Wisconsin Northwestern - Dike

Wisconsin wide receiver Chimere Dike, right, runs for a touchdown after catching a pass against Northwestern on Saturday. Dike, a freshman, has emerged as one of the top options for UW at receiver. 

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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.

kendric pryor mug 11-14

Pryor

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

This article originally ran on madison.com.

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