A loss of any kind can reveal things about a football team.
Lose a pivotal game in which your offense scores just seven points like the No. 18 University of Wisconsin (2-1) did Saturday at No. 11 Northwestern (5-0) and many questions are raised.
One of the Badgers’ major issues in a loss that gave the Wildcats control of their destiny the Big Ten Conference’s West Division was that they were without both of their top two receivers. Seniors Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor didn’t play against Northwestern after sustaining injuries against Michigan a week ago.
UW’s status report, which was released less than an hour before kickoff, didn’t give reasons for their inability to play, but coach Paul Chryst said the team knew Davis wasn’t likely to play early in the week but were hopeful Pryor would be able to play.
Their absences left the Badgers with freshman Chimere Dike and seniors Jack Dunn and Adam Krumholz as the best options at receiver.
“Felt confident going into the game in what ‘Chim’ has done and had the opportunity to get Jack Dunn back. We were still confident and felt like we’d be … certainly always going to miss (them), you want everyone on your team to be playing. Knew coming in that we’ve got to be better with or without (Davis and Pryor),” Chryst said.
Dike hauled in a 49-yard touchdown in the first quarter, the Badgers’ only score of the game, but he had just one other catch for 3 yards. Dunn (four catches, 37 yards) and Krumholz (three catches, 47 yards) had minimal success, with all of Krumholz’s catches coming with UW already down 10 in the fourth quarter.
“Anytime you’re missing guys like Danny and KP, it’s obviously tough. We have a next man up mentality here at Wisconsin and we have no excuses,” Dike said. “We think everybody in our room is able to execute and so we were just trying to come in here and fill in for them and help the team the best we can.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Graham Mertz, who threw for 230 yards on 23 of 41 passing but had three interceptions, said much of the same.
“It’s next man up here. We always preach that. I never lost any confidence in the guys. I knew they were going to go out there and make plays. I’m proud of how they worked. Danny and KP are great players, too … it’s not drastic (the drop off in the group after the top two). We’ve got young guys that are ready to go. I’m proud of how they worked all week and how they responded,” he said.
While that’s the correct attitude for players to have, the fact that the Badgers’ next men at receiver couldn’t consistently create separation and open up throwing lanes for Mertz exposes the gap in recruiting wins that program has had at the position.
Previous receivers coach Ted Gilmore was instrumental in landing Davis, Pryor, A.J. Taylor and Quintez Cephus in the 2016 and 2017 recruiting cycles. Taylor graduated, Cephus went pro with a year of eligibility remaining and Aron Cruickshank transferred, which hurt the group’s depth this season. Dunn and Krumholz have proven to be valuable role players with extensive work on special teams, but Saturday was their first game as top options at receivers.
Dike shows a bright future, but the program not having sophomores or juniors ready to fill in at the position in the event injuries occur reflects that the players brought in haven’t developed enough. Coaches have mentioned redshirt sophomores A.J. Abbott and Taj Mustapha having flashes at practice, but only Mustapha played late in Saturday's game. Redshirt freshman Stephan Bracey has earned the starting kick returner job and had one catch against Northwestern, but he wasn’t used often as a receiver.
Other three-star receiver recruits that didn’t pan out for the Badgers in recent years include Cade Green and Emmet Perry.
Current receivers coach Alvis Whitted has shown an ability to pick up solid recruits, winning battles for four-star 2021 WR prospect Markus Allen and three-star recruit Skyler Bell, but they can’t help the team’s current issues.
Perhaps questioning the Badgers’ depth at receiver is discrediting a Northwestern defense who manufactured five turnovers. After all, they had extra motivation for Saturday’s game after ESPN analyst Joey Galloway described the Wildcats as a “team of Rece Davises,” referencing his fellow ESPN broadcaster who hosts College GameDay. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said that comment angered his players and that he thought it was highly disrespectful.
“That was a little bit extra fuel in the rocket, there’s no question about that,” Fitzgerald said.
But the loss showed the Badgers need help at receiver now. Unless Pryor and Davis are on the mend quickly, there doesn’t appear to be many other options on the roster.
“There were times where we had … guys to throw to and we were off on it. And there was times where they did a good job of challenging us,” Chryst said.
“When you go up against a good defense you’re going to get that. That’s why when you have those opportunities, you’ve got to be able to take advantage of them, because they’re not always going to be there.”
Get to know the Badgers' 2021 recruits
UW won an intense recruiting battle for Rucci, whose older brother Hayden is a Badgers tight end. Rucci held offers from nearly every top program in the country, but had narrowed his list to Clemson, Michigan, Notre Dame, Penn State and UW.
Rucci is a five-star prospect and the No. 16 overall recruit in the country per 247Sports, while Rivals tabs him No. 29 and ESPN ranks him 33rd; Rivals and ESPN list him as a four-star recruit.
The Lititz, Penn., product is listed at 6-foot-8 and 295 pounds, and his father, Todd, played at Penn State before a seven-year career in the NFL with the New England Patriots.
Hallman, a 6-foot cornerback out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., tweeted his commitment to the Badgers in late June 2020.
Hallman, ranked a four-star prospect by Rivals and a three-star by 247Sports and ESPN, had offers from at least 16 Football Bowl Subdivision programs, including Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Miami, Florida and Florida State.
UW defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard was a key piece to Hallman choosing the Badgers. Hallman has said in multiple interviews that he and Leonhard spoke often and that Leonhard was the kind of coach he wanted to play for. Leonhard was also key in UW landing another 2021 prospect out of Florida, linebacker Jake Cheney.
Adding Hallman to the fold continues a strong South Florida connection to UW’s secondary — current Badgers’ defensive backs Faion Hicks, Semar Melvin and Rachard Wildgoose are all from that area.
AL ASHFORD III
Al Ashford III was a surprise pick up for the Badgers when he committed in early September. Ashford III’s commitment came seemingly out of nowhere, as he didn’t publicly announce a scholarship offer from UW prior to choosing the school.
Ashford III is listed as a three-star recruit on both 247Sports and Rivals, and is the top-rated cornerback in Colorado per 247Sports. He’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 170 pounds.
JP Benzschawel, an offensive lineman out of Grafton, was the first recruit in the Badgers’ 2021 class, continuing the family tradition at UW.
Benzschawel’s brothers, Beau (2015-18) and Luke (2016-19) played offensive line and tight end, respectively, for the Badgers. His father, Scott (1983-87) and uncle Eric (1988-92) also played football for UW.
Benzschawel is one of the top-ranked offensive tackles in the country. A four-star recruit on 247sports, and ESPN, and a three-star on Rivals, Benzschawel is a top-200 recruit nationally by 247sports and ESPN.
Jackson Acker, a running back from Verona, committed to the Badgers soon after receiving an offer in June 2019.
UW was Acker’s first scholarship offer after his sophomore season, but he used it as momentum for a strong junior campaign at Verona High School. He was a first-team running back on the Wisconsin State Journal’s All-Area team, rushing for 929 yards and 11 touchdowns in eight games.
Acker is a three-star recruit according to 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
Deacon Hill, a quarterback from Santa Barbara, Calif., committed to the Badgers in July 2019.
A 6-foot-4, 225-pound, pro-style prospect, Hill was part of wave of recruiting commitments for UW. Hill turned down offers from Kansas State and Nevada in favor of the Badgers.
Hill turned heads at an Elite 11 regional camp in California with his big arm and deep throws. He is the lone quarterback thus far in the 2021 class, and the 2020 class added just one in walk-on Daniel Wright.
Hill is listed as a three-star recruit by 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
Loyal Crawford, a running back from Eau Claire, Wis., committed to the Badgers in August 2019.
A fast, shifty and explosive back, Crawford was limited to five games as a junior due to injury. Still, he tallied 671 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in that span. He was one of the first freshmen to suit up for a varsity game at Eau Claire Memorial High School.
Crawford — listed at 6-foot and 190 pounds — is a three-star recruit per 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
UW’s scholarship offer the first Division I offer Crawford had received, according to multiple outlets.
Riley Mahlman, an offensive lineman from Lakeville, Minn., committed to the Badgers after watching them defeat Michigan at Camp Randall Stadium in September 2019.
Mahlman is ranked as a four-star prospect by 247sports and ESPN, and a three-star by Rivals. He’s ranked as the top recruit in the state of Minnesota by 247sports and ESPN, and the No. 2 Minnesota product by Rivals. UW beat out Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan State, Florida and others for Mahlman.
With Mahlman and 2020 linebacker Kaden Johnson, the Badgers secured the top-ranked recruit out of Minnesota in consecutive years.
The 6-foot-7, 265-pound tackle also played tight end for Lakeville South High School.
Bryan Sanborn, an inside linebacker from Lake Zurich, Ill., committed to UW in December 2019.
Sanborn, the younger brother of Badgers inside linebacker Jack Sanborn, is a three-star recruit according to 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound prospect had a handful of Power Five offers, including Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska. Bryan’s late father, Paul, played football at Oregon.
Ayo Adebogun, a linebacker/defensive end hailing from Mequon, committed to the Badgers in December 2019.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder was a second-team all-state selection by the Wisconsin Associated Press as a junior, a season in which he tallied 16 sacks and 75 total tackles.
The Homestead High School product is a three-star recruit per 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
Hunter Wohler, a safety out of Muskego, orally committed to UW just before Christmas 2019.
Rated by multiple recruiting sites as the best or second-best prospect in Wisconsin in his class, Wohler helped Muskego to an unbeaten record and a WIAA Division I state championship as a junior. Wohler had 122 total tackles and two interceptions as a junior, and he was named the state’s Associated Press' player of the year.
Wohler — listed at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds — is rated as a four-star recruit by 247sports, Rivals, and ESPN. He’s ranked as the No. 298 overall prospect in the 2021 class by ESPN.
Jake Chaney, a linebacker out of Lehigh Acres, Fla., committed to the Badgers in March 2020.
The 6-foot, 200-pound prospect is a three-star recruit according to 247sports and Rivals.
He was the District 7A player of the year last season after recording 100 tackles as a junior. Jake Chaney’s father, James, is his coach at Lehigh Senior High School and played at Florida State from 1988-1991.
Chaney was the third linebacker and ninth overall recruit in the 2021 class.
Antwan Roberts announced in April that he’d be attending the University of Wisconsin.
The 6-foot-1, 189-pound back is a three-star recruit per Rivals and 247sports.
UW was the only Big Ten program to offer Roberts a scholarship. He was also considering offers from Cincinnati, Duke, Kentucky, Louisville, Memphis, Missouri and Vanderbilt. He also played defensive back for his high school, Pope John Paul II.
Jack Pugh, a tight end out of Hilliard, Ohio, announced his commitment to the Badgers in late May
Pugh — ranked a four-star recruit by 247Sports and ESPN, and a three-star prospect by rivals — is ranked in the top 12 of tight ends in his class. The 6-foot-5, 235-pound prospect had scholarship offers from more than 20 programs, including a majority of the Big Ten Conference schools.
Pugh has the prototypical size to play as an on-the-line tight end, but has also split out as a receiver often through his high school career. A standout basketball player, Pugh also showed explosiveness as a defensive end for Hilliard Bradley High School.
Fond du Lac prospect Braelon Allen kicked off the Badgers' 2022 class with a bang when he committed in July 2020. But he reclassified to the 2021 class in September, giving the class its seventh four-star-or-better recruit in the 2021 class.
Allen — listed at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds — has been recruited as a safety, the position he’s played for Fond Du Lac, but 247Sports now lists him as an inside linebacker. Per 247Sports’ composite rankings, Allen is the No. 6 inside linebacker in the 2021 class.
Peterson, a three-star outside linebacker/defensive end from Akron, Ohio, committed to UW on June 1, 2020.
He was one of the Badgers’ top targets on defense since the spring of 2019. He tallied 21 sacks in his junior season at Archbishop Hoban, and chose the Badgers over offers from Alabama, Michigan, West Virginia and more.
247Sports, Rivals and ESPN all rate Peterson — a 6-foot-3, 235-pounder — as a three-star prospect. He’s the first linebacker in the 2021 class.
Skyler Bell — a 6-foot-1, 185-pound prospect out of Watertown, Conn. — had upwards of 18 scholarship offers, including other Big Ten programs like Iowa, Rutgers, and Northwestern before deciding on UW.
Bell is the first receiver to join the class, but the Badgers are expecting to add more.
Bell is a three-star recruit per 247Sports, ESPN and Rivals.
Mike Jarvis, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound lineman out of Medford, N.J., announced his commitment to the Badgers on June 3, 2020.
A three-star prospect on 247Sports and a two-star per Rivals, Jarvis has potential to play as a defensive or offensive lineman, although he’s been primarily recruited for his ability on defense.
Jarvis picked UW over scholarship offers from Duke, Florida State, Indiana, Nebraska, Princeton, Rutgers and others.
Outside linebacker/defensive end TJ Bollers added to a hot recruiting streak for the Badgers when he committed in June 2020.
Rated a four-star recruit by 247Sports, ESPN and Rivals, Bollers held offers from the likes of Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Penn State and most of the Big Ten. He narrowed his choices to Alabama, California, Iowa State, Nebraska, Northwestern and UW before making his decision..
Bollers — listed at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds — is ranked the 98th overall recruit in the country by Rivals, 147th by 247Sports and 200th by ESPN.
Wide receiver Markus Allen became the first UW recruit to make his oral commitment during the 2020 season when he announced on Nov. 6.
He's a four-star prospect per Rivals and a three-star recruit according to 247Sports and ESPN.
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound target out of Clayton, Ohio, had at least 26 Division I offers and was ranked as the No. 10 player in his state by Rivals. After he de-commitment from Michigan in September, UW and Cincinnati emerged as favorites to land Allen.