Wisconsin vs Western Kentucky: Young secondary will be tested early

PROVO, UT - SEPTEMBER 16: The Wisconsin Badgers mascot Bucky Badger performs during the game between the Badgers and the BYU Cougars at LaVell Edwards Stadium on September 16, 2017 in Provo, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
PROVO, UT - SEPTEMBER 16: The Wisconsin Badgers mascot Bucky Badger performs during the game between the Badgers and the BYU Cougars at LaVell Edwards Stadium on September 16, 2017 in Provo, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** /
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Wisconsin Football
MIAMI GARDENS, FL – DECEMBER 30: Wisconsin Badgers players celebrate winning the 2017 Capital One Orange Bowl against the Miami Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium on December 30, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images) /

Fans will get their first taste of Wisconsin football this Friday when they play host to Western Kentucky.

Expectations are high for the 2018 Wisconsin football team. They come into the season ranked 4th in the AP Poll, their highest ranking since the 2000 season, where they also started the season number 4. The Badger’s offense is expected to be the best in years with Heisman candidate Jonathan Taylor.

If the Badgers want to make a run at a Big Ten championship and a playoff appearance, it will have to start at home against Western Kentucky. Last season, the Hilltoppers finished the regular season with a 6-6 record and earned a bid to the AutoNation Cure Bowl, where they lost to Georgia State.

Western Kentucky Preview

WKU’s offense focused primarily around the passing game. Senior quarterback Mike White threw for 4,177 yards, 26 touchdowns, and just eight interceptions. He accounted for 96% of the team’s passing yards, leaving now-senior quarterback Drew Eckels to lead this the offense. Eckels has 24 career pass attempts. For an inexperienced QB, this Wisconsin defense could be a nightmare.

As a team, the Hilltoppers rushed for a combined 791. To give a little context, Wisconsin running back Jordan Taylor rushed for 1,977 yards, more than 1,000 more yards on his own. Their leading rusher last season was Jr. running back D’Andre Ferby with 373 yards and just three touchdowns.

WKU also comes into this season losing their three of their top four pass-catchers. Receivers Nacarius Fant and Cameron Echols-Luper and tight end Deon Yelder all graduated. The three combined for 1,865 yards. Lucky Jackson returns with the most receiving yards from last season with 600 yards.

Western Kentucky’s defense ranked 53rd in yards allowed (377.2 yards per game) and 66th in points allowed (26.8 points per game).

Wisconsin Preview

Wisconsin is returning all of the offensive starters except for tight end Troy Fumagalli. Many people are expecting quarterback Alex Hornibrook to take the proverbial “next step” and really make this one of the most lethal offenses in Wisconsin football history. Last year, he finished with 2,644 yards and 25 touchdowns. This year, he will be looking to improve upon those statistical categories.

Sophomore running back Jonathan Taylor enters the season as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy. As a freshman, he came up just short of 2,000 yards. As a true freshman. With his entire offensive line returning, Taylor will look to add onto his success from last season.

At the receiving position, Wisconsin will have to do without receivers Quintez Cephus and Danny Davis III for their alleged roles in the ongoing assault case. Cephus is suspended indefinitely, while Davis lost two games of eligibility. Kendric Pryor and A.J. Taylor will be leading Wisconsin’s receiving corp while tight ends Kyle Penniston and Jake Ferguson look to take over for Troy Fumagalli.

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard has some work to do. The defense lost three-fourths of its secondary, with D’Cota Dixon being the only returning starter. Luckily, Leonhard will have All-American linebacker T.J. Edwards back.

Wisconsin Football
MADISON, WI – OCTOBER 21: T.J. Edwards (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

Key Players to Watch

Young Cornerbacks

WKU is a pass-heavy offense. It will be a good first test for the young and inexperienced cornerbacks. Whether it is Ceasar Williams, Faion Hicks, or Madison Cone, this young secondary will be tested Friday night.

Drew Eckels

Mike White put up some impressive numbers last year. Eckels will have some big shoes to fill. With only two linemen returning, he will need to get the ball out quickly and make some big plays if they want to stay in this game.

Kayden Lyles

The redshirt freshman who converted from offense to defense could make some plays this Friday. He and the rest of the defensive line will be facing a relatively inexperienced offensive line. Look for Lyles to make some noise and cause some disruption in the backfield.

Prediction

Wisconsin football’s impressive winning streak at home versus non-conference will continue. Western Kentucky’s inexperience on offense will already be hard to overcome, let alone playing at Camp Randall against a top defense. Hornibrook and Jonathan Taylor will both be out by no later than the third quarter in this blowout.

Next. Ten best Wisconsin Football games since 2010. dark

Wisconsin 59  – Western Kentucky 10