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Today is Wednesday, Oct. 12, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Well-represented on basketball list
Nigel Hayes was a first-team All-Big Ten selection last season, and the only one that returned for another season of college basketball. So it wasn’t a surprise to see the Wisconsin senior be named the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year on Monday. But that didn’t stop some from taking shots at the Badgers forward.
@ZachHeilprin Big Ten going to be weak this year?!
— Ryan Warpinski (@wIggityWarp) October 11, 2016
It’s apparent that many only remember the Hayes that ended the year struggling to hit shots from the outside. While his shooting percentages from his sophomore year to his junior dipped for much of the season, they took an extreme nosedive in March, hence the questioning of the preseason honor.
But his talent is still paramount when it comes to the potential success this year’s team can have, and the media certainly recognized that, making him the only unanimous pick among the 10 members of the preseason All-Big Ten team.
"If we win championships, everything individually will fall into place. Really, I just want to be Frank Kaminsky."
— Wisconsin Basketball (@BadgerMBB) October 11, 2016
The Badgers are stacked with talent. Fellow senior Bronson Koenig, and reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Ethan Happ, joined Hayes on the preseason All-Big Ten team. Those three combined with the other two returning starters— seniors Zak Showalter and Vitto Brown — and a bench that could go five or six deep gives Wisconsin as talented of a roster as any in the Big Ten.
Hayes is the leader, though, and if the Badgers are to make it back to a third Final Four in four years, it’ll be because he plays at a level deserving of being a conference player of the year.
2014 title game sticks with Wisconsin
Most of the talk this week has been about Wisconsin’s 2010 game against Ohio State, and for good reason. It was a monumental night in program history, beating the No. 1 team in the country for the first time since 1981. But there is another game that’s much more fresh in the minds of the current players — the 2014 Big Ten Championship Game.
“I try to forget about it,” Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton said of the 59-0 whipping the Badgers took. “I’ve never lost to any team like that before that game. Whenever I think of being in a bad place in football, that game pops up. But it’s all motivation. You have to be able to use that to fuel you.”
Shelton is one of several players on defense that were the victim of the offensive assault that first-time starting quarterback Cardale Jones laid on the Badgers. Him and fellow cornerback Derrick Tindal, along with defensive linemen like Chikwe Obasih and Alex James, played a lot in that game. And though it’s been 22 months since that disastrous night, the game has stuck with the players.
How much will the memories from that night play a role this week? Probably not a lot. But you do have to wonder if the Buckeyes get off to a fast start, like they did in Indianapolis, if the pictures of the blowout will come streaming back into the minds of the players that lived it. That can’t happen if Wisconsin is to pull the upset.
The Badgers must own the first quarter like the team has in three of its four victories this year. Take the fight to coach Urban Meyer’s talented but young team and put that squad on its heels. No team has done that this year, and it might be the best way to help Wisconsin relive 2010 and not 2014.
Where have they gone?
Two years ago, Wisconsin was among the more explosive teams in college football.
Helped enormously by the big-play ability of running back Melvin Gordon, the Badgers rolled up 15 plays of 50 or more yards — tied for the fifth-most in the country. And when you combine 2013 and 2014, they had 30 such plays, with only Baylor and Colorado State having more.
But since Gordon left, the Badgers have just three plays of 50 yards or more. That’s 18 games, including five games this year where they have zero.
So what’s the deal?
“The explosive plays [will] come,” Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said Monday. “I think there’s been a few instances where we’ve been trying to make the explosive run instead of just taking what’s there. I think the explosive runs are a by-product of doing your job well. You break a tackle or it ends up creasing. We’ve been inconsistent.”
Chryst wasn’t pointing fingers, but it’s difficult to not look at running back Corey Clement. For a guy who came into the season averaging 6.56 yards per carry in his career — with multiple touchdown runs of 50 or more yards — you expected more. And while he certainly gets a pass for last year, when he missed nine games due to injury or suspension, this year he hasn’t been the breakaway and special back many thought he would be. His longest carry is 27 yards and his per carry average of 3.9 yards is the lowest of his career.
“In looking back over the first few games there’s some times where he’s been a little impatient…trying to create the big play instead of just taking it when it presents itself,” Chryst said. “I think that was good for him to see. It’s the discipline of the little things, of being on your track and understanding when it’s there and when it’s not there. I think it was good for Corey to see that.”
It’s not just the running game, either. The passing game has struggled to throw the ball downfield this season. Sometimes it’s the throw, other times it’s the receiver, but for whatever reason the marriage between the two hasn’t sparked on a consistent basis.
In games like the loss to Michigan, when quarterback Alex Hornibrook overthrew wide receiver Jazz Peavy for what would have been touchdown of 60 yards or more, you have to hit on them. And it’s likely that if Wisconsin is going to upset Ohio State on Saturday night, they’ll need to break one either on the ground or through the air.
Gillins finds a home
The Gary Andersen era had its good and bad. The good, obviously, is the 3-4 defense that he and former defensive coordinator Dave Aranda brought to Madison, a change in philosophy that has been a huge success.
But on the other side of the ball, where Andersen wanted to go away from the pro-style quarterbacks that Wisconsin had used successfully for much of the last 25 years, the move to recruit dual-threat signal-callers did not turn out so well.
Andersen got commitments from three such players during his two years running the program. None were a success in Madison and none are still around. After a disastrous junior season where he started five games at quarterback, Tanner McEvoy played safety and wide receiver as a senior and is now playing the latter for the Seattle Seahawks. Austin Kafentzis, a 2015 recruit, has transferred twice — once to Nevada and this past summer to Arizona Western — and is still trying to be a quarterback, while D.J. Gillins, a 2014 signee, is at Pearl River Junior College in Mississippi after being moved to wide receiver last season at Wisconsin.
These three are the stories of what’s left behind when a coach jumps ship so quickly. But in the end, it seems to have to worked out for McEvoy and Gillins. One is in the NFL and the other just announced his commitment for next season.
Gillins is a good kid and deserves to have success. He did whatever he was asked in 2015, playing special teams and wide receiver just to get on the field.
That he gets an opportunity now to play quarterback at an FBS school and potentially live out his dream is the best possible outcome in an unfortunate situation.