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Behind enemy lines: Q&A with Bucky’s 5th Quarter ahead of Maryland-Wisconsin

It’s time to learn a little more about the Terps’ top-five opponent.

NCAA Football: Florida Atlantic at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Maryland football is about to play its second road game against a top-10 team in the last three weeks. The Terps’ next foe is No. 5 Wisconsin, who’s made it halfway through the season undefeated.

We brought in Jake Kocorowski from our SB Nation friends at Bucky’s 5th Quarter to get to know the Badgers a little bit better. You can follow him (@JakeKocoB5Q) or the site (@B5Q) on Twitter if you’d like. Also, our corresponding Q&A is right here.

Testudo Times: Wisconsin is 6-0 and ranked fifth in the nation. How does that compare with fans' preseason expectations, and where do you see the team going from here?

Bucky’s 5th Quarter: With UW’s schedule on paper, many fans probably thought they’d be close to or would be undefeated heading into Saturday’s game—though Northwestern and Nebraska not challenging as strongly as previously thought has helped. Honestly, I believed the Wildcats would contend for the West division crown most of the season.

That being said, many feel Wisconsin should win most, if not all, of their remaining games to put themselves into contention for a conference championship. If they go undefeated, there’s a potential College Football Playoff push. Indiana will be a tough game on the road (as seen against Ohio State and Michigan) as well as a rest of a stingy November that includes the Hoosiers, Iowa, Michigan and Minnesota to conclude the regular season. Regardless of record, the Hawkeyes and Gophers always play the Badgers tough (despite UW’s 13 consecutive wins against the latter). The match-up against Harbaugh’s bunch at Camp Randall should be a defensive slugfest.

Many are looking ahead with high expectations, except the team, however. The coaching staff and players have preached and practiced a mindset of preparing one opponent at a time. You hear about each player doing their respective 1/11th on the field. They know they can’t get to the playoff without beating Maryland first.

TT: What about Jonathan Taylor has made him such a force in his freshman season?

B5Q: It’s crazy to see the emergence of the true freshman. To be fair, during the practices in which the media were allowed to watch, Bradrick Shaw and Chris James—both very talented running backs in their own right—took the majority of carries with the first-team. It really wasn’t until a scrimmage midway through camp where Taylor broke out, and he really hasn’t looked back since.

On the field, there’s a combination of traits that have helped him lead the conference in rushing and touchdowns. He has a patience and vision in following his blocks that makes him look beyond his years. At 5’11 and 214 pounds, he has sprinter speed as he was one of the fastest track athletes in New Jersey. Anytime he gets into the open, he can outrun defenders, as seen on his touchdown runs of 75 and 67 yards in the past two weeks.

Off the field, he realizes he’s only scratched the surface of his potential despite all of the accolades, which includes some media placing him in Heisman talk. He admits his mistakes but is quick to praise his offensive line and blockers in front of him. There’s a maturity that has allowed him to become not just the No. 1 Wisconsin back, but one of the best backs in the conference.

TT: The Badgers don't seem to rely on their passing game all that much, but what have you seen from quarterback Alex Hornibrook in his first full year starting?

B5Q: Though Wisconsin’s offense wants to run the ball down your throat at will, the play action game and the passing attack in general still needs to complement in generating first downs and points on the board. Hornibrook’s thrown for over 200 yards in three of the six games so far, so it is a substantial aspect.

His performance has been a mixed bag, but I believe he’s been a hint overly criticized. With Badgers’ quarterbacks, every single one of them will be compared to Russell Wilson’s 2011 season—a once in a generation player that showed the ultimate potential of Chryst’s system. Hornibrook is second in the Big Ten, seventh in the nation among Power Five quarterbacks, in passer efficiency. In the red zone, he’s completed 70 percent of his passes for 142 yards and eight touchdowns without throwing an interception. Against BYU, he set the school’s single-game school record for completion percentage.

And yet, he’s had some “Oops” plays that have come back to sting, especially the past three games. He’s thrown five interceptions in those three wins, including a pick-six against Nebraska and two against Purdue that led to the defense having to play on a short field in “sudden change” mode.

Many try to criticize his arm strength, which has improved from last year to this year, but he does have a short memory and has shown he can be clutch when needed. In the game-sealing drive against Purdue in the fourth quarter, Hornibrook completed two key third down passes to move the chains and keep the Boilermakers’ offense off the field in their 17-9 win. The southpaw has been extremely solid on that down, completing 28 of 46 pases for 449 yards with six touchdowns to two interceptions. That 177.2 passer efficiency rating on third downs is third best behind Georgia’s Jake Fromm and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph.

TT: Which defensive player (or players) should Maryland fans be watching out for?

B5Q: Yes, Wisconsin lost the likes of NFL-bound T.J. Watt, Vince Biegel, and Sojourn Shelton, but they’re still among the top-10 in the nation in several categories heading into the homecoming game on Saturday, including rushing defense (fourth), scoring defense (fifth), total defense (sixth), and passer efficiency defense (ninth).

Taking the place of Watt and Biegel have been the tandem of Garret Dooley and Leon Jacobs, who have combined for 14.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks so far this year. Jacobs is a physical freak, telling me he squatted 655 pounds prior to fall camp.

Secondary-wise, strong safety D’Cota Dixon leads the team in tackles and has persevered through so much on and off the field in his life, while cornerback Nick Nelson has seven pass break-ups in the past three games (nine for the season).

There’s also the likes of the inside linebackers like T.J. Edwards, Chris Orr and Ryan Connelly who have picked up the slack for the injured Jack Cichy, along with a veteran and talented defensive line. It’s really a group effort on this unit under the leadership of defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard.

TT: What will have to happen on Wisconsin's end for this game to end up close?

B5Q: Just what happened last week in a close win against Purdue: penalties, special teams’ miscues and turnovers. A normally disciplined team in recent years has seen some uncharacteristic penalties, including eight against the Boilermakers (six were on the offense, four officially noted as false starts), with three coming on one drive alone.

A punt block allowed Purdue to be within prime range to score inside the red zone in the first half, but they missed a field goal so UW avoided a big momentum swing there.

As noted earlier, there have been some costly turnovers at times, with opponents scoring 27 points off of the takeaways.