Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Off and running for the season
Defense helps UW overcome early miscues
MADISON – So who predicted Wisconsin’s revamped defense would be stout early and UW’s offense, with most of its 2017 starters back, would be erratic early in the opener against Western Kentucky? Anyone?
With UW’s defense allowing just three first downs and 79 yards in the opening half, the offense had the luxury of overcoming early miscues and missed chances before warming up.
Alex Hornibrook and Jonathan Taylor took advantage for two scores in the final three-plus minutes of the first half to help UW build a 24-point cushion and the Badgers were able to coast to a 34-3 victory over the Hilltoppers on Friday night at Camp Randall Stadium.
UW (1-0), ranked No. 7 in the Amway coaches poll and No. 4 in The Associated Press poll, extended two winning streaks.
The Badgers have won 23 consecutive home openers and 40 consecutive home games against nonconference foes.
UW last lost its home opener in 1995, a 43-7 decision to Colorado. The Badgers’ last home loss to a nonconference foe came on Sept. 13, a 23-5 decision to UNLV.
Taylor, who led the Big Ten in rushing last season (141.2 yards per game) and finished with an FBS freshman-record 1,977 yards, was limited to a total of 9 yards on his first four carries.
Taylor took his next carry 47 yards to the end zone to help UW take a 7-0 lead with 7 minutes 38 seconds left in the first quarter. He finished the half with 100 yards and two touchdowns on just 11 carries as UW built a 24-0 lead.
Taylor's final numbers: 18 carries, 145 yards and two touchdowns but one last fumble deep inside UW territory.
Hornibrook hit 12 of 21 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown, a 2-yarder to Kendric Pryor with eight seconds left in the first half. He finished 17 of 29 for 257 yards and two touchdowns.
A.J. Taylor led the receivers with five catches for 85 yards. Tight end
Jake Ferguson added four catches for 43 yards.
With wide receiver Quintez Cephus suspended indefinitely because of two sexual assault charges, wide receiver Danny Davis suspended for the first two games and tight end Zander Neuville out with a hamstring injury, the offense sputtered early.
The Badgers managed just 10 points and a combined 141 yards on their first five possessions.
Hornibrook, Pryor and Jonathan Taylor combined to give UW its third score
and a 17-0 lead with 3:48 left in the half.
Facing third and 10 from midfield, Hornibrook stepped up into the pocket and found Pryor for 20 yards to the Western Kentucky 30.
Taylor got key blocks from tight end Kyle Penniston and guard Beau Benzschawel and used Ferguson as a shield down the left sideline for a touchdown.
After UW’s defense allowed one first down before forcing a punt, the Badgers took over at their 25 with one timeout left and 1:56 on the clock.
Hornibrook overcame a sack and two incompletions to hit 5 of 7 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. That came when he rolled left and found Pryor in the back of the end zone.
Pryor finished with four catches for 51 yards and the lone touchdown but left the game early in the second half with cramps.
UW’s defense, minus seven starters from 2017, controlled an inexperienced Western Kentucky offense in the first half.
The Hilltoppers used two big pass plays to move from their 25 to the UW 9 but the drive stalled and they settled for a 25-yard field goal with 13:15 left in the third quarter.
UW answered with a 42-yard fieldgoal by Rafael Gaglianone for a 27-3 lead and the defense then made its best stand of the night.
The Hilltoppers drove from their 25 to the UW 9 but faced third and 3 and tried to surprise UW with a trick play.
Quarterback Drew Eckels handed off to tailback Garland LaFrance, who started left. He pitched the ball to wide receiver Quin Jernighan, who came around from the left side of the Western Kentucky formation.
Jernighan tried to hit Eckels deep down the right side but the ball floated and cornerback Faion Hicks was able to make a leaping interception at the UW 3.
A lost fumble five plays later by Jonathan Taylor, who had ball-security issues in the second half of the 2017 season, allowed the Hilltoppers to take over at the UW 18.
They managed just 4 yards on four plays, however, and UW held.
UW then drove 86 yards in seven plays, with tailback Garrett Groshek turning a screen into a 43-yard score.