Wisconsin football: Report card after another brutal loss
All is not well in Badger Land.
For the second consecutive Saturday, Wisconsin remained competitive against a ranked opponent before the wheels fell off in the second half, and this weekend’s result was a 38-17 home loss to Michigan. A week after allowing 31 unanswered points in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame, the Badgers were outscored 24-0 in the second half on Saturday until a meaningless Wisconsin touchdown in the final minute.
Wisconsin (1-3, 0-2 Big Ten) knew it had to hit the ground running this season with a front-loaded schedule, but they’ve been extremely disappointing out of the gate. In what was expected to be an exciting bounce-back year, Paul Chryst will need to put together an incredible coaching job to keep this roster motivated.
As the team prepares for a Bret Bielema-led Illinois team next Saturday, let’s take a look at the report card from the loss to the Wolverines.
For the second week in a row, it’s hard to give this Badgers offense anything but an F after another lousy performance. Wisconsin started the game with four three-and-outs with a total of minus-7 yards of offense over that span. The Badgers moved the ball well on each of their final two drives of the half: A 15-play drive resulting in a field goal, followed by a 3-play, 65-yard touchdown drive right at the end of the first half.
On those two drives, Graham Mertz looked as good as he has all season long, completing 8 of 10 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown. He looked confident, stepped into throws and gave his wide receivers chances to make plays downfield, especially on the final two throws to Chimere Dike. The second of those went for an 18-yard touchdown in the corner of the end zone.
Unfortunately, that was it for Mertz, who left the game on the first possession after halftime with a chest injury and never returned. He finished his day completing 8 of 15 passes for 115 yards with a touchdown and zero turnovers.
Those who have wanted to see backup QB Chase Wolf take over the starting spot after Mertz’s early season struggles found out why the backup hasn’t been an option to this point. Coming into the game, he had thrown 3 interceptions over 12 career pass attempts, and on Saturday he played very poorly in the second half. Wolf lost a fumble on his second possession and ended any chance of a comeback with a bad interception on the first play of his third drive.
Through 20 career passes, Wolf now has 4 interceptions, so let’s stop saying he should take over as the No. 1 guy. This is Mertz’s job assuming he is healthy enough to play.
Wisconsin averaged 1.3 yards per carry and the offensive line struggled to open up holes and protect quarterbacks. Nobody in the usual three-man backfield of Chez Mellusi, Jalen Berger or Isaac Guerendo were very effective, but Braelon Allen is a player to watch the rest of this season. He is a 17-year-old physical freak and looked the best out of this running back group on Saturday in a limited sample size of 5 carries for 19 yards, which led the team.
Allen has played in three games this season, so it seems the Badgers don’t intend to redshirt him. Expect him to be more involved moving forward to provide a spark. The offense needs it because this is a group that doesn’t have much of an identity at this point.
The Badgers have been fantastic to this point of the season on defense, but it doesn’t matter when the offense cannot move the ball consistently. This team is so one-sided and that has to frustrate the defense. Wisconsin contained Michigan’s run-heavy offense, allowing just 2.5 yards per carry, but the Badgers were beaten deep a few times, leading to Wolverines touchdown passes.
A week after dominating the Notre Dame offensive line for 12 tackles for loss, Wisconsin had just 2 on Saturday with 0 sacks.
Once again, the Badgers defense got no help. Three turnovers gave the Wolverines the ball from Wisconsin’s 5, 33 and 35-yard line. All things considered, Wisconsin’s defense did a nice job of limiting the damage, allowing just 13 points on those ensuing possessions.
Michigan came out aggressively on fourth down, converting on 4 of 5 attempts to extend drives. Those conversions were killers for this defense. Wisconsin was not awful defensively but played its worst game of the season. If the Badgers let up just a little bit on that side of the ball, this season could get off the rails in a way we haven’t seen in many years with this program.
Special teams: C
The previous week, a special teams mistake started Notre Dame’s fourth quarter domination with a kick-return touchdown. Against Michigan, the Badgers punt return made the biggest blunder. A Michigan punt bounced off Badger Hunter Wohler for a turnover, setting up the Wolverines at the 5-yard line. A field goal gave the Wolverines a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter. With how poor the Badgers offense has been, the special teams cannot be the reason Wisconsin is allowing points.
Andy Vujnovich had another busy day with 8 punts for an average of 44.9 yards with a long of 55, including 2 inside the 20-yard line. Some of his punts were not high enough and led to decent returns for Michigan. Still, he continues to play well in a season in which field position is incredibly important.
Collin Larsh knocked in a 34-yard field goal on his only attempt and made both extra points. Jack Van Dyke kicked off 4 times with 1 touchback and a kick that went out of bounds.