The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers meet the Wisconsin Badgers for just the second time on Friday night. The fourth-ranked Badgers are heavily favored in this game, and for good reason. They have an Orange Bowl MVP, 2017’s best freshman running back, multiple All-American lineman, and that’s just their offense!
For more on the Badgers’ showdown with the Tops, I sat down with Wisconsin football writer and deputy manager of Buckys5thQuarter.com Jake Kocorowski.
1. What can you tell me about Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook?
Hornibrook should be much improved from last year--and last season he was pretty good. He threw for 25 touchdowns and completed over 62 percent of his passes; however, he also threw 15 interceptions which fans derided him for.
At the end of the season, he played his best game, throwing for 258 yards with four touchdowns and no picks against Miami in Wisconsin’s 34-24 Orange Bowl victory on Dec. 30.
The redshirt junior southpaw looked extremely solid during fall camp, showing the arm strength while also making accurate deep throws. If he keeps his turnover levels down, Hornibrook could take his game to the next level with an offense that could score between 35-45 points per game with an experienced, All-American line, a Heisman-caliber running back and some receiving threats (despite the suspensions of Quintez Cephus and Danny Davis).
2. What, if anything, worries you about Western’s team this year?
I think just the type of offense the Hilltoppers throws at Wisconsin will be something to watch. UW’s offense is very much not an up-tempo look, and head coach Paul Chryst’s scheme can often employs multiple tight ends. So what WKU shows will be a change-up to what the Badgers’ defense has faced for the past four-plus weeks during fall camp. There’s a lot of talent on defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard’s unit, but there is an unproven set of cornerbacks with not much game experience outside of redshirt sophomore Dontye Carriere-Williams--who actually just announced he was granted his full release from the program on Wednesday night. I will be interested to see how the younger secondary--namely corners Faion Hicks and Caesar Williams--matches up and adapts to what they see on the field early on.
3. Who are 2-3 names on this Wisconsin team the casual football fan does not know, but should?
First one right off the bat is redshirt senior inside linebacker Ryan Connelly. The former walk-on has stepped in when injuries have hit the position group the past two seasons and has become an underrated contributor to the unit and an NFL prospect (in my humble opinion). He led the team in tackles last year and has the ability to track down would-be ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage.
Wide receivers A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor could be big name receiving threats in Wisconsin’s offense. Taylor put together more-than-solid spring and fall camp sessions, while Pryor was the star of the latter in reeling in some contested red zone catches and deep throws for would-be touchdowns. With Cephus and Davis suspended from the team, those two become the top wide outs for the Badgers.
4. Your final score prediction?
I think Wisconsin wins handily with an offensive line that should match-up well with the 4-2-5 defense. The defense will be something to watch against Western Kentucky’s offense and the Badgers replacing seven starters on that unit, but I believe UW starts 2018 with a 51-13 win.
5. What are some good food spots to hit up in Madison for the WKU fans in town?
Awww man -- breakfast you have to go to Greenbush Bakery on Regent Street. Best donuts in town. Rest of your meals, take in Dotty’s Dumpling Dowry (best burgers in town, honestly), Ian’s Pizza (yum) and State Street Brats (beers and yes...brats). If you’re able to go towards the capitol area, check out the Old Fashioned, Cooper’s Tavern and The Tornado Steakhouse (the latter with a late night menu that is really affordable and delicious).
For more on this game, you can head to Buckys5thQuarter.com and read the Q&A that I did with Jake about the Tops!