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Wisconsin RB Bradrick Shaw might have to worry about losing his starting job given the performance of freshman Jonathan Taylor.

Wisconsin mailbag: Did RB Bradrick Shaw lose his starting job, Nate Laszewski’s recruiting status, QB Alex Hornibrook’s experience

Jesse Temple

Have Wisconsin football, basketball or recruiting questions? We’ve got answers. Join us every Wednesday for the Land of 10 Wisconsin mailbag to talk all things Badgers. This week, we’ll discuss whether running back Bradrick Shaw already has lost his starting job to Jonathan Taylor, why Wisconsin didn’t use its fullbacks at the goal line against Florida Atlantic, the effectiveness of jet sweeps, whether quarterback Jack Coan could ever usurp Alex Hornibrook as a starter and the status of basketball recruit Nate Laszewski.

Question 1

Answer: It’s pretty early in the season to say definitively whether Jonathan Taylor has jumped ahead of Bradrick Shaw for Wisconsin’s starting running back spot. One game does not make a career, of course. But given the way Taylor performed against Florida Atlantic, it’s going to be difficult to keep him off the field.

Wisconsin’s depth chart this week might reflect that change. Taylor is listed as the first co-starter at running back, alongside Chris James and Bradrick Shaw. Last week, before the Florida Atlantic game, Shaw was listed as the first co-starter, followed by James and then Taylor.

Shaw, who did not play against the Owls, still is listed as questionable with a right leg injury. And it makes little sense to play him until he’s fully healthy, particularly with Taylor and James able to carry the load. Shaw could sit out the BYU game this week, use Wisconsin’s bye week to recover and then be ready in time for the Big Ten opener against Northwestern on Sept. 30.

Taylor carried 26 times for 223 yards with 3 touchdowns to earn the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Week honor and the league’s co-Offensive Player of the Week award. That would have been a special performance for a senior. But for a freshman playing his second college game? Simply incredible. Only three other freshmen at Wisconsin have rushed for at least 200 yards in a game — Alan Ameche (1951), Ron Dayne (1996) and Zach Brown (2007). Two of them went on to win a Heisman Trophy.

Taylor wasn’t perfect, losing a fumble and failing to score in four tries at the goal line. Still, he certainly appears to be the next great Wisconsin tailback. He and Shaw could form a scary 1-2 combination in the foreseeable future, regardless of who starts.

Question 2

Answer: Wisconsin faced a first-and-goal from the Florida Atlantic 6-yard line early in the second quarter, when the Badgers handed off to tailback Jonathan Taylor for a 4-yard gain. You’d think Wisconsin would be able to punch the ball into the end zone given three tries to gain 2 yards. But Taylor was stuffed on all three rushing attempts, and the Badgers turned the ball over on downs.

You’re right that it’s easy to armchair quarterback. Who doesn’t after a play, series or game that doesn’t go well? But your point about using fullbacks Austin Ramesh or Alec Ingold is a good one.

I wrote about this in my preseason fullback preview, but Ramesh and Ingold were exceptional last season in short-yardage scenarios. They combined for 35 rushing attempts all season, and 20 of them resulted either in a first down or a touchdown. Nineteen of those 35 rushes occurred on third or fourth down. Plus, they didn’t have a single negative rushing play.

Ramesh and Ingold are powerful, physical fullbacks capable of pushing the pile. And perhaps what transpired at the goal line against Florida Atlantic will serve as a lesson about which personnel to use in the future. It wouldn’t hurt to try one belly handoff with a fullback and see what happens.

Question 3

Answer: At this point, I think it’s safe to say Wisconsin’s basketball program is lagging behind in the Nate Laszewski (Northfield Mount Hermon/Northfield, Mass.) sweepstakes. Tom Noie of the South Bend (Ind.) Tribune has an excellent story that published last Thursday updating where Laszewski stands in the recruiting process.

The most telling paragraph, as it pertains to Wisconsin, was this:

“Laszewski does not plan to visit Wisconsin. He does plan to commit prior to the start of his senior season at Mount Hermon, whose first game is in November.”

Wisconsin’s biggest advantage seemed to be Laszewski’s family history with the school. His father, Jay, played basketball at Wisconsin. His sister, Abby, is a sophomore forward on the Badgers’ women’s basketball team. But the fact Laszewski isn’t taking an official visit to Wisconsin is a bad sign. He did visit unofficially in early August with his father to watch a basketball practice, so he has seen the campus.

Most recruiting experts believe Laszewski ultimately will commit to Notre Dame, and Noie’s story does a good job of highlighting what the Fighting Irish have to offer. Laszewski officially visited Notre Dame last weekend. He has official visits scheduled over the next two weekends at Wake Forest and North Carolina. He’ll likely choose between those three programs.

But just because it appears Laszewski won’t pick Wisconsin doesn’t mean the Badgers don’t have other options. Center Joe Hedstrom (Hopkins, Minn.) and forward Jack Hemphill (Ravenscroft School/Raleigh, N.C.) will come to campus for official visits during the weekend of Sept. 29. Both players will attend Wisconsin’s football game against Northwestern. You can read more about each player in my recruiting notebook, which published last Thursday.

Question 4

Answer: No, I don’t see a scenario in which a healthy Alex Hornibrook gets benched in favor of Jack Coan. That’s just crazy talk at this stage of the season.

We can all agree Hornibrook didn’t have his best game against Florida Atlantic. He completed 16 of 28 passes for 201 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. The interception was a mistake that Hornibrook said he should have thrown away. He also threw behind his receivers a couple of times.

But let’s not forget how good Hornibrook was in the season opener against Utah State. He completed 15 of 23 passes and set career highs for passing yardage (244) and touchdowns (3). If not for a few drops from his receivers, he would have produced an even better stat line.

Coan has now thrown one pass in college, a 6-yard completion to tight end Kyle Penniston in mop-up duty against Florida Atlantic. Hornibrook has 232 career passes and is 9-2 as a starting quarterback at Wisconsin. A backup quarterback is often the most beloved player by a fan base because of what he hasn’t shown. But Hornibrook has done more than enough to prove he’s the quarterback who gives Wisconsin the best chance to win games this season and beyond.

Question 5

Answer: I think all of those factors play a role in the success of the jet sweep, which has become a staple in Wisconsin’s offense over the last few years. But I’m not ready to declare the jet sweep ineffective. At least not yet. Cornerback Derrick Tindal took a jet sweep 13 yards around the left edge in the season opener against Utah State, but it was called back because of an illegal block penalty on tailback Chris James.

One other thing to consider with the jet sweeps is how it sets up the rest of the offense. Take a look at running back Jonathan Taylor’s 32-yard touchdown run against Florida Atlantic. Wisconsin actually ran a fake jet sweep before handing off to Taylor, who took care of the rest with a remarkable run in which he shook off four defenders.

The fact Wisconsin continues to use the jet sweep means defenses must prepare for it. And if they fall for a fake sweep, it can lead to big gains for the Badgers.

Have a question about Wisconsin football or basketball? Tweet us @Landof10Badgers and we’ll try to answer your question in a future mailbag. Check to see if your question already was answered by reading previous Wisconsin mailbags here.