Wisconsin football: Offense has become a strength, no longer a liability
It took far longer than expected, but Wisconsin has an offense it can be proud of. After a 35-7 victory over Northwestern at Camp Randall Stadium, the Badgers have scored at least 27 points in each of their last 4 games and are averaging 36 points over that span. The offense has found a rhythm, and this group has come a long way from where they were early in the season.
With Jack Coan off to Notre Dame, Graham Mertz entered the season as the unquestioned starting quarterback, with all of the top pass catchers returning in addition to team’s leading rusher. Head coach Paul Chryst reclaimed his play-calling duties.
But despite an offseason filled with promise, Wisconsin started 1-3 with plenty of blame toward the offense because an elite defense played well enough to give the Badgers chances to win. While the defense continued to dominate, the other side of the ball went from an embarrassment to a solid unit that is now a strength of the team.
The development has been fun to watch, and plenty of credit can be given to the winning culture of Wisconsin football, because this season could’ve turned into a disaster in a hurry. Instead, the Badgers are 2 wins away from competing for a conference championship.
Graham Mertz’s impressive turnaround
The most hyped recruit in Wisconsin history was given a mulligan in his first season due to a variety of factors that did not set him up for a great chance of success, but the start to his second year as the starter was concerning. He was inaccurate with his throws, the coaching staff clearly did not trust him and Mertz turned the ball over 8 times in losses to Penn State and Notre Dame.
Mertz has progressed and developed into a completely different quarterback since then. He was sharp against Northwestern and finished the day completing 18 of 23 passes for 216 yards with 2 touchdowns. His lone blemish came on a bad interception in the end zone late in the first half.
Mertz’s best 2 games of the season have come in consecutive weeks, and he has combined to complete 29 of 39 passes for 456 yards with 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. You could argue how impressive those numbers are considering they came against Northwestern and Rutgers, but Mertz is making throws he could not complete consistently against teams like Illinois and Army.
Mertz has spread the ball around to the team’s top pass catchers, and here’s a look at their numbers over the last 2 weeks.
- Danny Davis: 4 receptions, 118 yards, 2 touchdowns
- Kendrick Pryor: 6 receptions, 102 yards, 1 touchdown
- Jake Ferguson: 6 receptions, 83 yards, 1 touchdown
- Chimere Dike: 6 receptions, 92 yards
Not only has Mertz connected with his receivers extremely well lately, he is hitting them down the field for big gains, which wasn’t even attempted early on in the season.
Mertz has been especially good early in games, which forces defenses to have at least some sort of respect for the passing game and leads to a better rushing attack.
The next great Badgers back
Wisconsin has dealt with all sorts of issues at running back since the start of fall camp, but Braelon Allen is a huge part of the Badgers’ offensive turnaround. The true freshman set a season high with 173 rushing yards on 25 carries with 3 touchdowns on Saturday despite battling through an injury the last 2 weeks.
Allen became a bigger part of the offense 6 games ago, and he has rushed for more than 100 yards in all 6 of those matchups. With 5 scholarship running backs no longer available due to 3 departures and 2 season-ending injuries since fall camp began, Allen will likely continue to handle a significant workload down the stretch.
Any time his name is mentioned, it must be said Allen is just 17 years old, but he looks to be the next great Wisconsin running back for the rest of 2021 and beyond. He has gotten plenty of help from an offensive line that is playing a whole lot better than it did early in the season in all areas, including creating holes for Allen to run through and keeping Mertz upright.
It is certainly possible this offensive resurgence has a lot to do with the competition. In this 6-game winning streak, the Badgers have not played teams that were as talented as Penn State, Notre Dame and Michigan — with my apologies to Iowa. Wisconsin has taken care of business against inferior opponents and if it keeps it up for 2 more weeks, the Badgers will get another shot at one of the top teams in the Big Ten, and they will have an offense that is no longer a liability this time.