Last season, Wisconsin’s passing offense was anemic.
Quarterback Alex Hornibrook couldn’t make simple plays and his receivers couldn’t find any separation. Running back Jonathan Taylor still had success but faced defenses that knew the Badgers would only throw out of necessity.
This year – specifically last Saturday against Michigan – it’s been a completely different story. Quarterback Jack Coan, unlike Hornibrook, is delivering accurate balls and has zero interceptions through three games while receiver Quintez Cephus has added a new element to the Badger offense with his ability to stretch the field.
Whether or not you agree with UW’s decision to reinstate him after being found not guilty of sexual assault in August, Cephus’ impact has been undeniable through three games. He has 205 receiving yards and two touchdowns--no other Badger receiver has caught a touchdown this year. Cephus’ game also has an indirect impact on how opposing defenses defend the Badger offense which has allowed Taylor to have a dominant start to the season.
Because Wisconsin has an elite running back in Jonathan Taylor, with extra tight-ends and has a stellar offensive line, teams have to stack the box with more linebackers and defensive backs.
This means receivers are mostly facing man coverage, which means if Badger receivers can beat their man one-on-one, Jack Coan can make simple throws and reads for big plays. Last season, the Badgers didn’t have a clear X receiver--a tall athlete flexed out wide who’s typically the team’s top receiver.
Cephus has been able to get seperation on both short and deep passes this season the Badgers struggled with last year. Against Michigan, Cephus only had two catches but both altered how Michigan approached the Wisconsin offense.
Take Cephus’ 28 yard reception on 4 and 2. After a rub play by A.J. Taylor blocked the Michigan cornerback, Cephus blew by the Michigan cornerback and gave Jack Coan an easy throw. Against Central Michigan, Cephus had a 38-yard touchdown catch in which he beat his man one-on-one on a fade. These plays force opposing teams to respect Wisconsin’s deep-passing game.
While Cephus has played well, Coan and Taylor’s consistent play has provided Wisconsin’s offense and defense with a needed lift.
Because Coan has been accurate on simple completions and his receivers are getting separation, teams can’t crowd the line of scrimmage and dare the Badgers to pass. This means Wisconsin’s already dangerous rushing attack has fewer players to block than it normally would have to. Jonathan Taylor then only has to make a few defenders miss and he can run at the secondary at full speed.
This season, Coan has zero interceptions and Taylor has zero fumbles. Too often last season, Hornibrook and Taylor gifted the opposition field position deep in their own territory. This made it much harder on UW’s defense to get stops and shifted momentum away from the Badgers. In the first half of Saturday’s game, the Wolverines started every drive at the 25-yard line or worse. Because of this, a struggling Michigan offense would have to go 75-yards to score which ensured momentum stayed on the Wisconsin’s side.
The Badger offense is just different this year, it’s balanced and much more unique than in previous years. Disciplined players along with improved playcalling has led to a dominant start to the year. If the Badgers can keep this pace up offensively, they can play with anyone in the country.