The lightning subsided shortly after 7 p.m. in South Florida, but running back Jonathan Taylor brought his own thunder to Raymond James Stadium Friday night. An explosive performance in both the running and passing game led No. 19 Wisconsin (1-0) to a dominant 49-0 win at South Florida (0-1).
It didn’t take long for Taylor to add a few highlights to his 2019 Heisman Trophy campaign. The Badgers received the opening kick and operated an eight-play, 77-yard drive capped off by Taylor’s first score off the season, a 37-yard touchdown carry that left USF’s secondary in the dust.
Taylor finished with 135 rushing yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns, and added 48 receiving yards on two receptions--both touchdowns--for four total scores.
All eyes were on junior quarterback Jack Coan on the opening drives of the season, and the results were very encouraging for a Wisconsin coaching staff that still might be dealing with the after effects of the Alex Hornibrook era.
After a rocky 4/8 start that included two deep overthrows of wide receiver Quintez Cephus, Coan completed ten of eleven second-quarter passes for two scores to put UW ahead 28-0 at halftime. Taylor was on the receiving end of both of Coan’s touchdown passes, an exciting development considering that Taylor did not even have a reception in all of 2018. Coan’s final stat line: 19/26, 199 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers.
While Wisconsin’s offense was moving the ball, the defensive front was suffocating South Florida’s gameplan. USF ran the ball 23 times for just 26 total yards, an abysmal 1.1 yards-per-carry.
Badgers linebacker Mike Maskalunas led the way for the defense with six tackles, and freshman Leo Chenal added five tackles of his own in his college football debut.
The Bulls’ fortunes didn’t improve much in the passing game. USF quarterback Blake Barnett was under constant pressure in the pocket, completing just 13/30 passes for 109 yards plus two interceptions.
Early in the second quarter, senior linebacker Zack Baun got past the offensive line with ease, landing a blindsided hit on Barnett that popped the ball straight up into the air. Defensive end Matt Henningsen, weighing in at a hefty 286 pounds, hauled it in and turned on the afterburners for a 16-yard scoop-and-score to extend the Wisconsin lead. The crowd went nuts; everyone loves a big guy touchdown.
It’s no secret that the 2018 Wisconsin Badgers, who opened the season ranked fourth in the nation and finished unranked, were an extreme disappointment. Yet UW’s opening performance, on the road, in the heat, should ease nerves around Madison for at least a couple weeks. Wisconsin Head Coach Paul Chryst chose to stick with Coan at quarterback amidst clamoring for freshman four-star Graham Mertz to start, and the early returns Friday night were encouraging for a Badgers team with Big Ten Championship hopes.