The Wisconsin Badgers finished the 2018 regular season campaign on a fitting note. Disastrous.
Bucky finished a tumultuous campaign off by losing 37-15 to Minnesota for the first time in 15 years, and thus losing the coveted Paul Bunyan’s Axe. There were so many things that went terribly wrong this year that you could write a novel about it. Where does the blame begin? Coaching? Players? Or was it just bad luck? Paul Chryst has been great in his first three seasons as head coach, but in his fourth year he never really faced the adversity he did this season. It’s time to examine if it is fair to put Chryst on the hot seat entering the 2019 season.
Is Paul Chryst On The Hot-Seat?
Off-the-field distractions began before the season even started. In August, star wide receiver Quintez Cephus was suspended indefinitely for sexual assault charges. Danny Davis III, another key play maker, joined him, being suspended for two games for his role in the alleged assault.
That was not all. In on field related issues, expected anchor of the defensive line Garrett Rand was lost for the year with a torn Achilles. Also on the d-line, Isaiahh Loudermilk was lost for a portion of the season after surgery late in the off season. The defensive unit instantly became full of youth and inexperience. Young players were forced to step into bigger roles earlier than expected across the board in 2018.
Offensively, this team has seen less progression than was expected coming into the season. The receivers while talented, are limited because Alex Hornibrook has regressed as a capable passer. As a quarterback his decision making is questionable at best. On top of that his footwork is awkward, and his passes at times can be downright awful. He’s not alone however. The offensive line has been brutal in pass protection.
Chryst is not excused from this. Hornibrook is his guy. The junior quarterback literally followed Chryst from Pittsburgh to Madison when it was announced he was taking the Wisconsin job. Chryst is supposed to be a proverbial QB whisperer. This makes it much more disappointing with the lack of development from Hornibrook. Make no mistake about it, he will be in a battle this spring for his job. Back up Jack Coan and incoming recruit Graham Mertz will give him all he can handle.
Jonathon Taylor is the lone exception to this offense. He was outstanding in his sophomore season. Come the bowl game, he’ll be just 11 yards shy of 2,000, along with 15 touchdowns. Next season may likely be his last, and surely the Badgers do not want to waste his talents away.
If this offense wants to be more successful, Chryst needs to choose a quarterback that can threaten a defense over the top. Only time will tell, but if the offense is anything like this season, Chyrst could be the one on the chopping block for his inability to find a quarterback to pair with the talent around him.
The 2018 campaign was a trying one for this Chryst, defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, and this unit. Injuries effectively put this group behind the eight ball from the beginning. The aforementioned injuries to Rand and Loudermilk, along with veteran defensive tackle Olive Sagapolu left the defensive front small, and lacking depth. Freshman Kayden Lyles made the transition to defensive line from the other side of the trenches. Still, throughout the season the linemen were perpetually overwhelmed and lacked any real pass rush that Badger fans were accustom to having.
Inside linebackers TJ Edwards and Ryan Connelly were as good as advertised. They remained active and consistent finishing first and second on the team in tackles. However, even they couldn’t help this defense overcome their youth and relative inexperience. Injuries to Andrew Van Ginkel and D’Cota Dixon were lethal. Chryst and Leonhard had to rely on freshman to put in their places. While this could ultimately help the development of guys like Scott Nelson, Caesar Williams, Rachad Wildgoose, Madison Cone and Faion Hicks, their lack of experience showed. The back end was often gashed for big plays over the top (200 YPG). Couple that with a front seven that couldn’t stop the run (158 YPG), and you have a recipe for an average defense.
A majority of these players are young and will improve, but you cannot just expect that. Along with that, this defense loses its three best players in Edwards, Connelly, and Van Ginkel. Chryst and Leonhard have a lot of work to do in order for this unit to get back to its dominant levels of the prior four seasons.
Expectations were shattered the moment this team lost to BYU at Camp Randall. The Badgers were supposed to contend for a spot in the College Football Playoffs. Instead, they didn’t even win the Big Ten West. Or retain the Axe. It is reasonable to call this season a massive disappointment.
That being said, even after this season, Badger fans would be unreasonable to say Paul Chryst is on the hot seat. It’s important to realize that this team won double digit games the past three seasons under Chryst. Furthermore, there were two New Years Six bowl game victories. He knows what it takes to win. One disappointing season (no matter how bad it was) should put him on the chopping block coming into next season. However, if the team continues to struggle in the coming season and moving forward, then it will be time for AD Barry Alvarez to evaluate his options moving forward.
Only time will tell.