We hope you’ll start your day with us here at the Landof10.com as we work to prepare you for everything that you need to know – Monday through Friday – around the world of Wisconsin sports. Whether it’s football, basketball, hockey or just a wild story we hope you’ll find interesting, we’re here to share it all with you.
Today is Monday, Sept. 26, and this is your Wisconsin Wake-Up Call.
Badgers are big underdogs at Michigan
One by one, the Wisconsin football team is silencing doubters. Some stopped questioning the Badgers after beating then-No. 5 LSU in their season opener, and even more were quieted in the wake of the 30-6 whipping coach Paul Chryst and his club put on then-No. 8 Michigan State on Saturday on the road in East Lansing.
And yet, despite being the only team in the country with two wins over top 10 teams in the AP Top 25, Wisconsin continues to struggle for respect as evidenced by their next opponent — No. 4 Michigan — being a 10-point favorite in the team’s matchup this Saturday.
Keep sleeping on Wisconsin……
— Vince Biegel (@VinceBiegel) September 24, 2016
The spread isn’t overly surprising. Second-year coach Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines have looked unstoppable at times on offense, and the team as a whole has been challenged just once this season, trailing Colorado 21-7 at one point before going on to win 45-28.
But Wisconsin’s defense is something that redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight has yet to see. It’s a group that has confused and flustered three of the four quarterbacks it has faced this season, and will throw a ton of different pressures and looks at a guy who will be making his fifth career start, just like they did against Tyler O’Connor on Saturday.
Tyler O'Connor: "I've never seen that kind of pressure coming at me."
— Luke Srodulski (@lsrodulski) September 24, 2016
And Wisconsin’s offense, under the clear and calm play of Alex Hornibrook, who showed in his first start that this stage is far from being too big for him, gives the Badgers a downfield passing game to pair with a running game that is still a work in progress. Michigan has been solid on defensive under new coordinator Don Brown, but the group is far from impenetrable.
All of this sets up another perfect opportunity for Wisconsin to prove themselves worthy of being a top-10 team. And you can be sure that they’ll play-up their underdog status, something they continue to be tagged with in the second year of the Chryst era.
Up in the polls
Wisconsin moved up three spots in the AP Top 25 to No. 8, their highest ranking since the Oct. 6 poll of 2011. But it doesn’t seem like it’s enough for fans and at least one former player.
— Brandon M. Williams (@iambrandonmw) September 25, 2016
Though the win over LSU doesn’t look as good as it did on opening day — the Tigers are 2-2 and just fired coach Les Miles — it’s hard to say that anyone has two victories better than what Wisconsin has, especially the way in which it throttled Michigan State on the road.
Consider that the last time Michigan State was held to six points or less came four seasons ago, and the Badgers now account for three of the 10 times the Spartans have allowed 30 points or more since the start of 2011.
Again, the polls mean little at this point and are more hype than anything. All Wisconsin has to do is keep winning. Eventually — like this week against Michigan — they’ll face the teams above them and get a chance to show they should be higher.
Watt and Biegel shine bright
The defensive performance Wisconsin put on against Michigan State is still reverberating around college football, especially the effort from outside linebackers Vince Biegel and T.J. Watt. The pair combined for 18 quarterback hurries, 2.5 sacks and two quarterback hits, according to Pro Football Focus.
Wisconsin pressured Michigan State QB Tyler O'Connor on 51% of dropbacks (only 23% coming in)
OLB Vince Biegel:
12 pressures on 28 rushes
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) September 25, 2016
Watt’s 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss were good enough to earn him Walter Camp Football Foundation National Player of the Week honors. The junior now leads the Big Ten and ranks seventh in the country with 4.5 sacks on the year.
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) September 24, 2016
Wisconsin entered the season with a few known senior draft prospects, including running back Corey Clement and Biegel. But with the season Watt has put together through four games — along with the increasing awareness of the type of player left tackle Ryan Ramczyk is — the potential that the Badgers may have to deal with a couple early entrants to the NFL draft is certainly on the table.
Keeping it country
What kind of music does a redshirt freshman making his first career start on the road listen to to get ready? Well, according Hornibrook, it was all about country star George Strait and his “50 Number Ones” album on repeat.
The Wisconsin quarterback, in an appearance on SportsCenter Sunday morning, said that while some like to jam to rap or heavy metal in preparing for a game, he doesn’t like to change up his routine or do something different than he does during the week, so it’s all about Strait.
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) September 25, 2016
As Andy Baggott of UWBadgers.com explains, the music choice is right in line with the 19-year-old who committed to Pittsburgh when Chryst was the coach there before following him to Madison in January of 2015.
“I think I do a pretty good job of not thinking about stuff too much when I’m going through it,” he said.
Nothing changed once Hornibrook stepped into the huddle this day and began authoring a debut for the ages.
Led by the unflappable kid from West Chester, Pennsylvania, the Badgers exorcized a lot of demons and sent a message booming across the college football landscape with their 30-6 rout of Michigan State.
Hornibrook’s mettle, especially on third down, showed why Chryst put him under center against Michigan State despite a 3-0 start with senior Bart Houston at the controls. He trusts him explicitly, even saying in the lead up to the game that the Hornibrook everyone sees in the game is the same one he sees in practice.
As a play-caller, the importance of knowing what you’ll get from your quarterback every play can not be understated. Chryst has that with Hornibrook and didn’t with Houston.