Behind Enemy Lines: Wisconsin football beat writer Jesse Temple discusses CMU game

Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst on the sideline in the 2nd quarter. Wisconsin Badgers hosted BYU at Camp Randall Stadium Saturday Sept. 15, 2018. (Steve Apps/State Journal)

Central Michigan Life's Evan Petzold spoke with Wisconsin beat writer Jesse Temple from The Athletic to preview Central Michigan's 3:30 p.m. Sept. 7 game against the No. 17 Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.

Wisconsin began the season with a 49-0 win over South Florida at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. The offense accounted for 435 yards. In 2018, the Badgers finished 8-5 overall and 5-4 in Big Ten Conference action.

Temple discussed star running back Jonathan Taylor, starting quarterback Jack Coan and much more on both sides of the ball in this exclusive Q&A.

Central Michigan Life: What is there to know about Wisconsin entering Week 2?

Jesse Temple: Well, they’ve got the reigning Doak Walker Award winner with Jonathan Taylor, and I think it starts there offensively because of how unbelievably talented he is. He’s the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week, and he just had two touchdown runs and two touchdown catches. He’s expanded his game and really showed the country on Friday night because of his pass-catching abilities. It just makes him more dynamic and Wisconsin even better. It starts with him, but there’s a solid wide receiver corps.

Quintez Cephus is back this season. He was suspended last season and then expelled because he faced sexual assault charges. He was acquitted of those charges in early August and rejoined the team. I think he played a ton of snaps, even though he had only been on the team for a week and a half. They just have a lot of weapons to use.

Defensively, they pitched a shutout. They’re much better than where they were a year ago – deeper and healthier at every position. However, the injury report this week listed a few key guys (right tackle Logan Bruss, safety Scott Nelson, linebacker Izayah Green-May) as out. They’re starters, so those are a couple of things to keep in mind.

How much does using Jonathan Taylor as a receiving back help the offense?

They’re going to use him in that capacity all season. It’s something we saw in fall camp, and the coaching staff has been adamant that they wanted to get it to him the ball in different ways. He’s wanted that, too. He wants to be that every-down back that shows NFL scouts why he’s the best running back in the country. I think that’s going to continue. 

What it does is open up the offense. In his first two years, he was probably in on first or second down to run the ball. The defense could game plan that. It didn’t work that much because he ran for 4,171 yards (2017 and 2018). It makes him more versatile. They showed in the first game a two-back set that featured Taylor and Garrett Groshek, which is something they hadn’t done before. They’re trying to come up with different ways to make the defense think a little more and give the offense more opportunities to succeed. I think it was clear from the first game that they are a more versatile offense than a year ago.”

If you’re Central Michigan, what’s the best way to attack the defense?

Last year, I would’ve said the defensive line. They weren’t healthy, were young and weren’t very good at stopping the run. But they were pretty darn good at stopping the run against South Florida, so I don’t know. That’s a hard question to answer. South Florida did not have much success through the air. (Wisconsin’s) got a lot of guys they rotate on the back end. If they’re tested, maybe things change if the quarterback has more protection. Every defense has its hole, but it’s so hard to say because they were so good in the first game.”

Are there any weaknesses on offense?

If you’re a defense, you have to think, ‘Where are we going to test Wisconsin’s offense?’ It’s not going to be the ground game because Taylor is just that talented. It’s the passing game. Last year, Wisconsin was not as efficient as it wanted to be through the air. That was when the team had Alex Hornibrook, and Jack Coan started four games when Hornibrook was hurt. He was much better in the opener because this is his team – he’s the leader. There were a couple of instances where he took deep shots and missed throws you have to make. I think it’s about making Wisconsin beat you through the air. That’s easier said than done. Even though Coan is the unquestioned starter of this team, he’s only started five college games. That’s where I’d look.

Who are some backups for Wisconsin that could make an impact?

Offensively, one guy that stood out to me as a backup was running back Nakia Watson. He’s a redshirt freshman. His first college action was against South Florida, and he carried 14 times for 80 yards and had a nice 27-yard touchdown. I know the staff is very high on him, and he could become the next running back in line whenever the time comes for Taylor to move on. Only two of those 14 carries were in the first half, but they were when the game was 7-0. I think he’s talented.

Defensively, they were sound, but two of their leading tacklers were their reserve inside linebackers – Mike Maskalunas and Leo Chenal, who is a true freshman. He’s so physically imposing, and I think he’s going to be special. Those are a couple of young guys that aren’t starters but have the potential to contribute in a big way.

Does Wisconsin traditionally like to run up the score against weaker opponents?

Paul Chryst isn’t looking to embarrass anyone. He respects all the programs. I think the fact that Jonathan Taylor scored his fourth touchdown two minutes into the third quarter and then did not play the rest of the game should tell you all you need to know. The other reason for that is there’s no reason for Jonathan to be in the game risking injury. They are there to play sound football. If the game gets out of hand, they’ll play reserves. That’s a wonderful opportunity for young guys to get their chance. That sets the foundation for their future, as well.”

What is Wisconsin trying to focus on this week?

When they’re evaluating the film, they’re looking for what they did wrong. They allowed three sacks, and Jack Coan took one that he probably shouldn’t have. There were too many tackles for a loss with an offensive line that has four new starters, technically, compared to last season. There are probably areas they are looking to clean up from the opener, but it’s not like they’re going to throw something completely different at you. 

When you play Wisconsin, you know exactly what you’re getting. They’ll line it up and try to pound it down your throat. When the opportunities present themselves, you’ll get the play-action and deep balls. They’re going to have a tough, physical defense. Wisconsin will be more of the same, but it’s just trying to clean up some of those mistakes that are natural in a season opener.

Score prediction?

Wisconsin 42, Central Michigan 7