MADISON — With arguably its most difficult month of the schedule ahead of it, the University of Wisconsin football team wasn’t interested in a test from Kent State on Saturday.
The eighth-ranked Badgers thoroughly controlled each phase of the game. They pounded the Golden Flashes’ defense in the run game and gained big chunks with play-action passes. They had no trouble getting into the backfield and harassing Kent State’s quarterbacks. They avoided the special teams mistakes that have plagued them thus far in 2019.
It culminated in a 48-0 non-conference win over the Golden Flashes at an overcast, rainy Camp Randall Stadium, as UW pushed its unbeaten start to the year to 5-0. It was the third shutout of the season for the Badgers, tying their most in a year since 1937.
Jonathan Taylor had a career-high five touchdowns, with four of them coming before halftime. The Badgers’ offensive line battered the Golden Flashes’ Football Bowl Subdivision-worst rush defense, allowing Taylor to score three rushing TDs in the first half, and a 48-yarder in the second. Taylor also had an 18-yard scoring reception late in the second quarter. He finished with 186 rushing yards on 19 carries and 29 yards on three catches.
Taylor is the first Badgers player with four rushing scores since Melvin Gordon against Nebraska in 2014. He’s now the third-leading rusher in program history with 4,916 yards, passing Gordon (4,915) for third.
“We had a lot of guys stick on blocks, so it made it easy for you to get up on the blocks and you kind of had a two-way go,” Taylor said. “I think we did a real good job at that.”
UW offensive players expressed frustration that the unit didn’t play well against Northwestern last week, and that the defense bailed it out with its performance. There was no need for a bailout against Kent State (2-3), as the Badgers went back to basics and dominated up front.
The starting offense scored touchdowns on all six drives it played, which included marches of 17 and 11 plays.
“It’s awesome to be able to do that and execute, it’s awesome for our offense,” junior tackle Cole Van Lanen said. “They ran fronts that we’ve seen all year, so we were able to attack that and get after that this game.”
Taylor’s performance and UW’s domination of the line of scrimmage helped the Badgers average 6.3 yards per rush en route to 348 yards on the ground, second-most this season behind the 359-yard effort against Michigan.
Junior center Tyler Biadasz said UW’s linemen were able to get to the second level and create one-on-one matchups for Taylor with Kent State’s safeties.
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“We’ll take that every time,” Biadasz said.
Junior quarterback Jack Coan was able to use play-action fakes with great effect and was never forced into obvious passing downs. He went 12 of 15 for 134 yards and two scores, including 2-yard touchdown to tight end Jake Ferguson in the third quarter.
He hit passes of 33, 21 and 18 yards after being held to a long pass of 19 yards against the Wildcats. Coan was at his best when the Badgers forced a punt late in the second quarter and had a chance at a put-away score before the break.
He completed his 33-yard strike to Kendric Pryor off of play-action to start the drive, then found Quintez Cephus for a gain of 9 along the left sideline. After a Taylor run to get UW inside the red zone, Coan faked a handoff to Taylor before throwing to it to him in the flat for a run-in touchdown.
“It always feels good to have a good game, and especially to win,” Coan said. “All the guys are staying in the moment and making plays.”
Despite its attempts to confuse UW with a variety of formations and shifts, Kent State (2-3) never sustained a drive against the Badgers’ starting defense. UW tallied nine sacks, six of which came in the first half. Senior outside linebacker Zack Baun had three of those sacks, while inside linebackers Chris Orr and Jack Sanborn had two apiece.
The Golden Flashes’ best scoring chance came in the fourth quarter, when they got to UW’s 20-yard line. But quarterback Woody Barrett fumbled as he wound up to throw and freshman linebacker Leo Chenal recovered.
UW almost exclusively used its nickel defense — two defensive linemen, four linebackers, five defensive backs — due to Kent State’s spread scheme. That put pressure on the front six players to bottle up the run game. The Golden Flashes gained 107 yards on the ground, but the yardage lost via sacks dropped them to a net of 60 yards rushing.
“I don’t want to say it surprises you, but you never take it for granted,” UW coach Paul Chryst said of UW’s ability to stop the run. “You don’t know, especially when you play a team like this, what all you are going to see. I thought the guys communicated well and were in position.”
After being on the field for 82 plays against Northwestern, the Badgers’ defense played just 45 against the Golden Flashes. Kent State finished with 120 total yards — an average of 2.67 yards per play — compared to UW’s 520.
Kent State coach and former UW athlete Sean Lewis’ team rarely found success on first down, which Orr said limited its ability to utilize its up-tempo offense.
“If we won first down, they were slowing down. If they gained a lot on first down, they were going fast,” Orr said. “We just had to get the call fast and get everyone lined up fast.”