As 2019 kicks off, Paul Chryst and the Wisconsin Badgers are looking ahead to the next campaign. This past year saw massive hype, disappointing letdowns, and widespread inconsistency. Plagued by injuries, inexperience at key positions, and slow development, 2018 became a forgetful year for Bucky.
The Badgers failed to live up to expectations. It happens. When you get a group of 18-22-year-olds, there are no guaranteed paths to consistent success. While the season fell short of fans hopes and dreams, there were bright spots. Amidst a tumultuous season, new players were discovered that will make up key pieces to the puzzle that is getting back to the high standard of Wisconsin football.
Moving forward in 2019, there is lots of room for improvement for the Chryst’s group. Like all teams, they have room for improvement. As we take on the new year, this article will look at possible new years resolutions Chryst may consider when it comes to improving his football team.
1. Find a Consistent Quarterback
Senior to be Alex Hornibrook did not take the desired step forward that coaches and fans alike were expecting. He struggled with simple throws and was inadequate on the deep ball. His completion percentage went down, and his already sketchy TD-INT ratio worsened. The inconsistencies are alarming, and coming off multiple concussions there is no guarantee he keeps his job.
Enter Jack Coan and Graham Mertz. Coan started four games this season, appearing in five total, and held his own in Big Ten play. In the away game at Purdue, he showcased the ability to command the offense and make throws Hornibrook hadn’t made all season. He deserves a shot at least at the starting job in the spring.
The wildcard is Mertz. The heralded incoming freshman will arrive in Madison as an early enrollee and be ready for spring ball. Ranked as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, Badger fans have grown impatient awaiting his arrival. As a result, his expectations are sky high. While the Bucky faithful should still be patient, there is no denying the talent is there. If he performs well enough, he could start from the get-go and elevate this offense.
2. Find Capable Replacements at Inside Linebacker
T.J. Edwards and Ryan Connelly have been mainstays in defensive coordinator Jim Leonard’s defense for the last three to four years. Both Edwards and Connelly have led the Badgers in tackles each of the last three seasons. It will be imperative to the success of not just the Badgers defense, but to the team, for Chryst and Leonard to find capable replacements for the two.
Luckily, there are in-house replacements ready to take the role. Chris Orr, who will be a fifth-year senior, will take one of the two roles. Orr has started or seen significant playing time throughout his career. Looking past that, there are numerous options. Specifically, Jack Sanborn. Sanborn, a highly touted freshman, has all the tools to become the next great inside linebacker at Wisconsin. At 6’2, 230lbs, he has the size to withstand a grueling Big Ten season.
3. Generating a Consistent Pass Rush
In addition to finding capable inside linebackers, Leonard’s defense needs to find playmakers who can generate a pass rush. Gone is the game changer that was Andrew Van Ginkel, creating a hole in an already inconsistent part of Wisconsin’s defense. Senior Zack Baun will lead the pass rush, but he will need help. Leonard is hoping that he gets a healthy Garrett Rand and Isaiah Loudermilk for the season, as their injuries proved irreplaceable for a young defensive line.
Still, Leonard must find a replacement for Van Ginkel. Look no further than Spencer Lytle, who is currently in high school. The freshman had offers all around the country, including national champion Clemson. He could be the missing piece that brings back a once-vaunted Badger pass rush. In house players like Christian Bell and Tyler Johnson must take the next step forward to provide depth as well.
4. Growth in the Secondary
It is no secret that the secondary was picked on all season. However, if the bowl game against Miami is any indication, this group is improving steadily under the tutelage of Leonard.
Senior safety and emotional leader D’Cota Dixon missed large parts of the season due to injury. That forced young players like Scott Nelson, Eric Burrell, Faion Hicks, Rachad Wildgoose, and Caesar Williams to grow up fast. The incredible thing about all of them? They each have at least two years of eligibility remaining. This group is young and talented. Inconsistencies at this stage were to be expected. This offseason is imperative for this group to take the next step, and become a lockdown secondary. Turning a weakness into a strength can be the difference in what was an eight-win season, and what could double-digit win season.
5. Establishing Leadership
Leaving Madison is not just an incredible group of players, but vocal leaders who had an impact on and off the field. For the last few seasons, guys like Edwards, Connelly, and Dixon have guided this team through the highs and lows. Chryst will hope to have players ready to take the mantle that has been set before them.
Players like the aforementioned Baun and Burrell, along with Jonathon Taylor and A.J. Taylor, look like the next guys to take the reigns. Wisconsin has had a storied tradition of leadership, identifying the next group will be essential to the teams on field success.
All in all, there are many improvements required this coming spring for Wisconsin football to return to its standard of excellence. These resolutions are not by any means full proof. Of course, it will take a commitment to make sure they are ultimately successful.
If not, like all resolutions, there is always next year!