Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst brought a slightly revamped offense to South Florida last Friday, most notably with the incorporation of Jonathan Taylor into the passing game. Taylor, who led the nation in rushing with 2,194 yards in 2018, had just eight receptions last year. Though the Badgers’ wide receiver unit is solid, adding another aerial weapon in Taylor would make life a lot easier for quarterback Jack Coan in 2019 – and that certainly showed in Week 1.
Taylor’s first reception, a short screen pass that he took 36 yards to the endzone to put Wisconsin up 21-0, was the type of explosive play the offense was missing in 2018. While Taylor’s not going to take every one of his catches into the endzone like he did Friday, Wisconsin’s strong blocking should make the screen pass a low-risk, effective way to get the ball to an elite ball carrier in space. He’s just one more weapon for defenses to worry about when Coan drops back to pass.
Speaking of Coan, Chryst was consistent in his praise of the junior quarterback all through the spring and summer. While the Badger fanbase has reason to be excited about 2019 four-star QB recruit (according to 247Sports) Graham Mertz – the top pocket passer in his class – Chryst stuck with the more experienced Coan and it’s looking like the right move through Week 1.
When Coan stepped in midseason in 2018, the coaching staff dealt with him very carefully and the Badgers offense was overly run-heavy, even on conventionally passing downs. Chryst showed more trust in his quarterback on Friday, allowing Coan to open up the passing game early and often, keeping his foot on the gas pedal with the Badgers comfortably ahead. The Sayville, New York native completed 19 of 26 passes for 199 yards, two touchdowns, and maybe most importantly, no interceptions. Sure, USF isn’t going to be one of the better defenses Wisconsin will face this season, but a good start is a good start. We’ll know more about what Coan can bring to the offense this season when he faces No. 7 Michigan on September 21.
As for Chryst, the final encouraging sign from Week 1 was his decision to go for it on fourth-and-one from the 50-yard line with the Badgers leading 7-0 in the first quarter. Chryst rolled the dice on fourth-down just 12 times last season (with 41.66% success), but with a top-tier offensive line and one of the best running backs in the country, the aggressiveness here was an easy call. That being said, it’s still worth praising a head coach who has ran an otherwise extremely conservative gameplan in his time at Wisconsin.