Iowa Football

Iowa football look ahead: 2018 was a blip for Wisconsin - probably

Paul Chryst is generally a quiet guy, but his 42-12 record (4-0 in bowls) does the talking for him

Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor (23) breaks a tackle by Iowa defensive back Michael Ojemudia (11) at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor (23) breaks a tackle by Iowa defensive back Michael Ojemudia (11) at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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It’s been pretty good for Paul Chryst at Wisconsin.

 

He’s going into his fifth year with a 42-12 record. That’s fantastic. Every Big Ten team not named Ohio State or Michigan would run that up the flagpole and their fans would salute.

You know where this is headed.

The 2018 season was Wisconsin’s first “stumble” year since Chryst was hired in 2014. The Badgers fell to 8-5 in 2018, their worst record since 8-6 in 2012.

The crescendo — in this case, descendo — was Wisconsin’s “1998 Iowa State” moment. Iowa beat Iowa State for 15 consecutive seasons (1983-1997). The Cyclones broke through and the series has gone 11-10 since.

The Badgers held Paul Bunyan’s Axe for 15 seasons until the 2018 finale. Minnesota rose up and made a memory with a 37-15 victory at Camp Randall Stadium.

While everyone else in the Big Ten West tries to drum up crocodile tears, the Minnesota loss got Badgers fans’ attention.

Was 2018 a blip? Was it real slippage?

The argument for “blip” starts with junior running back Jonathan Taylor, who rushed for 2,194 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.

That’s almost 2,200 yards. In one season.

More “blip” evidence: Hmm. OK. Wisconsin needs some proving in the things that make it Wisconsin.

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The Badgers’ O-line is going to have a new-car smell. Four-year starters Michael Deiter and Beau Benzschawel graduated. David Edwards bolted for the NFL. Jon Dietzen retired because of injuries.

Wisconsin will build around center Tyler Biadasz and left tackle Cole Van Lanen.

(Every Wisconsin post must come with some offensive line talk. It’s in the Big Ten bylaws.)

No, Chryst is not in trouble, but Wisconsin athletics director Barry Alvarez was asked this spring about Chryst and 8-5. Alvarez went right at the topic with a switchblade.

“Let me tell you something: winning is hard,” Alvarez said. “To be able to win and win consistently at a high level like Paul has done, it’s hard to do. I couldn’t be more proud of the job he’s done.”

Alvarez is a football dude of the highest order. Black belt, five stars. He could walk around Madison with helmet stickers on his forehead and fans would want to put more helmet stickers on his forehead.

He knows one season is a blip. He also knows 2018 wasn’t optimal. Chryst also is 4-0 in bowls, including 2-0 in New Year’s Six bowls.

Chyrst is a Wisconsin grad from Madison. He’s 42-12 and 4-0 in bowls. Let’s not make this more than what it was. The dissatisfaction is a murmur. Rational Wisconsin fans know that Chryst, a low-key character, an anti-Bret Bielema, is the right guy.

“Last year happened and there are lessons to be learned,” Chryst said. “But this year is not going to be a punishment or a reward for what you did before. It’s a clean start.”

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Chryst has done more than enough. Leave the Hot Seat in the box and return it to Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Wisconsin skill players

The Badgers have a QB competition going on. Jack Coan played in five games after Alex Hornibrook suffered a concussion in week 9.

Since then, Hornibrook transferred to Florida State. Still, the Badgers have a significant QB competition.

Graham Mertz, a 6-4, 205-pounder from Overland Park, Kan., is a 4-star recruit. He picked the Badgers over Alabama, Clemson and Georgia.

Mertz might be the most hyped recruit in Wisconsin history. He was the MVP of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He threw 51 TDs last season as a senior at Blue Valley North High School.

Taylor rushed for nearly 2,200 yards last year. The Badgers also return their top five receivers from 2018, including fine tight end Jake Ferguson.

Wisconsin defense

Wisconsin lost inside linebackers T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly to graduation. They were fifth-year seniors and among the best linebackers to walk through the UW locker room. A lot of knowledge, experience and leadership walked out the door with them. The Badgers also lost massive nose tackle Olive Sagapolu.

Injuries crushed the Badgers’ defense last season. So, a lot of players who weren’t ready played. Maybe there’s a bounce in ’19 because of early playing time. For example, linebacker Chris Orr seemed to be on his way to owning one of the inside linebacker spots, but he got hurt and was behind Edwards and Connelly. So, Orr will be a “new” starter who’s already played in 36 games (16 starts).

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The Badgers’ secondary doesn’t have any seniors and it was pretty good last year. UW held opposing QBs to a 120.5 pass efficiency (40th nationally).

Super hot, possibly relevant take on this game that’s 100-something days away: The Badgers have pulled ahead in the Heartland Trophy series. They’ve won three straight and six of the last seven against the Hawkeyes.

This isn’t breaking news in Iowa City. Wisconsin is the most meaningful rivalry Iowa has. The winner has a path to Indianapolis. The loser might make the Outback Bowl.

Which one do you want?

Hawkeyes Look Ahead

Nov. 9 At Wisconsin (Camp Randall Stadium)

Week before: Bye week No. 2

On the horizon: Pig week at Kinnick against the Gophers.

For Wisconsin

Week before: The Badgers also will be coming off a bye week. Everyone should have full energy bars.

On the horizon: Nebraska at Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)

Wisconsin Badgers

Game: Nov. 9 at Camp Randall Stadium

Coach: Paul Chryst (42-12, 6th season at Wisconsin)

2018 record: 8-5, 5-4 in Big Ten West Division

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Scoring offense: 29.7 points per game (7th in B1G, 62nd nationally — Minnesota was 65th at 28.9)

Total offense: 431.1 yards per game (4th B1G, 36th nationally — Florida was 42nd at 426.7)

Scoring defense: 22.6 points allowed per game (5th B1G, T-34th nationally — Iowa State was 37th at 22.9)

Total defense: 344.2 yards allowed per game (4th B1G, 29th nationally — Iowa will face four defenses that finished in the top 35 nationally last season)

Series: It’s still close, but it’s not tied anymore. Wisconsin has won six of the last seven and now owns a 47-43-2 series lead.

Last meeting: So much has been written and said about the Badgers’ 28-17 victory at Kinnick last season. Pretty much it was this and this alone: The Badgers took advantage of two special teams turnovers and scored 14 points on three Iowa turnovers.

That’s how the bull trophy went back to Madison.

Super early, totally unofficial spread prediction: Home field is three points, so let’s not overthink this. Badgers probably will be favored by at least 3. We do have to factor some “how the season is going” when we hit November, but when was the last time Iowa was favored at Camp Randall?

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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