Badgers debut Cruickshank in wildcat formation

Aron Cruickshank is one of the smallest players on the Wisconsin Badgers – he’s also one of the, if not the — fastest.

At 5-foot-9 (only 5-7 Jack Dunn is shorter) and 161 pounds (the lightest on the team; last year he came in at 154 pounds), Cruickshank has mainly been relegated to kickoff returns in his first two years at Wisconsin.

On Saturday, the Badgers displayed a new wrinkle for the sophomore – putting him in as a wildcat quarterback.

The wildcat is hardly new at Wisconsin – one might remember the “Groshcat” with Garrett Groshek, the “Tannercat” with Tanner McEvoy or the very Wisconsin-like “Barge” with James White. But it must have come as a surprise to Ohio State since the Badgers hadn’t shown it at all in 2019. Cruickshank said as much after the game, referring to his gain of 27 yards on his first run out of the formation – it was the longest run of his career (his previous high was 23, done twice) not to mention the biggest gain on the ground in the game for the Badgers.

Cruickshank said the team had been working on it for a couple of weeks and, sure, he’d love to throw a pass out of it. Hey, you never know – Groshek did throw one pass in 2017 (complete for nine yards), but was also a high school QB. Corey Clement attempted a pass in 2016, which was incomplete. Those are the only non-quarterback pass attempts with Paul Chryst as head coach. Maybe we shouldn’t hold our breath for that Cruickshank pass.

But we do know Cruickshank will get a chance with the ball in his hands on kick returns. Cruickshank averaged just 20.5 yards per return in 2018 as a freshman. He’s in a better groove as a sophomore.

Cruickshank has only had nine returns – in part due to Wisconsin’s defense not allowing a lot of points, in part due to touchbacks and, at least this past Saturday, the Badgers twice having him call for a fair catch – but he’s averaging 24.9 yards.

Wisconsin doesn’t exactly have a glorious recent history when it comes to kick returns. This is the 25th time since 2000 that a Badgers player has nine or more kick returns in a season. Of those, only two players have a better average than Cruickshank – Brandon Williams in 2005 (28.0 on 22 returns) and Kenzel Doe (26.5 on 20 returns in 2013).

With the Badgers perhaps looking for a little spark, maybe Cruickshank is the player to do it.

Here’s the complete rundown of the young Badgers after eight games:

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“TRUE” FRESHMEN
Keeanu Benton, NT
South Florida: 2 tackles (solo), TFL
Central Michigan: Started, 1 tackle (solo), TFL
Michigan: Started, 1 tackle, QBH
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan State: Started, did not record a statistic
Illinois: Did not play
Ohio State: Started, 3 tackles (2 solo)sack, TFL
Season totals: 7 tackles (4 solo), sack, 3 TFL, QBH

 

Clay Cundiff, TE
South Florida: Did not play
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Did not play
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: Did not play
Michigan State: Did not play
Illinois: Did not play
Ohio State: Did not play
Season totals: n/a

 

Leo Chenal, LB
South Florida: 5 tackles (3 solo)
Central Michigan: 4 tackles (4 solo)
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: 3 tackles (3 solo), sack, TFL, FR
Michigan State: Did not play
Illinois: Did not play
Ohio State: 1 tackle (solo)
Season totals: 13 tackles (11 solo), sack, TFL, FR

 

Quan Easterling, FB
South Florida: Did not play
Central Michigan: Did not play
Michigan: Did not play
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: Did not play
Michigan State: Did not play
Illinois: Played, did not record a statistic
Ohio State: Did not play
Season totals: n/a

 

Semar Melvin, CB
South Florida: 1 tackle (solo)
Central Michigan: Did not play
Michigan: Did not play
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: Did not play
Michigan State: Did not play
Illinois: Did not play
Ohio State: Did not play
Season totals: 1 tackle (solo)

 

Graham Mertz, QB
South Florida: Did not play
Central Michigan: 4-of-5 passing, 35 yards
Michigan: Did not play
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: 5-of-5 passing, 38 yards; 2 rush, 6 yards
Michigan State: Did not play
Illinois: Did not play
Ohio State: Did not play
Season totals: 9-of-10 passing, 73 yards; 2 rush, 6 yards

 

Have not played
Peter Bowden, LS; Stephan Bracey, WR; Logan Brown, OL; Dante Caputo, S; Julius Davis, RB; Jordan DiBenedetto, WR; Dean Engram, CB; Tatum Grass, LB; Rodas Johnson, DE; Jackson Kollath, LB; Spencer Lytle, LB; Cooper Nelson, QR; Maema Njongmeta, LB; Logan O’Brien, OL; Gio Paez, NT; Cam Phillips, WR; Hayden Rucci, TE; Joe Tippmann, OL; Titus Toler, LB; Blake Wilcox, K; James Williams, CB.

 

REDSHIRT FRESHMEN
A.J. Abbott, WR
South Florida: Did not play
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: 1 tackle (solo)
Michigan State: Played, did not record a statistic
Illinois: Played, did not record a statistic
Ohio State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season totals: 1 tackle (solo)

 

Donte Burton, CB
South Florida: Played, did not record a statistic
Central Michigan: 1 tackle (solo)
Michigan: PBU
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: 1 tackle (solo)
Michigan State: Started, did not record a statistic
Illinois: Started, PBU
Ohio State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season totals: 2 tackles (2 solo), 2 PBU

 

Boyd Dietzen, DE
South Florida: Played, did not record a statistic
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan State: Played, did not record a statistic
Illinois: Played, did not record a statistic
Ohio State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season totals: n/a

 

Jack Eschenbach, TE
South Florida: Played, did not record a statistic
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Did not play
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan State: Played, did not record a statistic
Illinois: Did not play
Ohio State: Did not play
Season totals: n/a

 

Jaylan Franklin, OLB
South Florida: 1 tackle (solo), sack, TFL
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan State: Played, did not record a statistic
Illinois: Played, did not record a statistic
Ohio State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season totals: 1 tackle (solo), sack, TFL

 

Michael Furtney, OL
South Florida: Played, did not record a statistic
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan State: Played, did not record a statistic
Illinois: Played, did not record a statistic
Ohio State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season totals: n/a

 

C.J. Goetz, DE
South Florida: Played, did not record a statistic
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan State: Played, did not record a statistic
Illinois: Played, did not record a statistic
Ohio State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season totals: n/a

 

Andrew Lyons, OL
South Florida: Did not play
Central Michigan: Did not play
Michigan: Did not play
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan State: Did not play
Illinois: Did not play
Ohio State: Did not play
Season totals: n/a

 

Isaiah Mullens, DE
South Florida: Played, did not record a statistic
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan State: Played, did not record a statistic
Illinois: Played, did not record a statistic
Ohio State: Did not play
Season totals: n/a

 

Taj Mustapha, WR
South Florida: Did not play
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Did not play
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: Did not play
Michigan State: Did not play
Illinois: Did not play
Ohio State: Did not play
Season totals: n/a

 

Reggie Pearson, S
South Florida: Started, 1 tackle (solo), FF
Central Michigan: Started, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Started, 3 tackles (2 solo), .5 TFL, FF
Northwestern: 1 tackle (solo), PBU
Kent State: Started, 3 tackles (3 solo)
Michigan State: Started, 4 tackles (3 solo)
Illinois: Started, 5 tackles (4 solo), 2 TFL, 3 PBU
Ohio State: Started, 5 tackles (3 solo)
Season stats: 22 tackles (17 solo), 2 FF, 4 PBU, 2.5 TFL

 

Cormac Sampson, OL/TE
South Florida: Did not play
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan State: Played, did not record a statistic
Illinois: Did not play
Ohio State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season totals: n/a

 

Brady Schipper, RB
South Florida: Did not play
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: 6 rush, 21 yards
Michigan State: Did not play
Illinois: Did not play
Ohio State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season totals: 6 rush, 21 yards

 

Alexander Smith, CB
South Florida: Played, did not record a statistic
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Northwestern: 1 tackle (solo), PBU
Kent State: 2 tackles (2 solo)
Michigan State: 1 tackle (solo)
Illinois: Played, did not record a statistic
Ohio State: Blocked punt
Season stats: 4 tackles (4 solo), PBU, Blk

 

Marty Strey, OLB
South Florida: Did not play
Central Michigan: Did not play
Michigan: Did not play
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan State: Did not play
Illinois: Did not play
Ohio State: Did not play
Season totals: n/a

 

Jack Torchio, S
South Florida: Played, did not record a statistic
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: INT, PBU
Northwestern: Started, 1 tackle (solo)
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan State: 1 tackle (solo)
Illinois: Did not play
Ohio State: Did not play
Season stats: 2 tackles (2 solo), INT, PBU

 

Nakia Watson, RB
South Florida: 14 rush, 80 yards, TD
Central Michigan: 8 rush, 29 yards, TD; 1 catch, 0 yards
Michigan: 13 rush, 31 yards
Northwestern: 1 rush, 1 yard; 1 tackle
Kent State: 12 rush, 63 yards; 1 catch, 6 yards
Michigan State: 5 rush, 34 yards
Illinois: 2 rush, 9 yards
Ohio State: Played, did not record a statistic
Season stats: 55 rush, 247 yards (4.5 average), 2 TD; 2 catches, 6 yards

 

Chase Wolf, QB
South Florida: Played, did not record a statistic
Central Michigan: 1-for-1 passing, 2 yards
Michigan: Did not play
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: Did not play
Michigan State: Played, did not record a statistic
Illinois: Did not play
Ohio State: Did not play
Season stats: 1-for-1 passing, 2 yards


Have not played
Travian Blaylock, CB; Mike Gregoire, WR; Isaac Guerendo, RB; Jacob Heyroth, ILB; Conor Schlichting, P.

 

Best of the Badgers

 

“TRUE” SOPHOMORES

John Chenal, FB
South Florida: 1 rush, 2 yards; 1 catch, 12 yards; 1 tackle (solo), FF
Central Michigan: 3 rush, 11 yards; 1 catch, 2 yards
Michigan: 2 rush, 5 yards, TD
Northwestern: Played, did not record a statistic
Kent State: 4 rush, 24 yards
Michigan State: Started, 4 rush, 17 yards; 1 catch, 1 yard
Illinois: 3 rush, 3 yards
Ohio State: Started, did not record a statistic
Season totals: 17 rush, 62 yards (3.6 average), 2 TD; 2 catches, 3 yards, 1 tackle (solo), FF

 

Aron Cruickshank, WR
South Florida: 1 kick return, 23 yards
Central Michigan: 1 catch, 19 yards; 2 punt returns, 14 yards
Michigan: 1 kick return, 11 yards
Northwestern: 2 kick returns, 69 yards
Kent State: 2 rush, 6 yards; 2 catches, 10 yards
Michigan State: 2 rush, 28 yards; 1 kick return, 38 yards
Illinois: Played, did not record a statistic
Ohio State: 2 rush, 28 yards; 4 kick returns, 83 yards
Season totals: 6 rush, 62 yards; 2 catches, 10 yards; 9 kick returns, 224 yards (24.9 average); 2 punt returns, 14 yards

 

Jack Sanborn, LB
South Florida: Started, 5 tackles (2 solo)
Central Michigan: Started, 1 tackle, INT, QBH
Michigan: Started, 7 tackles (5 solo), 2 TFL, sack, FF
Northwestern: Started, 13 tackles (7 solo), TFL, PBU
Kent State: Started, 2 tackles (2 solo), 2 sacks, 2 TFL
Michigan State: Started, 5 tackles (3 solo), TFL
Illinois: Started, 7 tackles (4 solo). .5 TFL. QBH
Ohio State: Started, 6 tackles (4 solo)
Season totals: 46 tackles (27 solo), 3 sacks, 6.5 TFL, INT, 2 QBH, PBU, FF

 

Rachad Wildgoose, CB
South Florida: 2 tackles (solo)
Central Michigan: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan: PBU
Northwestern: 3 tackles (3 solo), 2 TFL
Kent State: Started, 3 tackles (2 solo)
Michigan State: Started, INT
Illinois: Started, 2 tackles (2 solo)
Ohio State: 2 tackles (1 solo)
Season totals:11 tackles (9 solo), 2 TFL, PBU, INT

 

Bryson Williams, NT
South Florida: 1 tackle (solo)
Central Michigan: Did not play
Michigan: Did not play
Northwestern: Did not play
Kent State: Played, did not record a statistic
Michigan State: Played, did not record a statistic
Illinois: 4 tackles (1 solo)
Ohio State: 1 tackle
Season totals: 6 tackles (2 solo)

 

Dave Heller is the author of Ken Williams: A Slugger in Ruth’s Shadow (a Larry Ritter Book Award nominee), Facing Ted Williams – Players From the Golden Age of Baseball Recall the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived and As Good As It Got: The 1944 St. Louis Browns