Wisconsin football: Report card after win over Iowa
After a 1-3 start through the first month of the season, the Wisconsin Badgers won their fourth consecutive game on Saturday afternoon, 27-7 over the No. 9 Iowa Hawkeyes in Madison. In what could’ve been a lost season with such a poor start for a team with high expectations, the Badgers should be the favorites to win the Big Ten West heading into November.
Wisconsin would be favored to win each of its final four games right now and, if the Badgers run the table, they will get a shot at a conference championship. If Wisconsin finishes the job and returns to Indianapolis, it’s a major credit to the culture of the program because plenty of teams around the country would’ve let the early losses snowball into a complete mess of a season.
Instead, players continued to buy in, and Wisconsin (5-3 overall, 3-2 B1G) is second in the West, one game behind Minnesota.
Before we turn the page to next week’s matchup at Rutgers, let’s wrap up what we saw from the Badgers following their biggest win of the season.
It was fairly evident heading into Saturday’s game that a turnover-free performance from the Badgers would result in a win. For as much criticism the Badgers rightfully receive for their struggles, Iowa’s offense is much worse as it has relied on short fields created by a high rate of turnovers. That is an unsustainable scoring method as we’ve seen the past two weeks, and Wisconsin put itself in great position by not turning the ball over for the first time this season.
True freshman running back Braelon Allen continues to be the star of Wisconsin’s offense, and he had another big day on the ground. Allen led the Badgers with 104 yards rushing on 20 attempts, and he is easily the more explosive back over Chez Mellusi, who carried 19 times for 48 yards.
Allen did not touch the ball from the 10:07 mark of the second quarter to the 8:01 mark of the third, and there is no reason to go a full quarter without giving Allen a carry. In the four games since he became a larger part of the offense, he has rushed for more than 100 yards in each game. The only issue has been fumbles, but he did not put the ball on the ground at all on Saturday.
The passing game showed signs of promise for the first time in a while early on especially on the second drive in which Graham Mertz completed all 5 pass attempts to different teammates for 52 yards. The drive was capped by a 4-yard touchdown to Jake Ferguson on 3rd and 1 for the first score of the game.
Mertz completed 10 of his first 12 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown before nine consecutive incompletions for another inconsistent performance from the passing attack. He finished 11 of 22 for 104 yards with a touchdown and has been effective on quarterback sneaks; he had two 1-yard TD runs against Iowa.
Wisconsin’s passing game is at its best when Danny Davis is involved. He is the Badgers’ best wide receiver, so it was encouraging to see Mertz go his way when Wisconsin needed a big play to extend the drive. Davis finished with 5 receptions for 59 yards.
The offense is being downgraded because it could’ve done a better job taking advantage of short fields. One drive started from the Hawkeyes’ 8-yard line but resulted in zero points. Another began from Iowa’s 18 that led to a field goal. The Badgers did take advantage of starting from the 1-yard line for one of Mertz’s touchdowns.
It seems like we’re saying the same thing about this Badgers defense following every game. Wisconsin has an elite front seven that only a few programs can match, and opponents are wasting a down whenever they run up the middle against the Badgers.
Wisconsin allowed just 24 rushing yards on 0.8 yards per carry, and Leo Chenal is developing into a star in a breakout season. The inside linebacker led the team with 9 tackles including 2 for loss and 0.5 sacks.
Wisconsin held Iowa QB Spencer Petras to 9 of 19 passing for 93 yards.
The Badgers came away with three turnovers, though two were unforced as Iowa botched a handoff and dropped a punt as Wisconsin recovered both. Nick Herbig had a big game with a forced fumble and 2.5 sacks.
When Wisconsin does not turn the ball over, it has a great chance to win thanks to how incredible the defense has been. Offenses will continue to struggle to go the length of the field and finish drives with touchdowns against this group.
Special Teams: B+
Collin Larsh made all three extra points and connected on field goals from 32 and 29 yards as his impressive season continued. The only blemish on special teams came on the opening kickoff, which Iowa returned to its own 45-yard line. But the Badgers forced a three-and-out.
Kickoff return coverage was never an issue after that, and Jack Van Dyke had two touchbacks on six kickoffs.
Punter Andy Vujnovich’s arms looked especially jacked on Saturday, and he added another impressive performance. Vujnovich sent six punts away for an average of 40.5 yards with three downed inside the 20-yard line, and Conor Schlichting punted one ball 36 yards. Travian Blaylock recovered a muffed punt, which led to a field goal.
Chimere Dike returned one kickoff 21 yards, and Dean Engram returned one punt for 6 yards in an uneventful day in the return game.