So far five games into the 2017 season, the Wisconsin Badgers have to feel good about themselves. The Badgers are a perfect 5-0 for the season, which includes starting out 2-0 in the Big 10, after victories against Northwestern at Camp Randall Stadium and against Nebraska at Memorial Stadium.
The success of the Badgers this season has not been a surprise. Certainly not to NFL scout Chris Landry, who I talked to back in July about who were the football teams to watch in the B1G this season.
“I like them,” Landry said back in July about Wisconsin. “They are the favorite in the West for me because of their schedule. They’ve got a good team.
“I think there is, in my view, four really good teams in the Big 10 conference. Wisconsin is one of them and the other three are in the East. Ohio State is really good. Penn State is really good. Michigan is getting better and better. So, there are four teams who are really good.”
I had another opportunity to talk to Landry again this week 620 WDAE’s Steve Duemig Show.
I wanted to get his take on freshman running back Jonathan Taylor and the great success he has had already this season, as well as his opinion about the job new defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard is doing.
Landry addressed the question about Leonhard first.
“Jim is an outstanding young coach,” Landry said. “He’s an outstanding young coordinator. He understands the game from the back end very well. He’s really adjusted to putting fronts and coverages together. I think he’s done an outstanding job. This is very good Wisconsin team.”
This is only Leonhard’s second season as a coach in college football and he’s already a defensive coordinator after spending his first year as defensive backs coach.
Leonhard certainly has the pedigree to be successful at Wisconsin, as he was a former walk-on who started his collegiate career in 2002 under the tutelage of defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove.
The 5’8″, 188-pound Leonhard led the country in interceptions in 2002 with 11 and finished with 21 picks in his career as a Badger, which ties him for first for the most in history of Wisconsin football. Leonhard was also named All- Big 10 for three straight seasons, as well as being named All-American for those three seasons too.
The former Tony, Wisconsin native also played 10 years in the NFL with a number of teams and finished with 427 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, 36 passes defensed, 14 interceptions (one for a TD), two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.
In terms of how Leonhard has directed the Wisconsin defense so far in 2017, let’s take a look at where the Badgers are ranked in a number of defensive categories.
Wisconsin is ranked No. 10 in total defense, No. 9 in scoring defense, No. 4 in rushing defense, tied for No. 8 in red zone defense, No. 9 in sacks and No. 13 in passes intercepted with eight, three of which were returned for touchdowns.
After talking about Leonhard, Landry turned his attention to Taylor, the very talented freshman running back.
“Taylor is a really big-time back if folks haven’t seen him,” Landry said. “I think people kind of assume that Wisconsin is going to have a good back every year and maybe that diminishes the value of each individual one, but this kid is special. This kid has real special qualities. And he’s exerting it at a very young age.”
The stats certainly bear out Landry’s opinion.
Taylor is currently seventh in the country and first in the Big 10 in rushing, as No. 23 has run for 767 yards and nine touchdowns on just 97 attempts. That’s a 7.9 rushing average in case you were wondering.
Against Nebraska last week in front of almost 90,000 raucous fans in Lincoln, Taylor rushed for 249 yards and two touchdowns on just 25 carries.
Taylor has now rushed for over 200 yards twice as a freshman, becoming only the second player to ever do that in Wisconsin history. The first player to do that was Ron Dayne, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1999.
Landry also talked about the state of this current Wisconsin team, who has gone 26-6 in two-plus years under head coach Paul Chryst.
“I like this Wisconsin team,” Landry said. “I really thought at the beginning of the year that they were a good team, but they were going to be fodder for anyone who wins the East, but I’m here to tell you, although I don’t see Wisconsin as a team who would win if they made it in playoffs, I think right now, they would match up very well and have a great chance of beating Penn State or Ohio State. They are better than Michigan right now.
“Now, can they get much better? Time will tell. I think that this is not only just a good team, with a soft schedule and on the soft side of the conference, but I think they are pretty good. And I think right now they are as good as anyone in the Big 10.”
The soft schedule that Landry speaks of, has seven games remaining in the season. The opponents are:
- Purdue (home)
- Maryland (home)
- Illinois (road)
- Indiana (road)
- Iowa (home)
- Michigan (home)
- Minnesota (road)
Landry also put out a warning for the Badgers about their upcoming opponent this Saturday, the 3-2 Purdue Boilermakers.
“I don’t think they [Wisconsin] are going to lose to Purdue, but there is no doubt that the best playcaller in college football right now, with the least amount of talent, is Jeff Brohm of Purdue,” Landry said. “He’s getting stuff done without any real playmakers.
“Now I don’t think they [Purdue] have enough to beat Wisconsin at Camp Randall, but I’m very curious to see how they play this week.”
It certainly should be a great chess match between Brohm and Leonhard this week, as the Badgers will certainly play at their normal aggressive level on defense this week.
On the offensive side of the ball, Taylor has to be licking his chops, as he’ll be facing a defense which is ranked No. 66 in the country in rushing defense, as the Boilers have allowed an average of 151 yards per game on the ground.
When it’s all said and done, expect the Badgers to improve to 6-0 overall and 3-0 in the B1G West.