MADISON — And then there were two.
Wisconsin’s Big Four of experienced receivers is down to A.J. Taylor and Kendric Pryor following the suspensions of Quintez Cephus and Danny Davis.
That leaves opportunities for sophomore walk-ons Adam Krumholz and Jack Dunn to shine in expanded roles for the fourth-ranked Badgers in the season opener on Friday night against Western Kentucky.
“It’s hard for A.J. and (Pryor) to just play the whole game,” coach Paul Chryst said. “So, your expectations are that (Krumholz and Dunn) are ready.”
Ready, but not quite as experienced as the guys they will be replacing.
Cephus led the Badgers with six touchdown catches last year despite breaking his right leg in November. Prosecutors charged the 20-year-old Cephus last week with second- and third-degree sexual assault, which are both felonies. Cephus, who was suspended indefinitely after charges were filed, has denied any wrongdoing.
Davis emerged as a freshman to catch 26 passes for 418 yards and five touchdowns last year. Cephus’ roommate, Davis was suspended last week for two games. He has not been charged. Police say he was in the apartment at the time of the alleged assaults.
The case has created a distraction in the final week of preseason camp.
“I’m proud of the way this group has handled it,” Chryst said.
Taylor described the last week as “tough” when asked how the remaining receivers have dealt with the situation.
“But at the same time, we have a game on Friday and that’s where all of our focus has to be,” he said.
In Taylor and Pryor, Wisconsin still have two solid starters capable of making big plays on what still could be a high-scoring offense that also features top running back Jonathan Taylor.
A.J. Taylor had 31 catches last year to lead Wisconsin receivers, along with 475 yards and five touchdowns. Pryor had 13 catches for 179 yards and a score, while also making impression on end-arounds, running for 64 yards and two scores on five carries.
“For them personally, they should feel like they have more accountability, more responsibility,” quarterback Alex Hornibrook said. “But for me, I feel good with whoever’s out there.”
Davis is eligible return on Sept. 15 against BYU. Until then, the Badgers have two winnable home nonconference games — against the Hilltoppers in the opener and New Mexico in Week 2. Two games in which Krumholz and Dunn might have seen a lot of playing time anyway.
“Nothing’s changed,” Pryor said about the expectations for the offense. “We haven’t changed the game plan really at all since everything that’s happened.”
The 6-foot-1 Krumholz played six games last season. A high-jumper in high school, Krumholz has impressed teammates in practice with his hands and improved route-running. A Madison native, the 5-7 Dunn played eight games last year and has a feisty streak on the field.
“His route-running, also he’ll finish every play,” safety Scott Nelson said Tuesday about practicing against Dunn. “He’ll block. You get in fights with Dunn because he blocks too much. But you want that. You want that effort because he’ll always give you everything.”
Edges in experience may have given Dunn and Krumholz the nod on the receiver depth chart over Aron Cruickshank, a lightning-quick freshman. Numerous opportunities to impress will be available for all three players at least for a while.
“Certainly, Jack and Krumholz have been in the offense now and can bring the knowledge of what to do and how to do it and the ability to make plays when it comes their way,” Chryst said. “And then it’s making sure that the younger guys know their role, know their spots in it and they can give us some really meaningful snaps.”