Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.
T.J. Edwards with a pick.
D’Cota Dixon with another.
Troy Fumagalli in the end zone.
Alex Hornibook slicing on play action. Quintez Cephus dicing.
Paul Chryst and Joe Rudolph controlling the center of the chess board. Jim Leonhard putting the other guy’s king in check.
A New Jersey speedster at tailback, dancing through holes, feet always churning.
Wisconsin 59, Utah State 10.
We’ve seen this movie before, haven’t we?
Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water at Lake Mendota … the music starts up again.
Not bad for your first career TD
— Wisconsin Football (@BadgerFootball) September 2, 2017
— Michael Klinck (@MichaelKlinck) September 2, 2017
Bum-bum-bum-bum, bum-bum-bum-bum …
It was like they never left. The Big Ten West champions picked up Thor’s Hammer on Friday night in the season opener, and after a few tentative tugs, started swinging for fun.
Eight different players found the end zone.
Fifty-nine unanswered points.
The domination was old and familiar, even if some of the principals were new. Freshman tailback Jonathan Taylor, a Jersey kid who grew up admiring Ron Dayne and Corey Clement, now walks in their shoes, chugging for a 13-yard, start-left-no-hole-cut-right-won’t-give-up-on-the-play touchdown that made his debut one for the ages.
Leonhard, the first-time defensive coordinator, picked up the baton from Justin Wilcox and Dave Aranda and took it straight to the Aggies’ shins. A secondary that helped the Badgers lead the Big Ten in takeaways last fall intercepted 3 Utah State passes in the opener, returning 1 for a score.
It took more than 20 minutes before Wisconsin trudged into Aggies territory — but once the Badgers did, they couldn’t stay away. Sophomore Bradrick Shaw finally got Wisconsin in the end zone with 72 seconds left in the first half, on a dive from 3 yards out, capping a 15-play, 79-yard drive that bled 8 minutes, 25 seconds off the clock.
Ye Olde Badgers were back and underscored that point with an Edwards pick 11 seconds later, giving the surging hosts the ball at the Aggies 18. The passes called after the quick-change rankled the Twittersphere, but Rafael Gaglianone’s 29-yard chip shot evened the score at 10 to end the half.
So: Comprehensive? Hell, yes. Flawless? Not quite.
An offense that isn’t explosive or flashy enough to overcome brain cramps got a little too fast and loose with its ball security. Hornibrook needs a clean pocket and clear passing lanes to find his rhythm, still, which puts even more onus on the offensive line to stay in sync. Transfer tailback Chris James is going to find his daylight, but if he can’t hang on to the rock, Chryst has plenty of alternatives who can.
Taylor (87 rushing yards) and Shaw (84 yards) presented almost enough superlatives to bury the demons of a first half that proved, in hindsight, to be more bizarre than instructive. The Badgers surrendered 2 sacks on their first six plays. Until second-and-16 and third-and-12 don’t put Hornibrook on the back foot, opposing defenses are happily going to risk throwing the kitchen sink at the line of scrimmage.
The Badgers were penalized four times in the game’s first 12 minutes. The Team-That-Never-Beats-Itself had piled up six by halftime. Wisconsin averaged 3.43 flags per game last season.
Hornibrook’s best target, Fumagalli, didn’t touch the ball until 2 minutes into the second quarter. After a quarter-and-a-half, team drops outnumbered catches, 3 to 2.
— Matt (@MShadows17) September 2, 2017
On the flip side, Leonhard’s debut dripped with promise, even after he got handed an early deficit — a scenario which usually sucks the testosterone out of a play caller who’d prefer to attack from the outset.
Some of that fell on the broad shoulders of redshirt freshman center Tyler Biadasz, whose evening turned into a baptism by fire early. Already down 3-0, the hosts responded with Hornibrook fumbling the exchange at his 30, a gift Utah State’s Suli Tamaivena picked up and carried to the Badgers’ 16-yard line. The Aggies scored two plays later on a 12-yard LaJuan Hunt run to go up 9-0 and stun Mad City into silence.
Biadasz, like the Badgers, would settle down and tighten the grip on the wheel. The rest of the night was a study in cruise control.
And if the last two quarters were any harbinger, it’s shaping up to be one hell of a ride.