MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin defeated Maryland 38-13 on Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium to remain unbeaten and in the College Football Playoff hunt.
The Badgers are off to their first 7-0 start since 2004, although they continue to struggle with offensive consistency. Fortunately for Wisconsin, the defense has largely been excellent, particularly when backed up near the goal line.
What it means
Another victory has inched Wisconsin closer to reaching a perfect regular season. There has been much debate about the Badgers’ strength of schedule — or lack thereof — and Maryland didn’t exactly boost the Badgers in that category. But as long as Wisconsin continues to win, everything should take care of itself. Ultimately, Wisconsin likely will have to win the Big Ten championship in what will be a de facto playoff game.
3 things we learned
1. Jonathan Taylor is far and away Wisconsin’s best running back option: It’s amazing how much better Taylor has been than any other tailback on the roster. During the first half, Taylor carried 13 times for 72 yards with 1 touchdown. The rest of the team’s running backs carried 3 times for 9 yards. Bradrick Shaw gained no yards on 2 carries in the first half, and walk-on tailback Garrett Groshek gained 9 yards on 1 carry. Taylor lost a fumble with Wisconsin backed up at its 5-yard line, so he still has areas to improve. But he also became the fastest freshman to 1,000 yards in terms of carries in program history. Taylor achieved the mark in 130 carries, beating the mark set by James White (139 carries) in 2010.
Taylor finished with 126 yards and a touchdown.
2. The Badgers defense continues to be the most consistent facet of the team: Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Edwards’ interception return for a touchdown early in the first quarter highlighted how talented this defense is. It marked the fourth time this season Wisconsin’s defense had returned an interception for a touchdown. But the defense really sparkled after Taylor lost a fumble, and Maryland took over at the Wisconsin 5-yard line. Terrapins quarterback Max Bortenschlager had 2 incomplete passes, and a Maryland run went for no gain. Maryland was forced to settle for a field goal, which represented its only points in the first half.
3. Offensive mistakes are still an issue for the Badgers: Turnovers and penalties are the two areas that threaten to keep Wisconsin from reaching its playoff dreams, and those issues cropped up again Saturday. In the first half, Wisconsin committed 2 turnovers and 4 penalties for 28 yards — one of which wiped out a touchdown run. Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook had his sixth interception in four Big Ten games. Taylor later lost a fumble. Right guard Beau Benzschawel was flagged for a chop block, which brought back a 29-yard Taylor touchdown run. Wisconsin scored a touchdown on the drive, and the offense regrouped after the early issues. But these are the type of things that could come back to haunt the Badgers down the road.
Player of the game
Taylor earns the nod this week for yet another strong performance. He finished with 22 carries for 126 yards with 1 touchdown and really was the only tailback to do much offensively on Saturday. Taylor now has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in five of his first seven career games. He has a special ability to consistently make the first defender miss and drag multiple defenders with him. If tacklers don’t wrap up properly, Taylor will make them pay. All the early talk about Taylor being a potential Heisman Trophy finalist seems to be validated every week he plays. The more Wisconsin wins, the more Taylor’s name will continue to be mentioned in the conversation.
Play of the game
Wisconsin’s defense set the tone early with a huge pick-6 that gave the Badgers the lead. Maryland faced a third-and-12 from the Wisconsin 49-yard line, when Bortenschlager dropped back to pass. Badgers outside linebacker Garret Dooley leveled Bortenschlager, whose pass floated to linebacker Edwards. Edwards then returned the interception 54 yards for a touchdown to give Wisconsin a 7-0 lead with 12:18 remaining in the first quarter.
Wisconsin travels to play Illinois next Saturday in the first of two consecutive Big Ten road games. The Badgers then will play at Indiana. If Wisconsin is able to win both games, the Badgers would be 9-0 and staring at one of the most important closing stretches to the regular season in program history.
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