Wisconsin Football kicked off its 2019 season with a bang by demolishing USF by a 49-0 margin. Which 3 Badgers earned game balls for their performances?
If last night was any indication, Wisconsin Football is back in a BIG way this season, and the rest of the Big Ten better take notice.
You could hardly have asked for a better start to the season for the Badgers, who just embarrassed the Bulls in nearly every facet of the game on their way to a 49-0 rout. There were several strong performances on both sides of the ball for Wisconsin, but here are the players we felt were most deserving of our three game balls for their efforts Friday night.
Game Ball No.1 – Jonathan Taylor
As if this would go to anyone else.
Taylor was absolutely electric Friday evening, making a strong early statement in the Heisman Trophy race and looking every bit like the best running back in the country. He was his usual dominant self on the ground, toting the rock 16 times for 135 yards (an average of 8.5 yards per carry) and two scores. However, it was what we saw from him in the passing game that has Badger fans, and hopefully NFL scouts as well, the most excited.
Taylor continued to work tirelessly in the offseason on his pass-catching skills out of the backfield, both to add a new dimension to his game to impress pro scouts and to make Wisconsin’s offense more potent. After his performance last night, it’s safe to say that the early returns on those efforts are extremely encouraging. In addition to leading the Badgers in rushing as is usually the case, Taylor was also their top receiver last night (48 yards), turning both of his catches into touchdowns, including this gem.
All in all, what we witnessed last night can be described as nothing less than yet another breathtaking display of dominance from the best player in the country and a truly rare talent, and I feel comfortable in saying that we are in store for a very special season from Taylor in what will likely be his final appearance on the college football stage.
All I can say is, appreciate him while you still can, Badger fans. We may not see anyone like him again suit up in the Cardinal and White in our lifetimes.
Game Ball No. 2 – Zach Baun
His stat line (3 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble) won’t blow you away, but make no mistake, Baun was wreaking havoc all night in South Florida’s backfield. While he didn’t accumulate a ton of tackles, he was constantly putting pressure on Blake Barnett and forcing him out of the pocket and into rushed decisions with the football. Ultimately, the Bulls’ signal-caller mustered just 109 yards at a 13-30 clip while tossing two costly picks, and you can thank Baun in large part for making life miserable for him back there. For example, Baun was directly responsible for Barnett’s backbreaking fumble that was recovered and taken to the house for a score by Matt Henningsen.
If the Badgers can get this kind of effort each week from their senior outside ‘backer, then this defense is going to be very, very good, and Baun should put himself in position to be yet another high NFL draft pick at the position from Wisconsin.
Game Ball No. 3 – Matt Henningsen
After being forced into a major role last season earlier than he was probably ready for with Garrett Rand and Isaiahh Loundermilk dealing with injuries, the former walk-on Henningsen looks like he has officially arrived on this Wisconsin defense as Jim Leonhard’s top reserve at defensive end after what we saw from him last night.
Henningsen showed that he would be a starter on many Power 5 programs with his performance against the Bulls, wracking up 3 tackles (2 solo), a sack, and tackle for loss, and even a touchdown after Baun pummelled Barnett in the backfield and jarred the football loose into Henningsen’s waiting hands and he took it into the end zone.
He may not technically be a starter now with Rand and Loudermilk back and healthy, but you can bet that Leonhard certainly considers Henningsen his third starter-level player at defensive end, and his play on Friday evening should lead to additional opportunities for him moving forward. He’ll obviously help the Badgers a great deal this season, but the redshirt sophomore has a bright future as well.
Honorable mention: Jack Coan, Nakia Watson, Kendric Pryor, Quintez Cephus, Mike Maskalunas, Leo Chenal
All stats courtesy of Sports Reference