Young UW receivers starring for Wisconsin

Quintez Cephus will miss the rest of the season after suffering a knee injury last week.

Image By: Brandon Moe

Early in the second quarter against Maryland Saturday, sophomore wide receiver Quintez Cephus caught the ball in the middle of the field and wiggled loose for a 30-yard gain.

In the short term, Cephus had set up the Badgers with a scoring opportunity at the Terrapins’ three-yard line, and freshman running back Jonathan Taylor converted the chance on the next play.

On a broader level, however, Cephus’ catch was more than just a handy chunk play for Wisconsin. As he delivered a play of at least 30 yards for the fourth straight game, he reminded fans of the new faces now ruling the receiver corps.

“He’s definitely become a leader for the receivers,” said sophomore wideout A.J. Taylor, who has also taken on a greater role this season.

Though Cephus and Taylor did play last season as true freshman, they were buried beneath the now-graduated Robert Wheelwright and current senior Jazz Peavy on the depth chart.

But with Wheelwright leaving a void of 448 receiving yards to fill, and Peavy underperforming immensely this season, the sophomore receivers have capitalized on the opportunity to make an impact.

“We had really high expectations for them, because they did play last year,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “You never know. You hope by playing someone as a freshman, you hope that it’s really gonna add to their development as a sophomore.”

Rudolph’s wish has certainly become a reality for Cephus and Taylor, who are currently first and second respectively in receiving yards and touchdowns for Wisconsin receivers.

“I’ve learned a lot about just depth, angles, and just the receiver position as a whole,” Taylor said of his development since last season. “So I feel a lot more comfortable this year.”

With Cephus and Taylor now assuming larger roles for the Badgers, it’s only natural that other receivers have begun to get reps in the situational roles that Cephus and Taylor manned last season.

True freshman Danny Davis III has impressed as a deep threat thus far, catching seven balls for 160 yards and a touchdown.

And with Davis III out injured last weekend, the door opened up for redshirt freshman Kendric Pryor to earn more playing time for the Badgers.

Pryor played a season-high 35 snaps versus Maryland, posting two receptions for nine yards in the process.

It wasn’t the most eye-catching performance, but Pryor’s appearance was indicative of the youth movement currently going on at wide receiver.

“After George (Rushing) and Jazz, though, we’re kinda young, so I feel like that’s gonna help us out a lot,” Pryor said. “Because us young guys are playing kinda a big role in this year’s offense. So I feel just for the next years, our chemistry is gonna be pretty special, coming up.”

The rest of the Badgers’ roster features four wide receivers who are true freshman, and two who are redshirt freshman. None of those players have registered a reception this year, but their mere presence on the roster shows a commitment towards youth from the Badgers.

In the immediate future however, Paul Chryst will be hoping Cephus, Taylor, Davis III and Pryor can contribute this weekend at Illinois (0-4 Big Ten, 2-5 overall), as the No. 5 Badgers (4-0, 7-0) travel to Champaign looking to improve to 8-0 on the season.

Despite the Fighting Illini’s record, the team, coached by former Chicago Bears’ head coach Lovie Smith, is actually top-40 nationally in pass defense, allowing just 198.7 yards per contest.

Nonetheless, Wisconsin will be expected to win this conference battle. It enters this game as the 27-point favorite, having not lost to the Fighting Illini since 2007.

It’ll need its young receiving core to perform to keep that streak alive.

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