Green Bay Packers: Why Drafting Jonathan Taylor with Pick No. 30 is a Possibility

Jonathan Taylor Combine

There is absolutely no doubt that Jonathan Taylor of the Wisconsin Badgers was one of the greatest running backs in the history of college football. Taylor is sixth on the all-time rushing yards leaders list and would have passed everyone in front of him had he played his senior year in Madison.

No. 1 on the list is former Badger Ron Dayne, who rushed for 7,125 yards in four seasons with the Badgers. No. 33 also was able to win the Doak Walker Award and the Heisman Trophy his last season with Wisconsin in 1999.

When Taylor announced that he was moving on to play in the NFL shortly after the Rose Bowl, No. 23 had accumulated 6,174 yards rushing (and 50 touchdowns) and had averaged over 2,000 rushing yards per season.

Taylor ran for more yards in three seasons than anyone in college football  history. The former New Jersey native broke the record of Herschel Walker of the Georgia Bulldogs, who had rushed for 5,596 yards in three years.

Although Taylor never won the Heisman Trophy, he did win back-to-back Doak Walker Awards in 2018 and 2019.

Had Taylor played in 2020 with the Badgers, it was virtually certain (unless he was injured) that he would have been the all-time rushing leader in college football history and by a wide margin.

Taylor improved his pass receiving skills in his junior year, as he caught 26 passes, which was 10 more than his freshman and sophomore year combined, for 252 yards and five scores.

The big issue with Taylor at Wisconsin was with fumbling the football. No. 23 fumbled 18 times in three years, eight times as a freshman, four times as a sophomore and six times as a junior.

Ball security has to be the number one item that Taylor has to improve on. That being said, in his junior year, a number of the fumbles occurred while the Badgers were running the Wildcat offense and also when Taylor was fighting for extra yards.

Still, Taylor’s body of work was just fabulous at Wisconsin and his showing at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine was off the charts in terms of showing off his speed and also impressing scouts with his improving pass receiving skills.

Taylor ran a 4.39 in the 40, which was the best mark of all the running backs at the combine, plus he also looked very natural in catching the football.

NFL scout Chris Landry noted this about Taylor’s performance at the combine:

“Taylor is in a battle for the top running back spot in this class. While D’Andre Swift did not drop the ball this evening (figuratively or literally), Taylor wowed with his performance. He was the only back to run the 40-yard dash in less than 4.4 seconds (4.39 — at 226 pounds). His feet were blurs when required to go over the often dreaded blue pads in drills. Taylor’s cuts were not as quick and effortless as those of Swift, Darrynton Evans or Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but his speed and vision have allowed him to find and exploit holes over the past three years for the Badgers. Despite the lack of receptions early in his collegiate career, Taylor looked natural snatching passes during workouts, grabbing high throws and others that were far from his frame. Scouts will forgive him for running out of his shoe on one rep.”

Jonathan Taylor vs. Minnesota III

In terms of of the 2020 NFL draft, I believe it’s a real possibility that the Green Bay Packers might select Taylor at pick No. 30 in Round No. 1.

Why?

There are several reasons. For one, head coach Matt LaFleur runs the outside zone running scheme for his offense, which was also what the Badgers run under Paul Chryst at Wisconsin.

Taylor mentioned that when he spoke to the media at the combine.

“A lot of guys think Wisconsin football is power football and outside zone schemes, which it is, ” Taylor said. “Coach Chryst did a great job of making an emphasis point to put me in space to be able to showcase that ability.”

Being put in space is something the Packers do on third down with running back Aaron Jones, who is coming off a great 2019 season. Besides rushing for 1,084 yards and 16 touchdowns, Jones showed off his great receiving skills last season, as he had 49 catches for 474 yards and three scores.

Both Jones and fellow running back Jamaal Williams are slated to be unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2020 season.

That being said, there is a mutual interest in extending the contract of Jones, as the Packers were slated to meet with the agent of Jones last week to talk about getting a new deal done for No. 33 as he enters his final contract year.

So, why would the Packers draft another running back, especially in Round 1?

All one has to do is look at the running game of the San Francisco 49ers which is three-deep (and at times four-deep) in terms of quality depth. LaFleur basically learned the outside zone scheme from working with the current coach of the 49ers, Kyle Shanahan.

LaFleur and the Packers learned a painful lesson in the 2019 NFC Championship Game, as the Niners ran for a whopping 285 yards, with 220 yards coming from running back Rasheem Mostert, as the 49ers beat the Packers 37-20.

San Francisco was second in the NFL in rushing with 2,305 yards in 2019 and had three running backs who ran for at least 540 yards last season. Mostert ran for 772 yards, while Matt Breida ran for 623 yards and Tevin Coleman rushed for 544 yards.

And when there were some injury issues, a fourth running back, Jeff Wilson, ran for 125 yards. Add to that, wide receiver Deebo Samuel was also utilized on end around plays and jet sweeps, as he rushed for 159 yards.

The Packers were 15th in the NFL in rushing last year, but by adding a weapon like Taylor would surely enhance the running game.

Plus, let’s not forget that Jones was shut down in both the 2017 and 2018 seasons due to knee injuries.

Aaron Jones vs. Seahawks

Williams is a solid back, especially on third down due to his pass-blocking ability and his receiving skills, but he is not the game-breaker that Jones is or Taylor is.

Plus by adding the former Badger, both Jones and Taylor can be utilized at the same time. For instance, Jones could be utilized in the passing or running game like the Niners use Samuel in the slot, while Taylor is in the backfield.

Improving the running game will also help quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the passing game, as play-action passes have a much better rate of success, plus defenses will put more players in the box to stop the run, which opens up deep passing lanes.

Just take a look at the 2016 Atlanta Falcons when Shanahan was the offensive coordinator and LaFleur was the quarterback coach.

The Dirty Birds had a great running back combination with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The two rushed for almost 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns. Meanwhile, quarterback Matt Ryan threw 38 touchdown passes versus just seven interceptions for 4,944 yards.

Ryan was named NFL MVP in 2016.

The Packers go into the 2020 NFL draft with 10 picks overall.  The Packers have a first-round pick, second-round pick, third-round pick, fourth-round pick, fifth-round pick, three sixth-round picks and two seventh-round picks.

The Packers have a number of needs going into the draft. The two most glaring needs are at wide receiver and at inside linebacker.

The Packers need to find a bookend to Davante Adams at receiver. Fortunately for the Packers, the 2020 wide receiver class in the draft is one of the deepest in several years. The Packers can select a very good receiver in Round 2 because of the depth in this class.

By the way, Adams was a second-round pick by the Packers in 2014.

The Packers are most likely moving on from Blake Martinez at inside linebacker, as he is an unrestricted free agent. No. 50 is a tackling machine no doubt, but his lack of speed hurts him when he chases down running backs on the edge, as well as in pass coverage.

Both positions can be improved before the draft because general manager Brian Gutekunst is not afraid to go after players he targets in free agency.

All one has to do is look at the haul Gutekunst made in 2019, when he signed safety Adrian Amos, linebacker Preston Smith, linebacker Za’Darius Smith and guard Billy Turner.

Brian Gutekunst at the 2020 Combine

Gutekunst is reportedly interested in a couple of players who could definitely help the Packers. One is tight end Austin Hooper of the Falcons, while the other is inside linebacker Joe Schobert of the Cleveland Browns. Schobert hails from Waukesha, Wisconsin and also played his college football for the Badgers in Madison.

If Jimmy Graham is cut by the Packers, it would free up an additional $8 million in salary cap space. That money could be utilized to help sign Hooper, who had his rookie year when LaFleur was the QB coach in Atlanta.

In the past two years with the Falcons, the 6-4, 254-pound Hooper has caught 146 passes for 1,447 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The 6-1, 245-pound Schobert made a number of big plays for the Browns defensively, as he had two sacks, four interceptions, 13 passes broken up and two forced fumbles in 2019. Schobert plays the pass much better than Martinez, plus also is a tackling machine against the run, as in 2017, Schobert tied with Martinez and Buffalo’s Preston Brown for the NFL lead in tackles with 144.

There is also speculation that the Packers might be interested in bringing back slot receiver Randall Cobb. The former Kentucky Wildcat played with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019, after spending eight years in Green Bay.

That will be an interesting dynamic regarding Cobb, if indeed the Packers are interested in bringing him back. In Dallas, he could be reunited with head coach Mike McCarthy, while if he comes back to Green Bay, he would be back with many of his closest friends, including Rodgers.

Cobb had a good year for the Cowboys in 2019 playing mostly slot receiver, as he had 55 receptions for 828 yards and three touchdowns.

Time will tell what Gutekunst will do in free agency this year, but one thing is for sure, he looks a lot more like Ron Wolf when he headed the front office of the Packers than the man who proceeded him at GM, Ted Thompson.

Wolf utilized free agency freely, while Thompson rarely dipped his toes into those types of transactions. And when he did, it was usually after a player was cut by his former team (see Charles Woodson and Julius Peppers) or by signing undrafted rookie or street free agents.

If Gutekunst can help the team via free agency before the draft, then the Packers don’t have to focus on need as much in Round 1, as opposed to selecting the best player available.

Taylor might just be the best player available at pick No. 30 on the draft board of the Packers, especially knowing what an impact he would have with the Green Bay outside zone running scheme. Not to mention adding another home run threat to the offensive backfield and adding quality depth behind Jones.

When Round 1 of the 2020 NFL draft takes place on April 23rd, don’t be shocked if the Packers select another stud running back to make their outside zone running scheme even more dangerous.

That running back could be Jonathan Taylor.

All-Time Rushing Leaders in Wisconsin Badgers Football History

Jonathan Taylor in the Rose Bowl

Now that it’s official and Jonathan Taylor of the Wisconsin Badgers has announced that he is going to play in the NFL next season after his last game in the 2020 Rose Bowl, I thought I would be post the numbers that the top 15 running backs in Wisconsin history have put up.

The top 15 all rushed for more than 2,500 yards. 13 of them rushed for over 3,000 yards. Six of them rushed for over 4,000 yards. Three of them have rushed for over 5,000 yards. Two have rushed for over 6,000 yards. And one has rushed for over 7,000 yards.

You will note that 11 of the 15 top running backs all came after the Barry Alvarez era started at Wisconsin.

Two of the Wisconsin backs have won the Heisman Trophy. Alan Ameche in 1954 and Ron Dayne in 1999.

Four of the Badger backs have also won the Doak Walker Award. Ron Dayne in 1999, Montee Ball in 2012, Melvin Gordon in 2014 and Jonathan Taylor in both 2018 and 2019.

Here are the top 15 rushers in Wisconsin history:

1) Ron Dayne- 7,125 yards rushing and 71 touchdowns.

Ron Dayne in 1999 Rose Bowl

2) Jonathan Taylor- 6,174 yards rushing and 50 touchdowns.

Jonathan Taylor vs. Minnesota III

3) Montee Ball- 5,140 yards rushing and 77 touchdowns.

Montee Ball in the Rose Bowl

4) Melvin Gordon- 4,915 yards rushing and 45 touchdowns.

Melvin Gordon in the Outback Bowl

5) Anthony Davis- 4,676 yards rushing and 42 touchdowns.

Anthony Davis

6) James White- 4,015 yards rushing and 45 touchdowns.

James White

7) P.J. Hill- 3,942 yards rushing and 42 touchdowns.

P.J. Hill

8) Billy Marek- 3,709 yards rushing and 44 touchdowns.

Billy Marek II

9) Brent Moss- 3,428 yards rushing and 34 touchdowns.

Brent Moss 1994 Rose Bowl

10) Terrell Fletcher- 3,414 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns.

Terrell Fletcher

11) John Clay- 3,413 yards rushing and 41 touchdowns.

John Clay

12) Alan Ameche- 3,212 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns.

Alan Ameche III

13) Corey Clement- 3,092 yards rushing and 36 touchdowns.

Corey Clement

14) Larry Emery- 2,979 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns.

Larry Emery II

15) Rufus Ferguson- 2,814 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns.

Rufus Ferguson

Wisconsin Badgers: Their History Playing in the Rose Bowl

Wisconsin Rose Bowl Logo

On January 1, 2020…the Wisconsin Badgers will be appearing in their 10th Rose Bowl when they face the Oregon Ducks.

Going into the game, Wisconsin has a 3-6 record in the nine games they have played in Pasadena.

This will be the second time the Badgers have faced the Ducks in this iconic game. Wisconsin has also faced USC, UCLA and Stanford twice in the Rose Bowl.

Here is a quick rundown of the previous Rose Bowl games.

  • 1953 Rose Bowl: USC 7, Wisconsin 0
  • 1960 Rose Bowl: Washington 44, Wisconsin 8
  • 1963 Rose Bowl: USC 42, Wisconsin 37
  • 1994 Rose Bowl: Wisconsin 21, UCLA 16
  • 1999 Rose Bowl: Wisconsin 38, UCLA 31
  • 2000 Rose Bowl: Wisconsin 17, Stanford 9
  • 2011 Rose Bowl: TCU 21, Wisconsin 19
  • 2012 Rose Bowl: Oregon 45, Wisconsin 38
  • 2013 Rose Bowl: Stanford 20, Wisconsin 14

Yes, the history of playing in Pasadena started in 1953 for Wisconsin. That was also the first bowl game the Badgers ever played in, even though they had some very successful teams previous to that point. But back then, only the Big Ten conference champion was allowed to play in the Rose Bowl, or any bowl for that matter.

The Badgers were 6-3-1 during the 1952 season and were 4-1-1 in the Big Ten conference. That mark gave the Badgers the Big Ten title.

The Badgers were coached by Ivy Williamson in 1952. In seven years as head coach of the Badgers, Williamson had a sparkling 41-19-4 record.

When the Badgers took on the Trojans in the 1953 Rose Bowl, they would be facing the No. 1 defense in the country.

The Badgers knew a little bit about playing defense back then, as their 1951 team had the “Hard Rocks” defense, which was also ranked No. 1 in the country.

On offense, the Badgers had a sophomore running back by the name of Alan Ameche, who led the Big Ten in rushing that year with 721 yards. No. 35 would later go on to win the Heisman Trophy in 1954.

Alan Ameche

Alan Ameche of the Wisconsin Badgers with the Heisman Trophy.

As a whole, the Badgers offense was very good. The Badgers led the Big Ten conference in total offense (415.5 yards per game), rushing offense (256.3 yards per game) and scoring offense (26.3 points per game).

In the actual Rose Bowl, with 101,500 fans in attendance, the Badgers had 353 total yards, including 133 rushing yards by Ameche.

The Badgers were dominant on the ground during the game, as Wisconsin had 211 yards rushing compared to just 48 for USC.

But the Badgers were never able to score versus the Trojans, as they were shut out 7-0. The Badgers had two terrific opportunities to score, but a turnover ended one drive inside the red zone, while another was stopped on fake field goal attempt at the two-yard line of the Trojans.

Rose Bowl MVP Rudy Bukich of USC threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to future Green Bay Packer Al Carmichael for the winning score in the third quarter.

In the 1960 Rose Bowl, the 7-2 Badgers faced the 9-1 Washington Huskies. The Badgers were coached by Milt Bruhn, while the Huskies were coached by Jim Owens.

Going into the game, the Badgers were ranked No. 6 in both the AP poll and the Coaches poll, while the Huskies were ranked No. 8 and No. 7 respectively.

The Badgers were led that season by quarterback Dale Hackbart, who ran more than he threw and was named All-Big Ten by UPI (United Press International). Hackbart rushed for 387 yards, which led the team, and also scored six touchdowns.

The leading rusher in the Big Ten in 1959 would be future Green Bay Packer Bob Jeter of Iowa, who rushed for 609 yards, while another future Packer, Herb Adderley of Michigan State, finished fourth in the conference in rushing, as he toted the rock for 419 yards.

Both Jeter and Adderley would become excellent cornerbacks in the NFL, with Adderley being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Hackbart was joined on the All-Big Ten team by guard Jerry Stalcup (AP & UPI) and offensive tackle Dan Lanphear (AP & UPI).

The outcome of the game was never in doubt, as Washington had a 17-0 lead after the first quarter. The Huskies never looked back, as they crushed the Badgers 44-8.

Washington was led by quarterback Bob Schloredt and halfback George Fleming, as they were named co-Players of the Game.

Wisconsin scored it’s lone touchdown on a 4-yard run by halfback Tom Wiesner and that was followed up by a two-point conversion on a Hackbart pass to Allan Schoonover.

In the 1963 Rose Bowl game, the Badgers would face the Trojans again.

That epic contest between the Badgers and Trojans is one of the most famous bowl games ever played.

In the 1962 regular season, the Badgers were 8-1, which included being 6-1 in the Big Ten. Besides winning the Big Ten title that year, the Badgers also beat Notre Dame 17-8 that year at Camp Randall Stadium.

Like in the 1960 Rose Bowl, Wisconsin was coached by Milt Bruhn in this “Granddaddy of Them All” game. Bruhn had a rocky start and finish in his tenure as head coach of the Badgers, but overall his teams were a respectable 52-45-6, which included the two Rose Bowl appearances.

The Badgers had a prolific offense in 1962, which was led by quarterback Ron Vander Kelen and tight end Pat Richter.

Vander Kelen led the Big Ten in passing and total offense that season. Richter led the Big Ten in receiving yardage for the second straight season in 1962.

Going into the 1963 Rose Bowl, the Badgers were ranked No. 2 in the country, while the Trojans were ranked No. 1. There were 98,696 fans there to witness this classic contest.

USC got off to quick start led by quarterback Pete Beathard and the Trojans were up 21-7 at halftime. USC increased that lead by 42-14 early in the fourth quarter.

That’s when things got real interesting.

Pat Richter

Pat Richter running downfield after catching a pass in the 1963 Rose Bowl game.

Vander Kelen led a stirring comeback for the Badgers. Wisconsin scored 23 straight points to pull within 42-37, but time ran out for Bucky in a thrilling fourth quarter.

Vander Kelen completed 17-of-21 passes in just the fourth quarter alone. For the game, Vander Kelen ended up completing 33 of 48 throws for 401 yards, while Pat Richter finished with 11 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown.

Vander Kelen was co-MVP for the game, along with Beathard.

It would be 31 long years before the Badgers returned to Pasadena to face the UCLA Bruins on their home field on January 1, 1994.

That trip to SoCal was due to the hiring of Barry Alvarez in 1990 as head coach by athletic director and star of the 1963 Rose Bowl, Pat Richter, as well as chancellor Donna Shalala.

It was not an easy process for Alvarez and his coaching staff to turn things around for the Badgers, as Wisconsin had not had a winning season since 1984 and was just 1-5 in bowl games overall in their history.

One of the coaches on the staff of Alvarez was Kevin Cosgrove, who initially was inside linebackers coach, but later became the defensive coordinator for nine years under Barry.

When I talked with Cosgrove, he mentioned the plan that Alvarez had getting the football program up to speed.

“As with everything Barry always did, he had a plan,” said Cosgrove. “When he got that job, he pretty much knew who he was going to hire. Barry put together a strong staff, and then the first couple of years he fined tuned it, and turned it into a great staff.”

But it still wasn’t easy. But the hard work by the coaches and players catapulted the Badgers to being co- champions (along with Ohio State) of the Big Ten and also the 1994 Rose Bowl.

“It was amazing just seeing where the program was when he took over. Attendance was down. Interest in the Badgers was nil,” Cosgrove said. “I think the Badgers averaged 30,000 fans a game the year before we got there. But we gradually pumped it up until it became sell out after sell out. But naturally that first Rose Bowl was something special. The thrill of getting there, when you consider all the things we had to do to build that program.”

Alvarez was named Big Ten Coach of the Year in 1993, while the team itself was led by running back Brent Moss, who was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. Moss rushed for 1,637 yards and scored 16 touchdowns.

At the Rose Bowl, there were 101,237 in attendance and the stadium looked to be filled with 70 percent Wisconsin fans.

Moss rushed for 158 yards and scored two touchdowns, while quarterback Darrell Bevell shocked the crowd by scampering for a 21-yard touchdown run.

On defense, the Badgers allowed 500 total yards to the Bruins, but also forced a whopping six turnovers and that was the difference in the game, as the Badgers won 21-16 in their first ever victory in Pasadena.

Brent Moss

No. 33 Brent Moss of Wisconsin runs through a tackle in the 1994 Rose Bowl game.

Moss earned the Rose Bowl Most Valuable Player Award.

It took another five years before the Badgers returned to Pasadena and this time it was against the Bruins of UCLA again.

Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State were all co-champions of the Big Ten in 1998, but the Badgers were the team that went to the Rose Bowl because they had gone the longest period of time without an invitation to Pasadena.

Both the Badgers and the Bruins were 10-1 going into the game.

The Badger offense was led by running back Ron Dayne, who rushed for 1,525 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Cosgrove had assembled one of the best defenses in the country.

In the 1998 season, the Badgers were ranked fourth in the nation in total defense and first in scoring defense.

That defense would be going up against an explosive offense led by quarterback Cade McNown.

In the game, the defense of UCLA just could not stop the running game of the Badgers, as Dayne rushed for 246 yards and four touchdowns. The Bruins did have 538 total yards in the game, but the Badgers did force two key turnovers, including a 46 yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Jamar Fletcher.

The Badgers were leading 38-31 when the Bruins were trying to score the game-tying touchdown. But that all ended on a fourth down sack of McNown by defensive tackle Wendel Bryant.

Both Fletcher and Bryant were freshmen and both were recruited out of St. Louis by Cosgrove.

The bottom line, the Badgers had their second straight Rose Bowl win, with both victories coming against UCLA.

Dayne earned the Rose Bowl MVP Award.

Ron Dayne

No. 33 Ron Dayne of Wisconsin runs down the field in the 1999 Rose Bowl game.

The Badgers would be going to Pasadena the very next year as well, as they would face the Stanford Cardinal in the 2000 Rose Bowl game.

The 1999 Badgers started out 2-2 and it looked like the team had no chance to win the conference or to get to the Rose Bowl again. But behind the play of Dayne, who ended up winning the Heisman Trophy (and the Doak Walker Award) and also the steady performance of freshman quarterback Brooks Bollinger, the offense started clicking.

Dayne rushed for 2,034 yards and scored 20 touchdowns, while Bollinger threw eight touchdown passes versus just two interceptions. Bollinger also rushed for 454 yards and six touchdowns.

The big threat at receiver for the Badgers was Chris Chambers, who had 41 receptions for 578 yards and four scores.

Cosgrove put together another outstanding defense, as the D was ranked 15th in the country in total defense and fifth in scoring defense.

It led to the Badgers winning their second straight Big Ten title and this time outright.

In the 2000 Rose Bowl, the Badgers looked like they were sleep-walking early in the game and were trailing 9-3 at halftime. Alvarez, who had to watch the game in the press box due to a knee infection, something he had done for a number of weeks, hobbled down to the locker room and went on a tirade as he yelled at his team.

That fiery speech woke the Badgers up and Wisconsin outscored Stanford 14-0 in the second half and Bucky and the boys prevailed 17-9.

Dayne once again was fantastic, as he rushed for 200 yards on 34 carries and also scored a touchdown, which once again earned him the Rose Bowl MVP award.

Bollinger added a score with a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

Ron Dayne II

No. 33 Ron Dayne of Wisconsin rushes for yardage in the 2000 Rose Bowl game.

When it was all said and done, the Badgers had won back-to-back Rose Bowls under Alvarez, as well as their third Rose Bowl win in seven years.

It would be over a decade before the Badgers returned to Pasadena.

In 2010, the Badgers under head coach Bret Bielema, were co-champions of the Big Ten along with Ohio State and Michigan State. The Badgers once again earned the trip to the Rose Bowl because they had gone the longest period without an invitation.

In the 2011 Rose Bowl, the 11-1 Badgers would be facing a team not in the Pac-10 conference for the first time, as the Oregon Ducks were going to be playing in the 2011 BCS National Championship Game. That meant that the next top-rated BCS team would play the Badgers in Pasadena.

That team turned out to be the 12-0 TCU Horned Frogs.

The Badgers had a number of players make All-Big Ten in 2010. On the first team there were guard John Moffitt, tackle Gabe Carimi and defensive end J.J. Watt. The second team had quarterback Scott Tolzien, running back John Clay and defensive back Aaron Henry.

Carimi was named Offensive Lineman of the Year in the Big Ten, while running back James White was named Freshman of the Year.

In the Rose Bowl game itself, the contest was very tight in terms of the score. The Badgers led 3-0 on a Phillip Welch 30-yard field goal. TCU came back to take the lead 7-3 on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to Bart Johnson.

The Badgers re-took the lead 10-7 on a one-yard touchdown run by Clay. But that was the last time Wisconsin had the lead. Dalton scored on a 4-yard touchdown scamper, while Welch kicked another field goal for the Badgers and TCU led 14-13 at halftime.

TCU went up 21-13 in the third quarter and Wisconsin finally was able to score with 2:00 left in the game on a Montee Ball 4-yard touchdown run which made the score 21-19.

Ball rushed for 132 yards in the game.

The Badgers went for a two-point conversion with an empty backfeld, which made no sense to me. Wisconsin had gashed TCU on this drive due to their running game and you at least want to show the threat of a running play on the conversion.

Clay had rushed for 59 of his 76 rushing yards on this drive alone.

Montee Ball

No. 28 Montee Ball scores a touchdown in the 2011 Rose Bowl game.

But in the end, Scott Tolzien had his pass broken up in the end zone on the two-point try, as TCU hung on and won 21-19.

Bielema and his 10-2 Badgers made it back to the Rose Bowl again in 2012 after beating Michigan State in the first ever Big Ten Championship Game, 42-39.

The Badgers were led on offense all season long by quarterback Russell Wilson, who had off the chart stats. Wilson threw 33 touchdown passes compared to just four picks for 3,175 yards.

No. 16 also ran for 338 yards and six scores, plus caught a touchdown pass from Ball.

Ball put up Heisman-type numbers, as he rushed for 1,923 yards and 33 touchdowns, plus caught 24 passes for 306 yards and six more scores.

Wilson was named the Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year in the Big Ten, while Ball was named the Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year in the Big Ten.

The Badgers had a number of other players receive honors in 2011, which included Wilson, Ball, guard Kevin Zeitler, tackle Josh Oglesby, linebacker Chris Borland and defensive back Aaron Henry being named to the Coaches first team.

All of those players except Henry were on the Media first team

Linebacker Mike Taylor and defensive back Antonio Fenelus joined them on that first team.

Ball finished fourth in the Heisman voting, while Wilson finished ninth.

In the Rose Bowl, the Badgers would be facing the 10-2 Oregon Ducks, who were one of the highest scoring teams in the nation under Chip Kelly.

The game was like watching the Indianapolis 500, as the action was fast. Wisconsin had 508 total yards, while Oregon had a whopping 621 total yards.

The Badgers scored first on a 38-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to wide receiver Jared Abbrederis. Oregon quickly the game at 7-7 on a LaMichael James one-yard run.

Wisconsin re-took the lead on a 4-yard run by Wilson, but Oregon quickly tied it up again at 14 apiece when De’Anthony Thomas scored on a 91-yard run.

Ball put the Badgers up 21-14 on a 3-yard run, but the game was quickly tied again at 21-21 on a 54-yard touchdown pass from Darron Thomas to Kenjon Barner.

Wisconsin went up again 28-21 on a Louis Nzegwu 33-yardd fumble return, but once again Oregon tied the game again on a 3-yard pass from (Darron) Thomas to Lavasier Tuinei.

The score at halftime remained 28-28.

Oregon scored early in the third quarter to go up 35-28 on a (De’Anthony) Thomas 64-yard touchdown run. Phillip Welch got the Badgers to within four points at 35-31 when he hit a 29-yard field goal.

Wisconsin then took a 38-35 lead on a 18-yard touchdown pass by Wilson to wide receiver Nick Toon.

Wisconsin was driving to add to their lead when Wilson threw a costly pick which turned the momentum back to Oregon. The Ducks scored the last 10 points of the game to win 45-38.

Russell Wilson Rose Bowl

No. 16 Russell Wilson of Wisconsin about to throw a pass in the 2012 Rose Bowl game.

Wilson threw for 296 yards and two touchdowns, but also tossed that unlikely interception based on the way he performed all year.

Ball ran for 164 yards and a touchdown in the game. Abbrederis (4-119-1) and Toon (9-104-1) both had big games.

But Oregon was just unstoppable in the game, led by James and (De’Anthony) Thomas, who rushed for a combined 314 yards and three touchdowns.

The 8-5 Badgers went to their third straight Rose Bowl game in 2013, as they defeated the Nebraska Cornhuskers 70-31 in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Wisconsin was in that game even though they finished third in the Leader Division. That was because both Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible due to NCAA sanctions.

However, after the Big Ten title game, Bielema shocked Badger Nation by accepting the head coaching job at Arkansas prior to the Rose Bowl.

That meant that the now athletic director Alvarez would be be interim coach for the game against the 11-2 Stanford Cardinal, coached by David Shaw.

The Badgers were led offensively by Ball, who rushed for 1,830 yards and 22 touchdowns. No. 28 was also All-Big Ten, All-American and also won the Doak Walker Award as the best running back in the country.

The Badgers had a great multi-talented ground game, because besides Ball, Wisconsin also had James White (806 yards and 12 touchdowns) and Melvin Gordon (621 yards and three touchdowns).

The quarterback situation was a different story. The season started with Danny O’Brien (a transfer from Maryland) behind center, but that didn’t work out. Joel Stave took over and had the Badgers playing much better in the passing game, but he broke a collarbone.

Curt Phillips then took over at quarterback and it was he who started behind center in the 2013 Rose Bowl.

Defensively, the Badgers were led once again by linebackers Chris Borland and Mike Taylor.

In terms of being named All-Big Ten by the Coaches, Ball was joined by wide receiver Jared Abbrederis, tackle Rick Wagner, tight end Jacob Pedersen and Borland at linebacker.

The Media first team had Ball, Abbrederis, center Travis Frederick, Wagner and Mike Taylor at linebacker.

In the actual 2013 Rose Bowl, Stanford had an early 14-0 lead after the first quarter. But the Badgers pulled to within 17-14 at halftime on a Ball 11-yard touchdown run and also a 4-yard pass from Phillips to Jordan Fredrick.

But those were the last points of the game for the Badgers as they lost 20-14.

The Badgers ran for 218 yards in the game, including 100 by Ball, but could not get much of a passing game going, as Phillips only threw for 83 yards.

That loss, the third setback in a row for the Badgers, put Wisconsin’s Rose Bowl record at 3-6 going into the 2020 Rose Bowl game against Oregon.

Overall, the Badgers are now 16-14 in bowl games, while current head coach Paul Chryst is a perfect 4-0 in bowl games, which includes wins in both the Cotton Bowl and the Orange Bowl.

Chryst is also now 4-1 versus the Minnesota Golden Gophers, including a big 38-17 victory this season, which basically set the table for the Badgers going to the Rose Bowl.

Jonathan Taylor 2020 Rose Bowl Jersey

Jonathan Taylor of the Wisconsin Badger before the 2020 Rose Bowl game.

And like they have in previous Rose Bowl games (with Dayne and Ball), the Badgers will have a Doak Walker Award winner on the field with Jonathan Taylor running the football. Taylor has actually won that award now two years in a row.

Taylor has rushed for 6,080 yards in his three-year career at Wisconsin and has scored 50 touchdowns. No. 23 has also caught 40 passes for 364 yards and three more scores.

Anyway, we will soon find out how the 10-3 Badgers do against the 11-2 Ducks (led by quarterback Justin Herbert), but it should be a dandy.

If the game anything like the high-scoring 2012 Rose Bowl between these two teams, look out!

Somehow I don’t believe that will be the case, as the Badgers are ranked No. 8 in total defense, while the Ducks are ranked No. 23 in total defense.

No matter, it’s always fun to watch “The Granddady of Them All” on New Year’s Day.

This will be the 10th time for Badger Nation.

Wisconsin Badgers vs. Minnesota Golden Gophers: Three Big Prizes Await the Winner of Saturday’s Game

Jonathan Taylor vs. Minnesota II

When the 9-2 (6-2) Wisconsin Badgers take on the 10-1 (7-1) Minnesota Golden Gophers this Saturday afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium, three big awards will be at stake for the winner of the game.

For one, the winner will win the Big Ten West title and the right to play Ohio State in the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis on December 7.

Another honor that will go to the victorious team is the right to have possession of Paul Bunyan’s Axe.

Finally, the winner of the contest will have the series lead in a border battle that dates back to 1890 and is the longest, uninterrupted rivalry in FBS Division I college football.

The series is currently tied 60-60- 8.

The Badgers have only led in the overall series just once and that was when the Badgers beat the Gophers 31-0 at TCF Stadium in 2017.

Up until that point, Wisconsin had never led in the series. Not once in 127 years. Wisconsin can do that for just the second time with a victory on Saturday.

In terms of the Paul Bunyan Axe, that reward for winning has gone on since 1948. Wisconsin leads by a 43-25-3 margin over Minnesota over that time.

But because of Minnesota’s somewhat shocking 37-15 win over Wisconsin last year at Camp Randall Stadium, the Gophers now own the axe. But a win on Saturday afternoon will see the Badgers running across the football field to retrieve what was theirs for 14 straight years from 2004 through 2017.

Winning back the axe and taking the overall series lead are both great goals and will mean a lot. But the biggest prize will be in winning the Big Ten West.

The game will see two of the better coaches in the Big Ten going at each other for the fourth time and the third time in Big Ten play.

I’m talking about Paul Chryst of the Badgers and P.J. Fleck of the Golden Gophers.

The first time these two coaches met was in the 2017 Cotton Bowl, when the Badgers met the Western Michigan Broncos, who were coached by Fleck at the time. Western Michigan was 13-0 going into the game, while the Badgers were 10-3.

Wisconsin won the game 24-16.

Shortly after the game, Fleck accepted the head coaching position at Minnesota.

In 2017, the Gophers finished 5-7 under Fleck, and then 7-6 in 2018 which included a win against Georgia Tech in the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit. That bowl appearance was set up by the surprising win over the Badgers last year in Madison.

In 2019, the Gophers have turned heads in the FBS and the Big Ten with their performance thus far under Fleck. Overall as a head coach at Minnesota thus far, Fleck is 22-14 and 1-0 in bowl games.

Chryst has been the head coach at Wisconsin since 2015 and currently has an overall record of 51-14. That includes two Big Ten West titles, plus the Badgers are 4-0 in bowls under Chryst, which includes wins in the Cotton and Orange Bowls.

In addition to that, Chryst has twice been named Big Ten Coach of the Year (2016 and 2017).

Fleck is a favorite to win that award this year.

Wisconsin vs. Minnesota

All that being said about the coaches going into this game, it will be the players who will determine the outcome of this important contest.

The 10th-ranked (AP) Gophers are ranked 45th in total offense in the FBS and average just under 432 yards a game. Minnesota is ranked 42nd in rushing offense (184.5 yards per game) and 53rd in passing offense (247.1 yards per game).

Running back Rodney Smith leads the way in the running game, as he has rushed for 1,063 yards and has scored eight touchdowns. Mohamed Ibrahim (425 yards and six TDs) and Shannon Brooks (386 yards and two TDs) also get touches toting the rock.

When running the wildcat formation, the Gophers utilize Seth Green to handle the snaps. Green has rushed for 88 yards and five touchdowns.

Quarterback Tanner Morgan is sixth in the FBS in passing efficiency and is having a great season. Morgan has thrown 26 touchdown passes versus just five interceptions for 2,679 yards.

The two main weapons that Morgan utilizes are wide receiver’s Tyler Johnson and Rashod Bateman. Johnson (66-1,025-10), while Bateman (51-1,023-10) receptions almost mirror each other in production.

Minnesota will be facing another fine defense from Wisconsin put together by defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard.

The 12th-ranked (AP) Badgers are seventh in the FBS in total defense and have allowed just over 268 yards per game. Wisconsin is also eighth in scoring defense, as they give us just a tad over 14 points per game.

The defense is once again led by the talented linebacker corp that Leonhard always seems to put together. Chris Orr is tied for fifth in the FBS with 11 sacks, while Zack Baun is tied for 14th with 9.5 sacks.

Orr leads the Badgers in total tackles with 64 and is followed by fellow linebacker Jack Sanborn with 57. Baun is next with 53 tackles.

The Badgers are ninth in the FBS in rushing defense and their opponents average 98.5 yards per game. Wisconsin is also sixth in passing defense and have allowed an average of just under 170 yards per game.

The Badgers have 10 interceptions and two of those have been returned for touchdowns. Safety Eric Burrell leads the way with three picks, plus has 39 tackles. Sanborn also has two interceptions.

In terms of offense, Wisconsin is ranked 37th in total offense (just over 441 yards per game) in the FBS, which includes being ranked 14th in rushing offense (just over 250 yards per game) and ranked 101st in passing offense (just over 191 yards per game).

The offense is led by running back Jonathan Taylor, who is second in the FBS with 1,685 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns.

Taylor has 5,856 yards rushing is his three-year career at Wisconsin so far and has 47 career rushing touchdowns. That is tops all time in NCAA history in terms of rushing yardage in just three years of play.

Taylor is second all time in terms of yards rushing in Big Ten history and Wisconsin history.

The only running back in front of him in both cases is Ron Dayne, who won the Heisman Trophy with the Badgers in 1999 and had 7,125 yards rushing in his career.

Jonathan Taylor vs. Minnesota

By the way, in two games versus the Gophers, Taylor has rushed for 269 yards and a touchdown.

When No. 23 needs a break from the action, Nakia Watson (321 yards rushing and two TDs) normally takes over on rushing downs, while Garrett Groshek (176 yards rushing and two TDs) comes in during passing situations.

The Badgers also utilize the jet sweep quite often and receivers like Kendric Pryor (136 yards rushing), Aron Cruickshank (122 yards rushing), Danny Davis III (86 yards rushing) and A.J. Taylor (34 yards rushing) have all been used in that role.

In addition, the Badgers have been using the wildcat at times recently when running the ball. Last week against Purdue, both Cruickshank and Groshek handled the snaps in that formation and Cruickshank scored on a 27-yard jaunt against the Boilers using the wildcat.

When throwing the football, quarterback Jack Coan has been very efficient for the most part. In fact, Coan is ranked 14th in the FBS in passing efficiency. Coan has thrown 15 touchdown passes versus just four picks for 2,029 yards.

Coan likes to throw to his backs, and both Taylor (20-164-4) and Groshek (24-191) have been very effective in that role.

When looking down the field, Coan’s favorite targets are wide receiver Quintez Cephus (40-606-5) and tight end Jake Ferguson (26-310-2).

Coan also utilizes (A.J.) Taylor (21-257-2), Pryor (18-252) and Davis III (25-195-1).

The Badgers will be facing a Minnesota squad which is ranked 10th in the FBS in total defense and gives up just a tad over 300 yards per game. The Gophers are tied for 27th in scoring defense, as they allow an average of 21 points per game.

Linebacker Carter Coughlin (4.5) and defensive lineman Sam Renner (4) lead the Gophers in sacks.

The key player for Minnesota on defense is defensive back Antoine Winfield Jr., as he leads the team in tackles with 76, plus has seven interceptions. No. 11 also has three sacks.

In a big game like this, special teams play is very important. Cruickshank of the Badgers is 10th in the FBS in kick returns, as he averages 28.4 yards per return and has taken one to the house.

Jack Dunn of Wisconsin is 25th in the FBS in punt returns with a nine yard return average.

No one from Minnesota is in the top 50 in either one of those statistical categories.

Wisconsin is also 4th in kick return defense, while Minnesota is ranked 57th. The Gophers are ranked 2nd in punt return defense however, while the Badgers are ranked 67th.

In terms of blocked punts, the Badgers have one so far in 2019, while the Gophers have yet to block one.

Collin Larsh of Wisconsin is 10-of-15 in field goal attempts, while Zach Hintze of the Badgers nailed a 62-yard field goal last week against Purdue.

Michael Lantz of the Gophers is 6-of-9 in field goal attempts.

Anthony Lotti of the Badgers has 40.2 punting average, while Jacob Herbers of the Gophers has a 38.1 punting average.

Badgers celebrate with Paul Bunyans's Axe

The bottom line is that Saturday’s game should be one hell of a game between these two rivals.

As I mentioned earlier, three big items are on the line.

– The Big Ten West title

– Paul Bunyan’s Axe

– The overall series lead which dates back to 1890

One things is for sure. A member of the rodent family will be winning the Big Ten West.

Will it be a Badger or a Gopher?

Will Chryst be going back the the Big Ten title game for the third time with a chance to win his first Big Ten Title?

Or will Fleck be leading the Gophers to their first ever Big Ten title game?

We will find out Saturday in Minneapolis.

Wisconsin Sports Teams Have Fared Well at Yankee Stadium in the Postseason

lew burdette at yankee stadium in 1957 world series

As I was watching the Wisconsin Badgers pummel the Miami Hurricanes 35-3 in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at the new Yankee Stadium in December, I got to thinking about all the great moments other Wisconsin sports teams had at the original Yankee Stadium.

The new Yankee Stadium replaced “The House That Ruth Built” in 2009. That original stadium was considered to be the cathedral of baseball while it existed from 1923 through 2008. The stadium also hosted other sporting events such as college football, as well as NFL football (the New York Giants played there from 1956-1973), plus their were also a number of great boxing matches at the venerable stadium.

In terms of great moments for a Wisconsin sports team, it all started in 1957, when the Milwaukee Braves played the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Game 1 was played at Yankee Stadium and the Braves did not get off to a great start, as Whitey Ford out-pitched Warren Spahn and the Yankees won 3-1 in front of 69,476 fans. But in Game 2, Lew Burdette got the Braves back to even in the series, as he pitched a beauty as Milwaukee won 4-2, as 65,202 fans attended.

But that performance by Burdette was just the beginning of even more excellence as the series continued.

The Braves then won two out of three games played at Milwaukee County Stadium to take a 3-2 lead in the series as it headed back to Yankee Stadium. One of those wins in Milwaukee was another great performance by Burdette in Game 5, as he shut out the Yanks 1-0 in a great pitching duel with Ford.

In Game 6 at Yankee Stadium, New York evened the series at 3-3, as the Yankees edged the Braves 3-2 in front of 61,408 fans.

That set up a winner-take-all situation in Game 7, as the Braves were putting out Burdette on the mound again versus Don Larsen. Milwaukee was led offensively by Bob Hazle, Del Crandall and Hank Aaron, who each had two hits, while Burdette was magnificent on the mound. Crandall hit the only homer of the game, as the Braves won 5-0.

Burdette had his third straight complete game win in the series and his second straight shutout.  In all, No. 33 was 3-0 in the series, pitched 24 consecutive scoreless innings, had an ERA of .067 and was named the MVP of the World Series.

On this offensive side, Aaron was fantastic in the series, as No. 44 hit .393, plus knocked out three homers and drove in seven runs. Third baseman Eddie Mathews added a homer (the game-winner in Game 4) and four RBIs.

As it has turned out, 1957 was the only year the city of Milwaukee has had a World Series champion. And that clinching victory happened at Yankee Stadium.

braves celebrate winning 1957 world series

Then there was the 1962 NFL Championship Game played at Yankee Stadium between the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants. This would be the second straight year the two teams had played for the NFL title, as the Packers beat the G-Men at new City Stadium (now Lambeau Field) 37-0 in the 1961 NFL Championship Game, as Paul Hornung scored 19 of those points by himself.

The environment at Yankee Stadium was reminiscent of the conditions at the 1967 NFL Championship Game, better know as the “Ice Bowl”, as it was a bitterly cold day (13 degrees), plus the wind was gusting up to 40 miles per hour, which made things feel much colder.

Even with the blustery weather, right guard/kicker Jerry Kramer was awestruck as he walked into the storied stadium.

“It was really a highlight for me walking into Yankee Stadium,” Kramer said. “It was an emotional experience for me. All the great fights and the World Series games that had gone on there. You had the statues of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio in center field.

“You also looked into the crowd and saw the sophisticated sports fans who were booing your ass. Then you look across the line of scrimmage and you see [Andy] Robustelli, [Jim] Katcavage, [Sam] Huff, [Dick] Lynch and that whole group, you definitely get pumped.”

Kramer wasn’t the only one pumped on the Green Bay sideline. Being at Yankee Stadium was also a homecoming for head coach Vince Lombardi, as he was a New York City native and was the offensive coordiantor for the Giants from 1954-1958.

“We knew how badly coach Lombardi wanted to win that ball game,” Kramer said. “And we knew the Giants had been embarrassed the year before in Green Bay. We knew the Giants were going to be loaded for bear that day. But we also knew coach Lombardi desperately wanted a victory, and so we wanted to win for him and much as ourselves.”

Kramer was excited for another reason. No. 64 had missed the 1961 NFL title game due to a broken ankle/leg suffered midway in the 1961 season. But Kramer went on to have his best season in the NFL in 1962.

Kramer was named first team All-Pro by AP, NEA and UPI, while No. 64 was also named to his first Pro Bowl squad.

Not only was Kramer exceptional playing right guard for the Packers, but he also took over the placekicking duties of the Packers during the season after Hornung suffered a knee injury.

For the season, Kramer scored 65 points, which included being 9-for-11 in field goal attempts.

The NFL title game in the Bronx turned out to be extremely physical in arctic-like conditions. The Packers rushed for 148 yards in the game, with fullback Jimmy Taylor getting 85 of those yards, as well as the only touchdown scored by the Packers.

jim taylor in 1962 nfl title game

Taylor and middle linebacker Sam Huff of the Giants brawled all game long. Huff made it a personal mission to stop Taylor, and he hit the bruising fullback after the whistle a number of times in the game. Talking about that confrontation, Kramer said, “Huff probably would have gotten arrested for assaulting Taylor today.”

After the victory by the Packers, middle linebacker Ray Nitschke was named the game’s MVP, as he had been tenacious with his tackling on defense and also recovered two fumbles.

Kramer certainly could have received that honor as well, based on the way he played that day. Besides blocking very well and recovering a fumble by Taylor, Kramer had to kick that day under very difficult conditions, with the gusty wind hampering his efforts.

Kramer ended up scoring 10 points (three field goals and an extra point) in the 16-7 victory for the Packers. After the game, the coaches and the players presented No. 64 with a game ball because of the great performance he had in that year’s championship game.

jerry kramer fg

Then there was the 1981 American League Division Series between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Yankees. The 1981 season was a strike year in baseball and the season was split into halves. The Yankees won the AL East in the first half of the season, while the Brew Crew won the AL East in the second half of the season. That set up this playoff series to find out who would go on to the AL Championship Series.

1981 was the first time the Brewers had ever played in the postseason. The season was set up by a big offseason trade that saw Milwaukee acquire relief pitcher Rollie Fingers, starting pitcher Pete Vuckovich and catcher Ted Simmons from the St, Louis Cardinals.

Fingers was awesome all season long as he was 6-3 with 28 saves, plus had a phenomenal 1.04 ERA, which led the Brewers to the second-half AL East title. That performance garnered Fingers the AL MVP award, as well as the Cy Young honor in the AL.

In the series against the Yanks, the Brewers did not play very well in the first two games at County Stadium in Milwaukee, as they were beaten 5-3 in Game 1 and then 3-0 in Game 2. That meant all the Yankees needed was just one win at Yankee Stadium to move on to the ALCS.

paul molitor in 1981 al division series at yankee stadium

But the Brewers battled back in Game 3. Randy Lerch went up against Tommy John and allowed just one run over six innings. Fingers came in to finish the game in the seventh inning, and although he allowed two runs, the Brewers won 5-3. Fingers got the victory, while Simmons (three RBIs) and Paul Molitor each had a homer.

In Game 4, Vuckovich allowed only one unearned run over five innings, as the bullpen took over after that, as Jamie Easterly, Jim Slaton, Bob McClure and Fingers finished it out, as the Brewers won 2-1. Vuckovich got the win, while Fingers got the save. Ben Oglivie and Cecil Cooper each had a RBI.

In Game 5, the Brewers started Moose Haas, who would be going up against Ron Guidry. The Brewers got off to a nice start, as they led 2-0. Gorman Thomas hit a homer and Robin Yount had three hits, but the Yankees stormed back and won 7-3.

Still, it was a great experience for the Brewers, as it set the stage for 1982, when Milwaukee advanced to the World Series under manager Harvey Kuenn, who took over for Buck Rodgers early in that season.

The Badgers had their way against the Canes at the new Yankee Stadium on this past December with running back Jonathan Taylor leading the way, as No. 23 rushed for 205 yards and a touchdown.

The game was attended by just 37,821 fans, but most were Wisconsin backers who enjoyed another great moment in the Big Apple. The bowl victory was the fifth straight for the Badgers and gave head coach Paul Chryst a perfect 4-0 record in bowl games.

NCAA Football: Pinstripe Bowl-Wisconsin vs Miami

The Badgers are now 16-14 in their bowl history.

The bottom line is that both old Yankee Stadium and new Yankee Stadium have given the state of Wisconsin some great sports memories. The memories may continue still, as the Brewers are now in the National League and it’s entirely possible that they might match up one day in the near future with the Yankees in the World Series.

That would be apropos. Especially if the Brewers clinched the series at Yankee Stadium.

The New Mexico Lobos vs. the Wisconsin Badgers: Kevin Cosgrove Comes Home

 

CossyThe game between the New Mexico Lobos and the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday will be a homecoming of sorts for Kevin Cosgrove.

Cosgrove is currently the defensive coordinator for the Lobos, but he also spent 14 years (1990 through 2003) on the coaching staff under Barry Alvarez, where he was initially a linebackers coach before becoming defensive coordinator in 1995.

I was at the very first game Cosgrove became the D-coordinator. It was in the 1995 Hall of Fame Bowl at Tampa Stadium.

Cos and I were good buddies at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh back in the day, plus I lived in the Tampa Bay area. It was a given that I would be at the game between the Badgers and the Duke Blue Devils.

Because of my friendship with Cosgrove, I was able to see the Badgers work out at Tampa Stadium in practice a day before the game. Then for the actual game, a couple of buddies and myself sat next to the coaches wives, which included Cosgrove’s wife Shelly.

The Badgers won the game 34-20. It was after the game in which I had one of the fondest memories I have ever had. We went to the Westin Tampa Harbour Island (where the Badgers stayed) after the game.

I distinctly remember smoking a victory cigar with a number of the coaches (including Alvarez and Cosgrove) overlooking the Hillsborough River from the balcony.

Before Alvarez and his initial coaching staff came to Wisconsin, the Badgers were 1-5 in bowl games, plus the football program was on a downward slide.

When I talked to Cosgrove about the state of the program then, he heaped praise on Alvarez on what he was able to accomplish, as Barry built a program that won 118 games in his 16-year tenure.

“Just seeing where the program was when he took over. Attendance was down. Interest in the Badgers was nil,” Cosgrove said. “I think the Badgers averaged 30,000 fans a game the year before we got there. But we gradually pumped it up until it became sell out after sell out. But naturally that first Rose Bowl (in 1994) was something special. The thrill of getting there, when you consider all the things we had to do to build that program.”

The Badgers are currently 15-14 in Bowl games in their history and are one of the best football programs in the country under head coach Paul Chryst, as Alvarez is now the athletic director. But the ongoing success of the program goes back to the job Alvarez and his coaching staff did in the 1990s.

The Badgers won back to back Rose Bowls in 1999 and 2000 when Cosgrove was the defensive coordinator. The defenses that Cos coached those two years were a big reason why.

In 1998, the Badgers were ranked fourth in the nation in total defense and first in scoring defense. In 1999, they were ranked 15th in the country in total defense and fifth in scoring defense.

In 2002 and 2003, Cosgrove coached current Wisconsin defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard when he played for the Badgers at safety. Leonhard had a combined 18 interceptions those two seasons, plus was named All-Big Ten and All-American both years.

After Cosgrove left Wisconsin after the 2003 season (the Badgers were 6-2 in bowl games under Alvarez at that point), he has been defensive coordinator at Nebraska, Minnesota, Akron and now New Mexico.

The New Mexico football program has been resuscitated under head coach Bob Davie, much like the Wisconsin football program was under Alvarez and his initial coaching staff which included Cosgrove.

In 2015, the Lobos went to their first bowl game since 2007. The Lobos went 7-6 that season and then went 9-4 in 2006 before winning the New Mexico Bowl.

New Mexico had a tough year in 2017 (3-9), but are off to a 1-0 start in 2018 as they get ready to face the Badgers. The Lobos have added a number of top football programs to their schedule in the future, which also includes Notre Dame (2019), USC (2020), Texas A&M (2021) and LSU (2022).

I talked to NFL scout Chris Landry about the New Mexico football program and he was impressed with the job Cosgrove has done.

Cos at New Mexico

“It’s a good program,” Landry said. “They’ve done a good job. Kevin is an outstanding coach.”

Indeed, Cosgrove is an outstanding coach and that’s why Alvarez hired him in 1990 and kept him on for 14 years, which includes nine years as defensive coordinator.

Now Cos gets to coach for the opposing team at Camp Randall for just the second time since he left Wisconsin. The first time was in 2010 when he was the defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

The Gophers lost 41-23 that day, mostly because the talent on Wisconsin far outweighed that of Minnesota.

New Mexico also can’t match the talent level of the Badgers, but you can count on one thing for sure.

Cosgrove will have his defense ready to play against an offense which put up 491 yards against Western Kentucky last week.

That might not add up to a victory, but it will be yet another step forward in building up the football program at New Mexico.

Green Bay Packers: 2018 NFL Mock Draft 3.0 with a Trade

Brian Gutekunst in the GB draft room

The 2018 NFL draft is now less than two weeks away. It starts on April 26 and will last through April 28. This year the location is AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Up to this point, the draft process has already taken us through the bowl games, plus the all-star games (the East-West Shrine Game, the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the Senior Bowl) and finally the NFL Scouting Combine.

The pro days have taken place as well, and currently NFL teams are scheduling personal visits with various prospects.

As I mentioned in my previous mock draft, general manager Brian Gutekunst of the Packers has been a bit busy in the free agency process, both in adding players to the team (Jimmy Graham, Muhammad Wilkerson and Tramon Williams) and in releasing a big name (Jordy Nelson).

And earlier this week, the Packers also re-signed veteran cornerback Davon House.

Before the free agency period began, Gutekunst made a trade with general manager John Dorsey of the Cleveland Browns. In that trade, the Packers moved cornerback Damarious Randall to the Browns for quarterback DeShone Kizer.

In addition to the players being traded, the teams swapped picks in both the fourth and fifth rounds, which means that the Packers will have the first pick in both the fourth and fifth rounds of the upcoming draft.

I’m sure part of the reason Gutekunst and Dorsey made that trade, was the comfort level each has with one another, as both worked together for 13 years in the Green Bay scouting department.

In addition to that, Eliot Wolf, who is now assistant general manager of the Browns, and Alonzo Highsmith, who is now vice president of the Browns, also spent many years together with Gutekunst in the scouting department of the Packers.

In a recent piece about the Packers and Browns possibly doing more business during the draft, I surmised that another trade between the two teams might be forthcoming. And in this mock draft, I am going to use one of the scenarios that mentioned in that article.

In this scenario, I have the Packers trading up to get the first pick of the second round from the Browns, which would be the 33rd pick of the draft. To do that, the Packers would trade their own second round pick (No. 45), plus their first fourth round pick (No. 101), plus would have to also trade their two compensatory picks in the fifth round (No.’s 172 & 174).

The trade will still leave the Packers with nine picks in the draft, including at least one in each round, but now Green Bay would be able to get two of the top 33 players in the 2018 NFL draft.

As per usual, I am using the expertise of NFL scout Chris Landry to help guide me through the draft process, as I will be utilizing his horizontal draft board (best players regardless of position) and his various positional draft boards.

I will do one final mock draft the week of the actual draft. But without further adieu, here is my mock draft 3.0.

Round 1: Outside Linebacker Marcus Davenport (University of Texas-San Antonio)

Marcus Davenport II

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 264 pounds

The Packers would have to feel very fortunate if Marcus Davenport of UTSA is still on the board with pick No. 14 of the first round. On his horizontal draft board (best overall players), Landry ranks Davenport at No. 7.

Landry also has Davenport ranked No. 2 on his defensive end draft board, behind only Bradley Chubb of North Carolina State.

In Green Bay, Davenport would be a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end, similar to the role Julius Peppers had when he was a Packer. The Packers desperately need to invigorate their pass rush, which will undoubtedly help the secondary have more success. Davenport would make a big impact in that regard.

In four years at UTSA, Davenport improved over each of those seasons and had 185 total tackles, 37.5 tackles for a loss, 21.5 sacks, eight passes defended, two fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown) and six forced fumbles.

At the Senior Bowl practices, Davenport struggled at times, but he played well in the game itself, with a sack and a scoop-and-score fumble recovery.

At the combine, Davenport put on quite a show, when he ran a 4.58 40, which is remarkable for a man his size.

This is the scouting report Landry put out on Davenport:

Very raw but an explosive and long pass rusher who can play in a two or three point stance. Love his first step quickness and shows an ability to transfer speed to power. At this point is a first move pass rusher only but will technique development should be a force as a pass rusher in the league. I like his effort and play strength against the run but will need to improve his upper body strength for that to translate as well to the NFL level. He will also have to transition to playing more effectively from a 3-point stance as he loses leverage getting too high. I love his length and body frame. Built like a player I drafted years back in Jevon Kearse but long levered like Jadeveon Clowney. Has the quickness to drop but lacks coverage understanding and instincts. Love his edge and closing speed along with his motor. Best edge speed rusher in this draft with lots of upside.

Round 2: Cornerback Josh Jackson (Iowa)

Josh Jackson

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 192 pounds

The Packers would be also be absolutely thrilled if Josh Jackson of Iowa is still on the board at pick No. 33. That has a chance to happen because Landry has Jackson rated at No. 30 on his horizontal draft board and the No. 3 CB behind Denzel Ward and Mike Hughes.

In 2017, Jackson had a breakout year with the Hawkeyes, as he had 66 total tackles, eight interceptions (two for touchdowns vs. Wisconsin), 27 passes defensed and one forced fumble.

Because of that performance, Jackson earned first-team AP All-American and first-team All-Big Ten honors.

Jackson did not help himself at the NFL Scouting Combine with his workout (4.56 in the 40, a leap of 38 inches in the vertical jump and 4.03 seconds in the 20-yard shuttle), but he improved each of those numbers at the Iowa pro day.

There Jackson ran a 4.52  in the 40, had a 40 inch vertical jump and ran the 20-yard shuttle in 3.95 seconds.

The Packers added some veteran depth at CB this offseason by bringing back Williams and also be re-signing House. The Packers love the upside of second-year corner Kevin King, who flashed last year as a rookie before a shoulder injury ended his season. After that, there are a lot of questions about the other young CBs on the Packers.

That is why it is imperative to draft at least two cornerbacks in this draft, including one who can be a starter on Day 1. Jackson is that type of player.

This is the scouting report Landry gives on Jackson:

Versatile cover guy with good size. Experienced playing lots of coverages. Like his movement skills turning out of press and excels in zone coverage. Quick seeing routes and has outstanding ball skills. Gets low in pedal, can play up or off and good in run support. He will need to get stronger and I worry about his deep speed but I see him as an early starter.

Round 3: Wide Receiver Dante Pettis (Washington)

Dante Pettis

Height: 6’1″

Weight: 192 pounds

The Packers would love to see a talent like Dante Pettis of Washington available in the third round when it is their time to pick. Landry has Pettis rated No. 46 on his horizontal draft board and No. 4 on his wide receiver draft boards. Other scouts do not have Pettis rated this high.

Pettis is a multi-talented player, who is not only an excellent receiver, but also a very good punt returner.

In four years as a Husky, Pettis had 163 receptions for 2,256 yards and 24 touchdowns. In addition to that, Pettis returned 90 punts for 1,274 yards and had a whopping nine touchdowns.

During a pro day-style workout, Pettis ran a 4.45 in the 40, had a 36-inch vertical jump, had a 127-inch broad jump and did a 6.72-second run through the three-cone drill.

Pettis comes from a very athletic family, as his father is Gary Pettis, a five-time Gold Glove-winning center fielder, when he played major league baseball.

The Packers need to add another threat at wide receiver after losing Nelson, plus they would be able to add a very dangerous put returner as well.

I only have the Packers selecting one WR in this draft, as I envision that the Packers are going to utilize Ty Montgomery primarily at that position in 2018 and beyond. We shall see.

Here is Landry’s scouting report on Pettis:

Shows explosive acceleration to separate from zone or man. Smooth releasing off line of scrimmage and possesses outstanding run after catch skills. Has elite return skills that will get him on the field early while he learns the nuances of route tree. His hands and catching radius are good, quickness exceptional and plays with good instincts. Lean frame that needs to add bulk and will need to improve his fight for ball in traffic.

Round 4: Cornerback Tony Brown (Alabama)

Tony Brown

Height: 6’0″

Weight: 198 pounds

Landry has Tony Brown rated at No. 9 on his cornerback draft board and No. 94 on his horizontal draft board, which is essentially a late third-round grade. Other scouts have Brown rated in the same approximate area, while others have Brown rated lower.

When you look at the statistics, Brown of doesn’t stick out to you. One reason was because he was part of a very talented defensive backfield. Plus, he was a part-time starter and who also filled the role of the nickelback.

In his career with the Crimson Tide, Brown had 86 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, 0.5 sacks, three interceptions (including one in the 2018 CFP National Championship Game), five passes defended and one forced fumble.

But there is a lot more to like about Brown. For one, he is very fast. Brown ran a 4.35 at the combine, plus he earned first team All-America honors in track and field in the spring of 2015 in the 4×400 meter relay .

Brown is also a stalwart on special teams and is a very good tackler in run support.

Bad tackling and a lack of speed have become issues in the Green Bay secondary, plus it’s always a plus to improve special teams, which is why Brown would be a great value here.

This is what Landry said about Brown at the scouting combine:

Alabama CB Tony Brown’s official forty time at the NFL Combine was 4.35. Brown ran one of the fastest 40 times among all defensive backs. This isn’t surprising as Brown was a high-school 100-meter state champion. A really good tackler, Brown will make an immediate impact on special teams.

Round 5: Tight End Troy Fumagalli (Wisconsin)

Troy Fumagalli

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 248 pounds

Landry has Troy Fumagalli of Wisconsin rated at No. 154 on his horizontal draft board (late fourth round) and No. 6 on his tight end draft board.

In four years as a Badger, Fumagalli had 135 receptions for 1,627 yards and seven touchdowns. After the 2017 season, in which he had 38 receptions for 478 yards and four touchdowns, No. 81 was named first-team All-Big Ten by the coaches and second-team All-Big Ten by the media. In addition to that, Fumagalli won the Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year award in the Big Ten.

In 2016, Fumagalli was named second-team All-Big Ten, plus was named Cotton Bowl Offensive MVP, as he caught six throws for 83 yards and a touchdown in the 24-16 victory over Western Michigan.

It’s important to note that Fumagalli has only nine fingers, as he lost the index finger on his left hand at birth. Still, Fumagalli estimated that he dropped only one pass per season as a Badger.

This is Landry’s scouting report on Fumagalli:

Productive player. Like his release and route running skills. Good hands. Adjusts well to ball and will compete in crowd. Works to block and decent RAC skills. Frame needs development. Narrow based as blocker. One speed runner lacking burst and vertical speed. Nifty H back type who needs to develop strength to play effectively as Y. Like his ability in short passing game and as receiver but not an explosive flex player.

Round 6: Center/Guard Sean Welsh (Iowa)

Sean Welsh

Height: 6’2″

Weight: 300 pounds

Landry has Sean Welsh of Iowa rated No. 107 on his horizontal draft board and No. 7 on his offensive guard draft board. Some scouts have Welsh rated in a similar area, while others have him rated much lower.

The Packers need someone who can help out at guard and also as a backup center. Welsh can do both and perhaps more, as he proved at Iowa.

Welsh was a four-year starter at Iowa, as he started 48 games in his collegiate career. He started 23 games at right guard, six at right tackle and 19 at left guard. Welsh also worked out a center for the Hawkeyes.

As a senior, Welsh was named second-team All-Big Ten, while he was named third-team All-Big Ten as a junior and Honorable mention All-Big Ten as a sophomore.

This is the scouting report Landry gave on Welsh:

He is heavy-legged and lacks the brute power to overwhelm defenders, but he can mask some of those deficiencies with his savvy blocking style and toughness. Overall, Welsh is best in a phone booth where he can tie up rushers and his positional flexibility boosts his NFL grade, projecting as a back-up guard or center.

Round 6 (compensatory): Linebacker Leon Jacobs (Wisconsin)

Leon Jacobs

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 230 pounds

Landry has linebacker Leon Jacobs of Wisconsin rated No. 26 on his linebacker draft board, which means fifth to sixth round value.

Jacobs had a strong 2017 season for the Badgers, as he played outside linebacker after the departure of both T.J. Watt and Vince Biegel in the 2017 NFL draft. Jacobs also played some inside linebacker in both the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

In 2017, Jacobs had 60 total tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, two interceptions, three passes defensed, two fumble recoveries (one for a TD) and one forced fumble.

Jacobs was given Honorable Mention designation by both the coaches and the media for his performance in 2017.

At the combine, Jacobs turned a lot of heads, as he ran a 4.48 in the 40.

Here is Landry’s scouting report of Jacobs:

A one-year starter at Wisconsin, Jacobs blossomed as a senior outside linebacker in Wisconsin’s 3-4 base scheme, standing up and rushing off the edge. After bouncing between positions at inside linebacker and fullback as an underclassman, he found a home at outside linebacker in 2017, taking over for the departed T.J. Watt. With his hoops background, Jacobs is a balanced athlete on his feet and competes with a physical edge, relying on leverage, reach and motor as the main recipe for his pass rush. He doesn’t have poor awareness, but he is mentally undeveloped and needs more reps as a rusher, run defender and cover man. Overall, Jacobs is still in the development phase and there are “fit” concerns, but he is an ascending player with the effort and physical attitude to grow into a starting outside pass rush role in a 3-4 or SAM linebacker in a 4-3.

Round 7: Offensive Tackle David Bright (Stanford)

David Bright

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 307 pounds

Landry has David Bright of Stanford rated No. 21 on his offensive tackle draft board and gives him a seventh round or priority free agent value.

In 2016, Bright started 10 of 12 games played, four at left guard and six at right tackle. Then in 2017, Bright started started 14 games (two games at left tackle, one at right guard and 11 at left guard). His performance last season allowed Bright to get second-team All-American honors from The Sporting News and second-team All-Pac-12 notice from league coaches.

The Packers absolutely love versatility with any offensive lineman that they draft or sign as a free agent. Bright certainly adds that component to the offensive line.

This is what Landry has said about Bright:

Stanford T David Bright is smart, tough, hard worker who plays hurt. The 6-foot-5, 307-pounder also presents great positional versatility, increasing his draft value to be taken late.

Round 7 (compensatory): Running Back Phillip Lindsay (Colorado)

Phillip Lindsay

Height: 5’8″

Weight: 190 pounds

Landry has Phillip Lindsay of Colorado rated No. 24 on his running back draft board and gave him a seventh round or a priority free agent value.

In four years in Boulder, Lindsay rushed for 3,775 yards and 36 touchdowns, plus caught 117 passes for 1,084 yards and three more scores. Lindsay also returned kickoffs at times at Colorado.

I was very intrigued at the East-Shrine Game here in nearby St. Petersburg because of four Wisconsin Badgers playing in the game, but one of the other players who really stood out for me in the practices and the game was Lindsay.

At his pro day, Lindsay ran a very impressive 4.39 in the 40, which would have placed him second at the combine among RBs.

The Packers were very happy with the results that they received from two of their rookie running backs (Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones) last season, but one can never have enough talent in the backfield, especially one who can both run and catch the football like Lindsay can.

This is the scouting report Landry gives Lindsay:

A small guy who plays bigger and with good toughness. He will stick his nose in as a pass blocker despite lacking size to be an effective blocker. He is quick to the hole and has good run instincts. As a receiver he can separate and catch ball out of frame. Will need to be an effective returner and receiver in the passing game. I see him as a rotational 3rd down player.

Green Bay Packers: More Wisconsin Badgers on the Way in the 2018 NFL Draft?

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The Green Bay Packers made a significant change this offseason that many of the members of Packer Nation have been asking for. That was, the firing of defensive coordinator Dom Capers.

When head coach Mike McCarthy made that change, many, like NFL scout Chris Landry, thought that Vic Fangio might be a possibility to replace Capers.

But while Fangio decided to stay on as defensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears, McCarthy decided instead to bring in Mike Pettine to run his defense.

Pettine hadn’t coached in the NFL since 2015, which was his second and last year as head coach of the Cleveland Browns, where he was 10-22 over those two seasons. Not a great record, but it looks pretty good compared to the 0-16 mark that the Browns had in 2017.

Pettine was named head coach of the Browns because of his prowess as a defensive coordinator in the NFL. In five years at that position, four with the New York Jets under head coach Rex Ryan and one with the Buffalo Bills, Pettine always coordinated a top 10 defense.

From 2009 though 2012 with the Jets, his defenses were ranked first, third, fifth and eighth in the NFL in total defense, while in 2013 with the Bills, his defense was ranked 10th in that category.

There was one player who was a constant for Pettine, both as a coordinator and one year as a head coach. That player was safety Jim Leonhard, who is now the defensive coordinator for the Wisconsin Badgers.

Leonhard played under Pettine with the Jets from 2009 through 2011, then again with the Bills in 2013 and then finally with the Browns in 2014, which was Pettine’s first year as head coach.

In the year off between playing in the NFL and getting into coaching, Leonhard studied film in 2015 with then defensive coordinator Dave Aranda of the Badgers. Then, in 2016, head coach Paul Chryst of the Badgers hired Leonhard as the defensive backs coach of the Badgers to work under the new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.

When Wilcox left to become the head coach at Cal, Chryst surprised some people by making Leonhard his new defensive coordinator in 2017.

The decision turned out to be a wise one by Chryst.

Wisconsin has had a fairly long tradition of having good defenses over the past decade. From 2009 though 2012, the Badgers were ranked 16th, 21st, 20th and 13th in total defense in the country.

But when then head coach Gary Andersen brought in Aranda to be the defensive coordinator in 2013, things really changed for the better. First, Aranda switched the Badgers from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense.

The players definitely took hold of the new scheme as the Badgers were ranked eighth, fourth and second in total defense from 2013 to 2015, which was Aranda’s final year as defensive coordinator.

The after Aranda left to become the defensive coordinator at LSU, Wilcox took over in 2016, kept the 3-4 scheme, and the defense was ranked sixth in total defense.

But in 2017, in only Leonhard’s second year as a coach and his first as a defensive coordinator, the Badgers were ranked second in total defense (262.1 yards per game) and were exceptional in other statistical categories as well.

The Badgers were ranked third in scoring defense (13.9 points per game), third in rushing defense (98.4 yards per game), fifth in passing defense (163.6 yards per game) and tied for sixth in turnovers gained (29).

Leonhard also used the 3-4 scheme he had learned under both Aranda and Wilcox, plus sprinkled in concepts he had learned playing in the 3-4 defense he played in the NFL under Pettine.

Back when my college buddy Kevin Cosgrove was the defensive coordinator of the Badgers from 1995 through 2003, he told me that the coaching staffs of the Badgers and Packers would get together once every summer before training camp to discuss concepts and schemes.

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Mike Pettine and Jim Leonhard

Now, with Pettine and Leonhard being so closely aligned in the recent past, expect that there will be more than concepts being discussed between the two. I’m sure that there will be a discussion about players as well, especially since a number of former Wisconsin defenders who played under Leonhard in 2017 will be available in the 2018 NFL draft.

There are a number of Badger prospects who should interest Pettine and the Packers on defense. The list includes includes cornerback Nick Nelson, linebacker Jack Cichy, linebacker Garret Dooley, linebacker Leon Jacobs, safety Natrell Jamerson, defensive lineman Alec James and defensive lineman Conor Sheehy.

General manager Ted Thompson of the Packers did select linebacker Vince Biegel of the Badgers in the 2017 NFL draft, when he was selected with the first pick of the fourth round.

But it was the bookend to Biegel on the Badgers, that many, including myself, thought Thompson should have selected. I’m talking about T.J. Watt.

I had the Packers taking Watt in the first round of my first mock draft from last year, as well as in my final mock draft.

Watt ended up being named to the 2017 NFL All-Rookie Team at linebacker.

This year, Thompson has stepped away from his duties as general manager and has been replaced by Brian Gutekunst.

When Thompson was GM, he was almost always a regular at the Wisconsin pro day prior to the draft. You can be assured that Gutekunst will do the same thing and that he will be accompanied by folks like McCarthy, offensive coordinator Joe Philbin and Pettine.

McCarthy and Philbin will be taking a close look at tight end Troy Fumagalli, as well as fullback Austin Ramesh.

Fumagalli would certainly fill a big hole for the Packers at tight end, and the offense of the Packers under McCarthy are always looking for multi-skilled fullbacks, and Ramesh certainly fills that role.

But it is the defense of the Packers which desperately needs upgrading. The Packers were ranked 22nd in total defense in 2017, as they allowed an average of 348.9 yards per game.

Green Bay was ranked 23rd in passing defense (236.8 yards per game) and was ranked 17th in rushing defense (112.1 yards per game).

The Packers played the run fairly well in the early part of the 2017 season, but got progressively worse as the year wore on.

The pass defense of the team was basically in disarray all season long.

The Packers were ranked second-worst in the NFL in opponent’s passer rating, as the season average was 102.0. That is an amazing and very disappointing stat. Why? Because there is only one quarterback in NFL history (based on 1,500 pass attempts) who has a passer rating over 100. That is Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, who has a career mark of 103.8.

To give up a season average of 102.0 is almost unfathomable. Plus Green Bay also allowed opposing QBs to complete 67.8 percent of their passes. The Pack also allowed 30 touchdown passes and only had 11 picks. The defense also allowed 55 completions of 20 yards or better.

That is why the Pettine will certainly want to look at cornerbacks in the draft like Nelson, who received a second-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board. Or safeties in the draft like Jamerson, who had a great week of practice at the East-West Shrine Game, plus was named Defensive MVP of the game itself.

Jamerson definitely improved his draft stock in the Shrine game and is currently projected to get selected late in the draft.

Cichy was probably the best player on the Wisconsin defense in 2016 (which included Watt) in 2016, before he tore his pectoral muscle. In seven games in 2016, Cichy was a magnet for the football, as he had 60 total tackles, seven tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.

Cichy didn’t play in 2017 due to a knee injury suffered in training camp. “Three-Sack Jack” could have come back to play for Wisconsin in 2018, as he was eligible for a medical redshirt, but he decided to declare for the NFL draft instead. Cichy received his nickname due to the three consecutive sacks he had in the 2015 Holiday Bowl versus USC, when the Badgers beat the Trojans 23-21 and Cichy was Defensive MVP of the game.

Jack Cichy

Jack Cichy

Cichy would definitely add some talent to the linebacker depth of the Packers, as he can play inside or outside. Right now Cichy is slotted to be picked anywhere from the fourth through the sixth round. How Cichy is clocked in the 40 at the NFL Scouting Combine and at the Wisconsin pro day will definitely determine where teams will slot him in the draft.

The Packers would seem to be in an excellent position to select Cichy if they like him, as they are slotted to have four picks in the fifth round according to Over The Cap. The Packers will have their own selections in each of the seven rounds of the draft, plus will be also have an additional seventh round pick because of a trade with the Bills, when the team shipped linebacker Lerentee McCray to Buffalo in 2016.

The NFL will officially announce the number of compensatory picks each team will receive soon, but Over The Cap has the Packers getting one in the third round and three in the fifth round. That would mean the Packers would have 12 picks overall in the 2018 NFL draft.

*** The NFL announced on Friday that the Packers were awarded four compensatory picks Friday in the 2018 draft: a fourth-round pick (No. 133 overall), two fifth-round picks (Nos. 172 and 174) and a sixth-round pick (No. 207).

Dooley is another player who could help the linebacker corp for the Packers. He was very consistent for the Badgers at outside linebacker in both 2016 and 2017, as he had 79 total tackles, 17 tackles for a loss and 9.5 sacks. Dooley is another prospect slotted to be selected in the fifth round or later.

Jacobs had a great senior year for the Badgers, as he had 60 total tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, 3.5 sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown). Jacobs, like Cichy, can play either inside or outside. Jacobs is also expected to go late in the draft.

In terms of the defensive line, both James and Sheehy were very good in stopping the run at Wisconsin. James also had 11 sacks in his career as a Badgers, while Sheehy added six. Both James and Sheehy are projected to go late in the draft or be signed as an undrafted rookie free agent.

The draft stock of all these players will be helped or diminished by how they perform at the combine and at their pro day.

All of the Wisconsin draft prospects certainly know how to win, as the Badgers have gone 34-7 under Chryst the past three seasons (10-3, 11-3 and 13-1), which includes bowl wins in the Holiday Bowl, Cotton Bowl and the Orange Bowl.

But based on the connection between Pettine and Leonhard, I definitely could see at least one Badger defender taken in this draft by the Packers, especially based on the seven picks the team will have from the fifth round through the seventh, where a number of the Wisconsin defensive prospects are slotted.

2018 NFL Draft: Four Wisconsin Badgers in the 2018 East-West Shrine Game

Natrell Jamerson

Natrell Jamerson of the Wisconsin Badgers in the Orange Bowl.

In terms of NFL teams getting ready for the 2018 NFL draft, two of the college all-star games, the East-West Shrine Game and the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, get played this weekend. Both games will primarily feature players who will be drafted in the later rounds of the draft or will just be undrafted rookie free agents.

I focus more on the East-West Shrine Game, as the game is played in the area (St. Petersburg, Florida) in which I live.

The Green Bay Packers have drafted some players recently who have played in this game and one of those players has turned out to be a pretty good performer in the NFL, even though he is no longer a member of the Packers.

I’m talking about defensive back Micah Hyde, now of the Buffalo Bills. Then general manager Ted Thompson met with Hyde (Iowa) during the week of the East-West game in 2013 and ended up drafting him in the fifth round.

In four years in Green Bay, Hyde started 33 games at both cornerback and safety and had 234 total tackles, four sacks, two fumble recoveries, eight interceptions and 25 passes defended.

Hyde was not played at his best position enough, which is safety, and his lack of great speed hurt him at times when he played cornerback. All in all though, Hyde was solid in the secondary in Green Bay more times than not.

Hyde was also exceptional at times with his ability to return punts, as he returned three of them for touchdowns in his fours years as a Packer.

But when Hyde became a unrestricted free agent in 2017, the Packers did not make him a priority and saw him sign a new deal with Buffalo, where he excelled last season. As a Bill, where he played strictly safety, Hyde had five picks and made the Pro Bowl.

Last year, the Packers and Thompson drafted one player (wide receiver DeAngelo Yancey of Purdue) who played in the East-West Shrine Game and signed another (offensive lineman Adam Pankey of West Virginia) as an undrafted free agent. Both Yancey and Pankey are on the current roster of the Packers.

This year things will be a bit different for the Packers, as Brian Gutekunst is now the general manager, although Thompson is still in the front office as a senior advisor in scouting.

In this year’s East-West game, there will be four members of the Wisconsin Badgers on the defense of the West team. They are safety Natrell Jamerson, linebacker Leon Jacobs, defensive lineman Conor Sheehy and defensive lineman Alec James.

NFL scout Chris Landry has said that all four of these players are draft eligible in 2018. So is fullback Austin Ramesh, who is playing NFLPA game this Saturday.

Green Bay should be taking a close look at all of these players, because all of them could help the depth for the Packers at the positions in which they play. Not to mention, the Badgers also play the 3-4 defense, just as the Packers do, although Green Bay will be more flexible in their defensive schemes under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine.

The Badgers didn’t just play the 3-4 defense well in 2017, they played it exceptionally well. Wisconsin finished second in the country in total defense, only behind national champion Alabama.

The Badgers were also ranked third in scoring defense, third in rushing defense and fifth in passing defense.

Everyone of the Wisconsin defensive players in the Shrine game played a key role in that success.

Landry has been especially impressed with the way Jamerson has looked so far this week in East-West practices. This is what Landry noted about the former Badger safety earlier this week.

“Wisconsin safety Natrell Jamerson had an impressive opening day. In the team scrimmage, he flew across the field to track down an interception in front of a receiver and cornerback. It was a very nice play as Jamerson showed speed and an ability to track the ball. Jamerson (6-0, 198) is a versatile athlete who could end up really helping himself this week.”

Jamerson really flourished as a senior with the Badgers at safety, as he had 51 total tackles, 3.5 for a loss, 1.5 sacks, had 10 passes defended and had two interception, including one for a touchdown.

Jamerson also returned a kickoff for a touchdown as a sophomore.

Jacobs has also helped himself according to Landry.

“Leon Jacobs of Wisconsin, who primarily played on the line of scrimmage for the Badgers, has been used in a more traditional linebacker role here at Shrine practices and has looked solid. His footwork scraping laterally and dropping into coverage needs work, but Jacobs has held his ground against tight ends and running backs who come across the field.”

Leon Jacobs

Leon Jacobs

Jacobs had a very solid career at Wisconsin. The 6’2″, 245-pound Jacobs had 142 total tackles, 16 tackles for a loss, 6.5 sacks, three interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries (one for a touchdown).

Sheehy and James did excellent work in the trenches for the Badgers in their careers, as evidenced by the way the Wisconsin defense has been able to stop the run over the past four years.

In his career with the Badgers, the 6’3″, 272-pound James had 100 total tackles, 15.5 tackles for a loss, 11 sacks, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble.

Sheehy also had an excellent career while playing at Wisconsin, as he had 94 total tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, six sacks and one forced fumble.

The four Badgers will be going up against three very dynamic quarterbacks on the East squad, including one that they are very familiar with. That would be J.T. Barrett of Ohio State.

The 6’2″, 220-pound Barrett once again put up great numbers in 2017, as he threw 35 touchdown passes versus just nine picks for 3,042 yards. Barrett also rushed for 809 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Another quarterback on the East squad is one I am very familiar with, as Quinton Flowers played here locally with the USF Bulls. The 6’0″, 210-pound Flowers is similar to Barrett in a number of ways. In 2017, Flowers threw 25 touchdown passes versus six picks for 2,911 yards. Flowers also rushed for 1,078 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The third quarterback for the East squad is Riley Ferguson of Memphis, who has the best chance of the three to advance to the NFL level at quarterback, as both Barrett and Flowers will probably change positions at some point.

The 6’4″, 210-pound Ferguson threw 38 touchdowns versus nine picks for 4,257 yards.

The East squad also has a player who has definitely made a name for himself in front of the scouts this week. I’m talking about wide receiver Daurice Fountain of Northern Iowa. The 6’1″, 210-pound Fountain has impressed scouts like Landry, as he explains.

“Fountain showed flashes of ability during the initial two Shrine practices then really pulled it together on Wednesday morning and was the top receiver on the field. He catches the ball well, showing good hand-eye coordination as well as the ability to win out for contested passes. Fountain was probably the fastest receiver on the field during East practice, showing a terrific burst and the ability to outrun defenders down the sidelines. He looks primed to be a fourth or fifth man on the depth chart at the next level, and displaying return skills during Saturday’s game will only enhance his draft stock.”

The Packers would be wise to keep their eye on Fountain knowing the issues the team now has at the wide receiver position.  That’s because both Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb will most likely be looking at getting their contracts renegotiated at a lower price, especially with the re-signing of Davante Adams to a four-year $58 million contract extension.

Nelson is set to make $10.2 million this year, while Cobb will make $9.5 million.

Bottom line, the Packers can help themselves by keeping a close eye on the talent in the East-West Shrine Game, especially the home grown defensive talent who played with the Badgers.

Wisconsin Football: Updated (12/31/17) Bowl History of the Badgers

Paul Chryst at the Orange Bowl

The Wisconsin Badgers are now 15-14 in their bowl history after last night’s 34-24 victory over the Miami Hurricanes at the Orange Bowl.

The bowl game was the 11th bowl game the Badgers have played in the state of Florida since 1995.

Wisconsin has played in the Hall of Fame Bowl once (1995), the Outback Bowl four times (1998, 2005, 2008 and 2015), the Capital One Bowl three times (2006, 2007 and 2014), the Champs Sports Bowl twice (2008 and 2009) and now the Orange Bowl (2017).

The Badgers have now beaten the Hurricanes twice in bowl games (the 2009 Champs Sports Bowl and the 2017 Orange Bowl).

The bowl victory was the fourth straight victory for the Badgers and their third consecutive bowl win under Paul Chryst, who took over the head coaching duties in 2015. Chryst now has an overall record of 34-7 in three seasons (10-3, 11-3 and 13-1) in Madison, which includes bowl wins now in the Holiday Bowl, Cotton Bowl and now the Orange Bowl.

The run of success that the Badgers have had in bowl games started when Barry Alvarez arrived on the scene as head coach at Wisconsin in 1990. Up until that point in time, the Badgers were 1-5 in bowl games.

Alvarez and the rest of his coaching staff built a program that went 118-73-4 in from 1990 through 2005, which includes three Big Ten titles, three Rose Bowl wins and an overall bowl record of 8-3.

Alvarez later became an interim head coach of the Badgers for both the 2013 Rose Bowl (20-14 loss) and the 2015 Outback Bowl (34-31 win) to put his overall record at 119-74-4 and 9-4 in bowl games.

Alvarez is now athletic director at Wisconsin, a position he took in 2004. Alvarez served in a dual role as head coach/athletic director in 2004 and 2005 before he just remained as athletic director since 2006.

Alvarez has hired three head coaches during his time as AD. First it was Bret Bielema (70-28), who coached the Badgers from 2006 through 2012. After that came a two-year period (2013 and 2014) with Gary Anderson (19-8).  Alvarez then hired Chryst in December of 2014 to become head coach for Wisconsin.

I have gone to six of the bowl games that the Badgers played in the Sunshine State. It started in 1995 at the Hall of Fame Bowl when Wisconsin took on the Duke Blue Devils.

Because I was a college buddy of defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove of the Badgers, I was able to see the Badgers work out at Tampa Stadium in practice a day before the game.

A couple of friends and I also sat next to the coaches’ wives at the actual game as Wisconsin beat Duke 34-20.

That was the first game in which Cosgrove was the defensive coordinator for the Badgers under Alvarez. He replaced Dan McCarney, who had left to become head coach at Iowa State.

Cosgrove stayed on as defensive coordinator through the 2003 season. He coordinated those great defenses on the 1998 and 1999 Wisconsin teams that won back-to-back Big Ten titles and the Rose Bowl.

My fondest memory of watching the Badgers at a bowl game was being at the team hotel (Westin Tampa Harbour Island) after the Hall of Fame Bowl and smoking a victory cigar with a number of the coaches (including Alvarez and Cosgrove) overlooking the Hillsborough River from the balcony.

Here is the complete history of the 29 bowl games Wisconsin has played in:

  • 1953 Rose Bowl: USC 7, Wisconsin 0
  • 1960 Rose Bowl: Washington 44, Wisconsin 8
  • 1963 Rose Bowl: USC 42, Wisconsin 37
  • 1981 Garden State Bowl: Tennessee 28, Wisconsin 21
  • 1982 Independence Bowl: Wisconsin 14, Kansas State 3
  • 1984 Hall of Fame Classic Bowl: Kentucky 20, Wisconsin 19
  • 1994 Rose Bowl: Wisconsin 21, UCLA 16
  • 1995 Hall of Fame Bowl: Wisconsin 34, Duke 20
  • 1996 Copper Bowl: Wisconsin 38, Utah 10
  • 1998 Outback Bowl: Georgia 33, Wisconsin 6
  • 1999 Rose Bowl: Wisconsin 38, UCLA 31
  • 2000 Rose Bowl: Wisconsin 17, Stanford 9
  • 2000 Sun Bowl: Wisconsin 21, UCLA 20
  • 2002 Alamo Bowl: Wisconsin 31, Colorado 28
  • 2003 Music City Bowl: Auburn 28, Wisconsin 14
  • 2005 Outback Bowl: Georgia 24, Wisconsin 21
  • 2006 Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin 24, Auburn 10
  • 2007 Capital One Bowl: Wisconsin 17, Arkansas 14
  • 2008 Outback Bowl: Tennessee 21, Wisconsin 17
  • 2008 Champs Sports Bowl: Florida State 42, Wisconsin 13
  • 2009 Champs Sports Bowl: Wisconsin 20, Miami (FL) 14
  • 2011 Rose Bowl: TCU 21, Wisconsin 19
  • 2012 Rose Bowl: Oregon 45, Wisconsin 38
  • 2013 Rose Bowl: Stanford 20, Wisconsin 14
  • 2014 Capital One Bowl: South Carolina 34, Wisconsin 24
  • 2015 Outback Bowl: Wisconsin 34, Auburn 31
  • 2015 Holiday Bowl: Wisconsin 23, USC 21
  • 2017 Cotton Bowl: Wisconsin 24, Western Michigan 16
  • 2017 Orange Bowl: Wisconsin 34, Miami (FL) 24