Wisconsin football: Badgers need to get Danny Davis involved
Wisconsin seems to finally have the correct pieces in place in their rushing attack with the emergence of Chez Mellusi and Braelon Allen as the top two running backs, along with less offensive line rotation.
The running game should be closer to Wisconsin’s standards as the staple of this program for decades, especially considering the Badgers already have played most of the toughest defensive fronts on their schedule. Now that this part of the offense seems stable, Wisconsin still needs plenty of work in the passing game, and no pass-catcher is more important for this unit to be successful than No. 1 wide receiver Danny Davis.
Wisconsin received great news in the offseason when senior wideouts Davis and Kendric Pryor announced they would take advantage of the NCAA’s extra year of eligibility. Both players missed nearly all of the 2020 season with injuries and were set to give it one final go.
In 5 seasons at Wisconsin, Davis has accumulated 1,357 receiving yards on 115 catches with 12 touchdowns. He had a big game in the season opener with 8 catches for 99 yards against Penn State, with big receptions in crucial moments down the stretch. In the next 4 contests, Davis caught 8 balls for 94 yards, combined. He’s been non-existent (no receptions or rushes) in the offense over the last 2 weeks.
Wisconsin did not need to throw the ball well to dominate Illinois last weekend for its first B1G win of the season, but the Badgers will need to force defenses to have some respect for the passing game for the offense to maximize its potential. That has to start with Davis, who has the talent to be the go-to target on the third-and-long situations where Wisconsin is really struggling with this season.
Not only did Davis not receive a single reception in the last 2 games against Michigan and Illinois, he was targeted just 1 time in each matchup according to Pro Football Focus. On the season, Davis ranks 3rd on the team in targets with 23, behind Pryor (33) and tight end Jake Ferguson (26).
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reason Davis is not getting the ball thrown his way, but it could be a combination of many different factors. Defenses could be putting more of a focus on stopping him. Maybe he’s simply not getting open. Or Graham Mertz might not be looking his way as often as he should. Additionally, Wisconsin’s offensive line has struggled in pass protection, so Mertz doesn’t have a ton of time to work through his progressions.
Regardless of why Davis hasn’t made an impact the last two weeks, this is an area that has to be fixed quickly, and it could start on Saturday against Army (4-1), though offensive plays and possessions will be limited considering the Black Knights run the ball on 90.5% of snaps, the highest rate in the country.
Army ranks No. 5 defensively in opponent yards per rush attempt against fairly weak competition, so there’s still a good chance the Badgers can dominate the line of scrimmage offensively. However, opponents have done well through the air against the Black Knights, as they will enter Saturday’s game ranked No. 84 in yards per pass attempt allowed. Davis should find separation against this secondary, and it will be up to Mertz to look his way and deliver an accurate pass, which has been an issue no matter who lines up at quarterback for the Badgers.
In games against FBS opponents, Wisconsin ranks No. 112 in passing yards per game, No. 112 in yards per pass attempt and No. 103 in completion percentage. Mertz has completed 55.8% of his passes with just 2 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. He’s also lost 2 fumbles. Quarterback play with turnovers and inaccuracy is the main reason Wisconsin has 3 losses, and if those numbers do not get better, it seems very likely the coaching staff will either open up an offseason quarterback competition or take a look at the transfer portal.
Wisconsin will reach the halfway point of the season following Saturday night’s game, and without many looks against an opponent he has talent advantages against, Davis could become more frustrated than he probably already is. The 2021 season hasn’t played out the way he had hoped when he announced a return to give it one final go for a second senior year, but the future of the Wisconsin passing game could be reliant on a big second half for Davis.