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A Big Return and a Big Rout: Cephus Shines in Shutout vs Central Michigan

Cue the Badger Red Sea filling nearly every Camp Randall Seat; the rattling metal during Jump Around; the chants of Varsity, Eat Shit-Fuck You and Bucky’s Pushups. Cue an offensive onslaught and rigid defense that produced the biggest shutout for the school in over a decade as the University of Wisconsin-Madison Badgers defeated the Central Michigan Chippewas (CMU) 61-0 in the first home game of the season last Sunday.


Some may have thought Junior Wide Receiver (WR) Quintez Cephus forgot the order of operations when it came to football. After he was expelled on accounts of a sexual assault, Cephus missed a year of playtime.


Once found not guilty, Cephus was re-admitted in August and granted permission to put his pads back on just in time for the Badgers’ home opener.


Cephus caught two touchdowns from Junior Quarterback (QB) Jack Coan, including a 47 yard dime that had the wide receiver running around the endzone like an airplane that lifted the team’s spirits.


“Q made some amazing plays and just for him to get his first touchdowns back was amazing. I’m so happy for him” Coan said. “It’s just amazing how un-rusty he is.”


Coan was hitting an assortment of receivers and capped off his first home game with three touchdowns. While the offensive outpour, especially in the passing game, isn’t really the Wisconsin way, Coan and Coach Paul Chyrst expressed the intention to stretch the field and make teams wary of only anticipating runs.


“One of our goals coming into the season was to be more balanced and less predictable,” Coan said. 


On the other side of the ball, the defense set the tone from the jump with a big sack by Inside Linebacker (ILB) Zack Baun to end CMU’s first drive. Broken passes, intense pressure from the edge and an interception from ILB Jack Sanborn kept the level of play high and the scoreboard low for CMU, or as Senior ILB Chris Orr would put it, a goose egg.


“We wanted to show the whole nation that when you come to Camp Randall, this what you gon’ get,” Orr said.


The message was definitely sent in Orr’s last home opener of his college career and the defensive pride in not letting anyone score will continue to be a driving force. Orr knows it’s on him and the other team leaders to bring the juice every day.


“Let’s keep this goose egg going!” Orr said. “Nothing changes but the opponent!”


Freshman Keeanu Benton got his first taste of the Camp Randall bonanza. The nosetackle from Janesville, WI kept the CMU offensive line on their heels all day and managed to keep his nerves in check in his home-game debut.


 “It gave me shivers!” Benton said. “It was more enjoyment than being nervous and I was just happy to be out there.”


Benton showed maturity in his focus upon the rest of the season. The Badgers know that while every game is important, these first two matchups pale in comparison to the level of competition on the horizon.


“I could stay lower in my footwork and be more explosive. As a group, we’re physical, so I feel pretty good about where we’re at,” Benton said. “I’m looking forward to being a dominant defense and not letting a lot of people score on us.”


In the second quarter, there was a point where UW had more points on the board than CMU had total yards of offense. CMU Coach Jim McElwain clearly labored to find anything to keep the Badgers from feasting. By the third quarter, the Badgers let the backup brigade build experience which included freshman QB Graham Mertz getting his first ever game time and completions.


“You’ve been building up to that moment your whole life and then you get out there and you look up to 80,000 amazing fans,” Mertz said.


Coan was impressed with Mertz’s composure on the field and the true freshman reciprocated the high praise on the performance Coan, his roommate and best friend displayed.


“He’s a baller!” Mertz said.


Junior Running Back Jonathan Taylor balled out and his stellar start to the season racking up four trips to the end zone and having an all-time great start to the season with eight touchdowns in the first two games of the season. Orr spoke on the dominance that Taylor has showed. 


“He’s the greatest running back…that I’ve ever played with,” Orr said. “Even if he doesn’t score, he’s doing more than enough to help us win.”


While Taylor is working towards breaking records, he couldn’t help but praise his offensive line and the cast of pass-catchers that provide him the opportunities to break the field open for his agile and powerful running.


“I haven’t seen a receiving core in Wisconsin like this in a long time…probably ever,” Taylor said.


Coan’s play along with WRs Kendric Pryor, Danny Davis, A.J. Taylor, had Taylor buzzing about the potential of the Badger’s offense, especially with the arrival of Cephus back on the squad.


“I love seeing his face light up when he makes a play,” Taylor said. “He’s even better than the Quintez he was before.” 


The Badgers must stay healthy focused during the Bye week to be prepared for the feisty Michigan Wolverines on September 21. 


“We still have a lot to work on,” Chryst said. “The goal every week is ‘Can you be the best team in the stadium?’”


While he understands that these moments of limited competition and you want them to maximize it, Chryst was proud of how the team is playing with, off of and for each other. 


“Our identity is a group of guys that play really hard for each other and love each other,” Chryst said.


No player exemplifies this more than Cephus who felt his teammates’ support during his whole year and couldn’t contain their joy in seeing the junior wide receiver come back. Coach Chryst saw how much it meant to Cephus to get back to the game he so desperately loves.


“There’s a spirit about him that we’d all be crazy not to see and appreciate,” Chryst said.


Even Orr yelled “Big Dawg!” with excitement to Cephus before walking out of the post-game press room. A special energy was flowing through the home team’s veins as they asserted their authority throughout the game. The combination of the Camp Randall crowd and Cephus’ involvement spread joy like a wildfire that could not be contained.


 “I have gone through a lot and just taking it all in can be overwhelming at times, but my teammates help me a lot with that,” Cephus said.


In light of all the trials and tribulations that occured before his return to the turf, Cephus will most remember getting the win at Camp Randall.


Nile Lansana is a rising Senior from the Southside of Chicago, IL, attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is double majoring in Journalism and Creative Writing. Nile is an award winning poet in his own right as well as with Rebirth Poetry Ensemble, which is an artist community focused on uplifting youth with writing and performance through the lens of social justice. He is a First Wave Scholar, repping the 11th Cohort.

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