The 2018 Wisconsin Badgers offense was a one man show – heavily reliant on star running back Jonathan Taylor.
The wide receivers and quarterback Jack Coan recognized that this offseason and made a concerted effort to create more balance within the offense.
“When you think of Wisconsin, you think of running back [university], and we kind of want to change that,” junior wide receiver Kendric Pryor said in August. “In order to go where we want to go we have to be able to be balanced and be able to run the ball and pass the ball.”
That sentiment was echoed throughout the entire unit, and has become a theme through five games this season.
UW’s offense is averaging 43 points a game this season. A large part of that is thanks to one of the best receiving groups the school has seen in years.
“We’ve got weapons,” senior receiver A.J. Taylor said. “Between Danny [Davis], [Quintez Cephus], Kendric, myself and even the guys that don’t play a lot. Adam Krumholz, Jack Dunn – all of us can contribute and make something happen in the game. You’re starting to kind of see it. I think we do have a great core.”
With the highest-ranked defense in the nation on the other side of the ball and, perhaps, the best running back in the nation in the backfield, the wide receivers knew they had to add a dangerous passing attack to round out this talented Badgers team.
They have answered that call thus far.
To this point, the Badgers have accumulated 1014 passing yards along with seven passing touchdowns. Through all 13 games in the 2018 season, the UW passing attack only mustered 2050 passing yards and 19 passing touchdowns.
Additionally, Wisconsin only averaged 158 yards per game and 6.7 yards per attempt in 2018. This season, they have improved that to 203 yards per game and 8.1 yards per attempt.
“I think we are a lot more balanced this year than the past few years,” Pryor said.
Jack Coan has spread the ball around his entire receiving corps – Danny Davis, Kendric Pryor, A.J. Taylor, and Quintez Cephus.
Cephus and the receiving corps put that on full display during a Week 2 61-0 win over Central Michigan.
Coan connected with Cephus on two deep balls for touchdowns, while A.J. Taylor contributed with 78 yards of his own. Jonathan Taylor added 102 yards on the ground to round out a well-balanced attack.
“We haven’t seen a receiving core in Wisconsin like this in a long time, probably ever,” Jonathan Taylor said.
The receiving group has entered its name in the conversation for one of the best groups in Wisconsin history. Head coach Paul Chryst was hesitant to give them that honor, but defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard has been consistent with his high praise of the group.
“I love our group,” Leonhard said. “Our receivers are extremely talented. The skillsets that they have, they all present a different challenge.”
Leonhard and the defense may know the receivers the best going against them every day in practice. Also serving as the team’s defensive backs coach, Leonhard has watched the group closely.
“You go back to fall camp and sometimes we had to try to shoo you guys out of there so you guys didn’t see those receivers beating us up,” Leonhard said. “We’ve obviously played really well on defense and the defensive backs have been really consistent and that group can get after us in practice on a consistent basis.”
The threat that the wide receivers present adds another element to the offense – something the team has missed in recent years to compliment Jonathan Taylor.
“I think it’s huge. The whole emphasis has been to try to be balanced and to keep stressing that and to keep pushing toward that,” offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. “I think knowing you have guys that can step up in different areas is big and we got a lot of trust in those guys.”