those contests.

Schedule

Aug. 31 Western Kentucky, W 34-3

Sept. 8 New Mexico, W 45-14

Sept. 15 BYU, L 24-21

Sept. 22 at Iowa, W 28-17

Saturday Nebraska

Oct. 13 at Michigan

Oct. 20 Illinois

Oct. 27 at Northwestern

Nov. 3 Rutgers

Nov. 10 at Penn State

Nov. 17 at Purdue

Nov. 24 Minnesota

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