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Jack Coan - UW vs. Michigan

Wisconsin quarterback Jack Coan scores on a 24-yard run in the second quarter of the Badgers' win over the Michigan Wolverines in their Big Ten opener Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison. 

If it wasn’t already clear that Paul Chryst was in the mood to gamble, the University of Wisconsin football coach erased all doubt on the fourth snap of the game.

Faced with a fourth-and-1 in his own territory against a defense that has been among the best in the nation for three years running, Chryst rolled the dice and elected to go for it.

It was a bold move, but it sent a message to his players — and perhaps the other sideline — that the No. 13 Badgers weren’t in the mood to play conservative Saturday afternoon at Camp Randall Stadium.

That showed over and over in UW’s 35-14 victory over No. 11 Michigan, a win that offered further proof that the Badgers are once again a force to reckon with in the Big Ten.

“It was an aggressive mind-set from the beginning,” UW junior quarterback Jack Coan said, “and I feel like the whole team really bought into it and it was awesome.”

After two blowout wins over outmatched opponents to open the season, it was fair to wonder if UW was for real.

The answer, it seems, is a resounding yes.

“We want to make a statement every game that we’re going to be the more physical team, we’re going to dominate you physically, we’re going to own both sides of the ball, both lines of scrimmage,” UW senior inside linebacker Chris Orr said. “You’re going to play a nasty team. Not nasty in a cheap-shot team, but you’re just going to play a physically dominating team and I feel like we did that today.”

Or, as junior left tackle Cole Van Lanen put it, “That’s the type of team we are this year. We just want to punch people in the mouth, and that’s what we did today.”

The Badgers (3-0, 1-0 Big Ten) jumped out to a 28-0 halftime lead and extended that cushion to 35-0 in the third quarter. They bullied the Wolverines, outrushing them 359-40 and finishing with a massive advantage in time of possession.

That domination came against a program that entered the 2019 campaign looking for a breakthrough in Jim Harbaugh’s fifth season. There was talk of the Wolverines winning an elusive Big Ten championship and perhaps contending for a berth in the College Football Playoff.

That talk looked silly by about noon on Saturday.

“We were outplayed,” Harbaugh said. “Outprepared and outcoached, outplayed, the whole thing. Both offensively and defensively, it was thorough.”

UW junior tailback Jonathan Taylor rushed for 203 yards and two touchdowns despite sitting out the second quarter with cramping issues and barely playing in the fourth quarter. Coan did his part with an efficient game through the air — he finished 13 of 16 for 128 yards — in addition to rushing for a pair of scores.

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Meanwhile, Orr and the defense were once again magnificent, forcing four turnovers and forcing Michigan (2-1, 0-1) to be one-dimensional.

But Chryst set the tone for the entire production with some gutsy calls in the opening quarter. Electing to receive after UW won the coin toss isn’t exactly risky, but it was a sign of things to come for the Badgers.

After Coan was ruled inches short of the first-down sticks on a scramble, it appeared UW might go three-and-out on its opening series. But Chryst kept his offense on the field, a move that even Taylor admitted was out of character for his coach.

“It is a little bit,” Taylor said. “But the biggest thing is, this year, it’s a different team, a different offense. It just shows the kind of trust that he has. It just shows that the work we put in, he believes in us, so we’ve got to make sure that when we do things like that we pull through.”

Running behind a personnel grouping that essentially had eight offensive linemen on the field, in addition to tight end Jake Ferguson, Taylor gained three yards to move the chains. By the time the drive was over, the Badgers had gone 75 yards in a 12-play drive that lasted 6 minutes, 25 seconds.

“I think by him doing that, it just was like, ‘All right, we know what kind of game it’s going to be, Coach trusts us,” UW senior offensive lineman David Moorman said. “I think that opened us to free ourselves to play. You’re not really worried about making mistakes when you know you have the head man trusting you like that.”

But Chryst wasn’t done. The Badgers led 14-0 on two Taylor scores when they embarked on a 15-play, 80-yard drive that lasted 8:29 and extended their lead.

UW converted twice on fourth down during that trek, with Coan finding junior wide receiver Quintez Cephus for a 26-yard pass down the sidelines to the Michigan 16 on fourth-and-3 and Coan scoring on a 1-yard sneak on fourth-and-goal.

Afterward, Chryst was asked whether his fourth-down decisions were spur of the moment, a sign of his confidence in short-yardage situations or the desire to send a message.

“It’s probably all of the above,” he said. “You guys probably know me well enough, sending messages, it’s what you think is best for your team. I felt good with it. Certainly you feel good with a plan, but you feel good with your team to do those. That’s really the easy part. The hard part is guys making them work, and I thought guys executed and made those work.”

Even if Chryst wasn’t trying to send a message, it was received loud and clear by players on both of the side of the ball.

Orr said he had a discussion with Chryst weeks ago about how the offense could be aggressive because the defense had its back. If, for some reason UW failed on fourth-and-short, Orr assured Chryst the defense would come up with a three-and-out to get the ball back for the Badgers.

So what was Orr’s reaction when he noticed Chryst going for it on fourth down on his own side of the field?

“Oh, I was excited,” Orr said. “That’s a statement in itself. People don’t know how much momentum that builds for a team.”

Bucky!

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